Ian Rintoul is from the Refugee Action Coalition and has been actively campaigning against offshore processing and mandatory detention.
He says some asylum seekers in Australian Detention centres have already been told they are being sent to Nauru.
Speaker: Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Coalition
RINTOUL: Some people yesterday were told that, at the Darwin airport lodge, some people have been told that they will be going to Nauru, so we know that much. It sounds like it's mostly single men from Darwin airport lodge, but we have got no details, what nationality they are or anything else.
COUTTS: So you don't know what the priorities are for choosing and sending some people to Manus and Nauru?
RINTOUL: No, no, no, not at all, and that is our concern. I mean clearly there's about 22-hundred people that have now arrived since the 13th of August, that's a lot of people to choose from, and it's almost impossible to believe that the selection process is not going to have some bias associated with it. They know that the conditions they're sending people to Nauru are pretty bad. The government's got a history of making selective arrangements. It froze the whole visa processing for Afghans at one stage and for Sri Lankans at another stage. So the selection process would be very interesting to know, how the government is choosing the people that they're going to actually dump on Nauru.
COUTTS: Now you've got contacts within the detention centres. Do you know how the people there are reacting to the potential for being sent off to Manus or Nauru?
RINTOUL: Well people are extremely anxious and there was a letter that was written by the Afghans on Christmas Island detailing their concerns about being sent to Nauru, which both had issues about their own way in which they have been treated, and also the indefinite detention quality that is at Nauru, and the fact that people have not been told clearly whether they are going or not going has raised a great deal of anxiety. And as it becomes clear that the government expects to be sending people this week, that anxiety is increasing, that much is obvious.
COUTTS: They're concerned that pregnant women are not to be sent. There's also been a long-held concern about children being held in detention. But what kind of medical will they undergo to see if they're even psychologically fit to go?
RINTOUL: Well I think that's impossible to determine. That kind of facility is rudimentary even at the Darwin airport lodge to make that kind of decision. But it is the kind of thing that we expect may well have been undergoing in some informal way inside the department amongst those people whose job it is to select people, people that they think are going to be more or less troublemakers, whether there are particular groups of people who they think on the basis of whether they're more or less likely to be refugees looking at the general rates of acceptance in Australia for example. But those kind of things are very necessary to make that assessment. The conditions on Nauru are rudimentary, the mental health facilities for example, services that are available in Australia simply aren't available in Nauru, they're not available in many of the detention centres in Australia, let alone inside the detention centre on Nauru. And I think these kinds of issues as people are put on Nauru, the longer they're on Nauru the conditions that we saw last time under the Howard government are going to become more and more apparent. There were epidemics of dengue fever and malaria as well as an epidemic of mental health problems.
COUTTS: Now there's a claim that the conditions on Nauru will eventually be more suited to families, because they'll be allowed more freedom of movement and be part of the community. How do you respond to that claim?
RINTOUL: Well Nauru will become a penal colony, it maybe 28 kilometres... but it'll be 28 kilometres of a penal colony, and while some people are saying that people may be able to get out of the detention centre itself during the day, that was also true under the Howard government. And it's not the area of confinement, it is the fact of confinement that creates mental health difficulties. There simply aren't the schools, there aren't the facilities, and even if there were some of those things on Nauru, as I said, the fact that people aren't free, the fact that people are likely to be found to be refugees and still be confined to Nauru for a period of years, is going to create its own problems, let alone just the obvious denial of natural justice.
COUTTS: And should support groups like the Salvation Army be involved on Nauru?
RINTOUL: In our opinion, no. The circumstances became so bad last time that the contracted psychiatric services actually left Nauru just saying that it was impossible for them to fulfil their obligations to provide adequate counselling in the circumstances of Nauru. And I think tragically the Salvation Army, maybe we can understand the motivations, but they're going to be confronted with a situation and they're assisting in allowing the government to setup the detention centre on Nauru. The Christian churches in Australia have taken a very strong stand against Nauru and against offshore processing at Nauru, and we would hope that they would encourage the Salvation Army not to provide the services which are going to allow people to abuse the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru.
COUTTS: Australia of course has launched an advertising campaign and there's been a lot of talk and a lot of media devoted to Nauru and Manus Island, opening it. Do you think any of this getting through to the people waiting in countries like Indonesia that this might even be acting as a deterrent?
RINTOUL: Look very little Geraldine, very, very little. I think the government talks about the business model of people smugglers, and what it doesn't understand is actually what motivates asylum seekers. And if it understood that in a far more thorough way, it would recognise that actually its own policies are putting people on to boats at the moment. I mean if you're fearful, fleeing persecution in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Sri Lanka, then the prospect of three years on Nauru or five years on Nauru is simply not a sufficient deterrent to stop people coming here. Not that I think there should be deterrents, but the government's own policies, the fact that it is saying that if you get to Australia, even if you're sent to Nauru, at some point you will have resettlement in Australia. And for someone who's waiting in Indonesia with very uncertain processing time itself, people can wait two years and longer to actually get processed to whether they're refugees or not, let alone the indefinite period that they've got about whether they will be resettled and where they will be resettled. The fact that people even if it means going via Nauru, it still means say a period on Nauru is going to give them guaranteed resettlement in Australia, ultimately they'll be resettled in Australia. So unless the government confronts what was part of the expert panel and what so far has been ignored, that is the necessity not just to increase the quota, but to increase the number of people that are brought directly from the region, from Indonesia and from Malaysia, then nothing is going to change, people still do not have an alternate route to safety and protection unless they do get a boat. Unless that question is addressed, people are going to constantly get a boat because they desperately need that safety and protection for them and their families.