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Nauru disputes Australia's refugee resettlement claim | Asia Pacific

Nauru disputes Australia's refugee resettlement claim

Nauru disputes Australia's refugee resettlement claim

Updated 5 August 2013, 16:30 AEST

A fortnight before naming an election date, Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a deal struck with Papua New Guinea on sending all asylum-seeker boat arrivals to Manus island, as part of Australia's tough new stance.

That was followed on the weekend by the announcement of a similar arrangement with Nauru, a deal which took many people by surprise, given the island's sparse landscape and national resources.

The Australian government says under the Nauru deal struck with President Baron Waqa, refugees who arrive in Australia would be sent offshore for processing and resettled in Nauru.

Presenter:Sen Lam

Speaker: Dan Flitton, senior correspondent with Australia's Fairfax media group

FLITTON: Yes, and it all comes down to how you define, settle and reside, Sen. The Nauru government here is saying that people will be able to stay in Nauru for  a few years they've said, between three to five years, but they're certainly saying that this is temporary. They're saying they will not have citizenship, so that any refugee who lives in Nauru wouldn't have the same rights as the people who are here already and that's not the impression that the government gave when it talked about people settling and residing in Nauru, the Australian government I mean.
 
LAM: And, of course, it is but a memorandum of understanding at present. But how could the wires get so crossed on such a fundamental issue as resettlement?
 
FLITTON: Well, I think a lot of it's got to do with the politics here in Nauru frankly. Right from the very outset, Nauru was telling its local population, the Nauru government was telling its local population that this would not involve settlement of people here in Nauru, because just a fortnight ago, pretty much the same moment as Kevin Rudd was announcing his PNG solution, there was a vicious riot in one of the regional processing centres, or detention camps here on the island, which caused about $60 million worth of damage and really frightened a lot of people on the island, with about 120 rioters from the asylum seeker camp causing all of that damage. And the other thing too is every square inch of land on this island is owned by traditional landholders, so the prospect of getting the traditional landowners to relinquish some of that land in order to allow new migrants to settle here is really difficult politically, and already the government is trying to seize on that, I suspect looking at parts of that particular MOU and saying yes, it does mention settlement, but it also mentions at Nauru's behest and I think Nauru is saying that there won't be any.
 
LAM: And Dan Flitton as you point out, this deal comes on the back of riots at the detention centre last month, which all but destroyed the facility there. And already today, asylum seeker advocates have voiced concern for the safety of detainees on Nauru. Have you detected much local hostility towards the new deal?
 
FLITTON: No, I mean, look towards the new deal is one thing, I think you've got to separate the two. This idea which is at the moment somewhat abstract that there might be settlement, because it's very unclear as to what they might be going to do, compared to the actual processing of people on the island. And another proposal, which is for an open camp on the island. 
 
Last week, I managed to find out that they're intending to build a third camp on the island, and the hope is that that will be for women and children or families and children I should say who come by boat to Australia and that that camp would be an open camp as in the asylum seekers would be relatively free to come and go, as was the situation previously when Nauru had hosted the Pacific solution under John Howard's government.
 
Now, that's a separate issue from settlement and people are still a little bit anxious about the idea of open camps. They're relatively supportive if it's just involving families and children, but they don't want it to be the single men who are the, all of the asylum seekers, of the 540 or so asylum seekers who are currently on the island, because they've become very suspicious of those single men after the events of the riots.
 
There is some sympathy though, interestingly enough for some of the asylum seekers in a few pockets, because one of the things that happened in the aftermath of the riot is that they called up the Nauru reserve which involved sending out a text message to every phone on the island and asking all of the able bodied men to go up to the camp and there are stories about some of these men who were called up as volunteers, getting a hold of a couple of the asylum seekers and touching them up a fair bit and so there's a bit of sympathy for some of the asylum seekers, given that a very significant number of them weren't actually involved in the riot itself.
 
LAM: And Dan Flitton, on a more practical level, given that they've just had these riots that all but destroyed the detention facility. Can Nauru rebuild its infrastructure in time for the new arrivals, do you think?
 
FLITTON: Well, it's not really a question of Nauru rebuilding it. I went up to the asylum seeker camp, the Immigration Department facilitated a trip for me to go up there. Nauru had to give permission, it's all sort of a funny set up up here and had a look and already they've cleared a fairly significant portion of the damaged buildings on the camp. They were demountable,  sort of portable buildings, so the concrete footings that they were sitting on, they haven't been compromised by the fire. So it's just been a matter, and it's not an easy thing that they get in a huge big crane and they lift up these damaged buildings, they put them on a flat bed truck and they take them to the tip down the road and then new buildings are coming in all the time and they're just setting them on the old footings. So they'll rebuild it relatively quickly, perhaps as quickly as January, so in that sense, yes, there will be a capacity growing to bring more asylum seekers to Nauru.
 
LAM: And just very briefly, very briefly Dan Flitton, on a more personal note, you've seen the place now. Is it as grim as people make it out to be?
 
FLITTON: Yes, it's a pretty grim place. I mean water supplies here, even though it's in a tropical area and there's huge flooding rains. People don't have spouting or they don't keep their spouting up to date so collecting rain water is a problem. So water's an issue on the island. I mean it's all about relativities and there are relative comforts the asylum seekers have up in the camp, but in terms of hosting a much greater population than the 10,000 that are here, doesn't seem at all practical and that's what the politicians are saying here as well.
 

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