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Issue #1751      October 5, 2016

Turnbull can’t hide Australia’s shame

Nauru’s detention regime has plunged further into crisis with the announcement that private security company Connect will not re-tender to provide refugee services on the prison island. But the announcement is just one small symptom of a dysfunctional regime.

The daily protests in the family camp have continued since March 20 and escalated on Sunday, September 18. Four men, fathers of asylum seekers and refugees, were arrested by Nauruan police on September 18 following a protest by children who put rubbish on the road and threw stones at a bus going along the road between the family compound RPC 3 and the refugee camp, Anuiju.

Around 25 Nauruan police descended on the family compound to arrest the children but after determined resistance from pregnant wives and families in the RPC 3, and children chanting, “Stop Torture. Freedom Forever”, police left the children, but arrested four men.

Refugee and asylum seekers who attempted to take videos or photographs of the police were threatened with arrest. It is understood that the men were released on the Sunday night after they signed an undertaking at the police station.

“The incident points to the far wider issue of Nauru and offshore detention. In the guise of service providers, Connect has already been complicit in Australia’s systematic mistreatment of asylum seekers on Nauru. Connect have often used the police themselves rather than protect refugees from the arbitrary and often brutal treatment of an unaccountable police force,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“But many refugees see the Connect decision as the end game that started when they were arbitrarily separated from family and other asylum seekers on Christmas Island in 2013.

“Despite [Prime Minister] Turnbull and [Immigration Minister] Dutton’s posturing in New York, the government will finally be faced with the need to bring all the asylum seekers and refugees to Australia. The sooner the better.”

Nauru contract

Meanwhile, refugee advocates have warned the Australian government against handing any refugee settlement services contracts to the Nauru government or Nauru-run businesses.

The concerns have risen since the Australian-run Connect Settlement Services indicated that it was pulling out of Nauru on December 7. Connect was contracted by the Australian government to provide services for refugees living in the Nauruan community.

The government is yet to announce a service provider to take over the Connect contract. But concerns are growing that the government could be considering funding the Nauru government and to shift away from refugee specific services to a more general Nauruan community welfare.

A Connect representative told Connect workers on Nauru that the Connect board did not believe it was “appropriate for an Australia-based company to be in Nauru forever”, and that its settlement services job “had been completed”. The representative told the meeting that the services need now were about “on-going welfare needs”, and that settlement services were not what was needed when people were living in the [Nauru] community “independently”.

However the representative later told the meeting that Connect understood that refugees were in a “desperate situation” and were “desperately unhappy”.

The comments are in line with Connect’s moves made over recent months to increase the number of locals working for the company and for it to be seen as concerned with welfare in the Nauruan community rather than provide services for refugees.

There have also been growing concerns that Connect was complicit with the Nauruan government and had resorted to calling the Nauruan police in accommodation disputes – resulting in some refugees being jailed.

“That Connect is quitting Nauru is unequivocally a step forward,” said Ian Rintoul.

“But replacing Connect with a Nauruan company would be a serious blunder. Refugees already regard the withdrawal of Connect as something that will leave them even more vulnerable to human rights abuses on the island.

“It’s time the desperate situation described by Connect is ended. The government should use Connect’s December 7 end-of-contract deadline to close Nauru and bring all the asylum seekers and refugees to the mainland.”

Judith Reen, ex-Nauru Save the Children worker also voiced her concerns, “It is well documented that Nauru is a hostile place where refugees can be verbally abused, assaulted, raped and robbed with impunity, with no hope of crimes being properly investigated. To date, not one crime committed by a Nauruan national against a refugee has resulted in arrest or prosecution.

“It is frightening to think that the responsibility for refugees would be with a government that enforces a media block-out, in a country where there is clearly system-wide failure in law enforcement and which lacks adequate protections for the most vulnerable.”

Next article – Australian crimes in a criminal war

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