Last refugee on Nauru arrives in Australia

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By Webdesk

As the offshore detention policy is being phased out, campaigners say the ‘dark chapter’ will not end until the last of the refugees leave PNG.

The last refugee held on the Pacific island of Nauru under Australia’s notorious detention policy has been evacuated to Australia, refugee groups said.

The man arrived in Australia on Saturday evening, after the government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, elected in 2022, said it would end a policy that had been in place for more than 10 years.

“For the past decade, our government has watched and witnessed mistreatment, mistreatment, neglect, harm and suffering in offshore detention,” Jana Favero, director of advocacy at the Asylum Seeker Resource Center, said in a statement on Sunday. “Men, women and children sought safety and protection, but we exiled them because of politics. We are grateful that the Albanian government took action and evacuated the last remaining refugees from Nauru. A chapter of misery is over.”

Australia resumed sending refugees to Nauru in 2013 under a previously abandoned offshore detention policy that was said to be necessary to prevent people from traveling to Australia in small boats. Such arrivals, who were also detained in Papua New Guinea (PNG), were told they would never be entitled to settle in Australia, even if they had a valid claim to protection.

Refugee groups say some 3,127 people have been sent to Nauru and PNG with many mental and physical health problems as a result of their long-term detention and separation from family. The policy was widely condemned by refugee lawyers, human rights organizations and the United Nations.

Some of the families forcibly separated under the plan have taken their cases to the UN.

A short-lived medical evacuation program has brought some to Australia, while others have found permanent homes in other countries, including New Zealand and the United States. The rest were sent back to the countries they had fled.

About 80 people remain in PNG and activist groups say the government must also address their situation.

“After spending billions to keep people in PNG, the Australian government can’t just leave them there. Many are in need of critical medical attention – all need the ability to come to Australia while resettlement opportunities are found,” Marie Hapke, organizer of the Australian Refugee Action Network, said in the statement.

Offshore processing began more than 20 years ago after an Indonesian fishing boat carrying more than 400 refugees and asylum seekers ran into trouble en route to Christmas Island, an Australian territory south of Java, and the crew of a Norwegian container ship – the Tampa – took them to the rescue.

A standoff ensued after the crew of the Tampa asked to dock at Christmas Island and the Australian government told them to return to Indonesia.

Then Prime Minister John Howard, a Conservative, came up with the ‘Pacific Solution’ to prevent the group from reaching Australia and made a deal with Nauru to take in those rescued by the Tampa.

The policy was dropped in 2007 after elections brought a Labor government to power, but was then reinstated in 2013 by another Labor government as the number of boats began to increase and elections loomed.

While Albanian has announced another break with the policy, his government has also said it will continue to maintain offshore detention facilities in Nauru as a “contingency”, at the cost of millions of Australian dollars a year.

“The history of detention at sea and human rights abuses on Nauru will forever tarnish the history of both sides of Australian politics,” said Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition. “Although they committed no crime, refugees sent to Nauru lost 10 years of their lives. As long as Nauru remains ‘open’ and refugees in PNG remain in limbo, the dark chapter of detention at sea will not be definitively closed.”

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