On Friday 19 July, the Nauru detention centre burned to the ground. The flames on Nauru were the backdrop to Rudd’s announcement of the “PNG Solution”. The protest was not in response to Rudd’s announcement. It was directed at the injustice of the Pacific Solution.
Friday’s riot followed days of rowdy protests by asylum seekers angry and frustrated by the months of delays in their processing. Recent arrivals from Palestine, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq had been told that it would six or seven months before they would even be interviewed, and that they could be kept on Nauru for up to five years regardless of whether they were found to be refugees or not.
Asylum seekers who had already been interviewed expected to get answers to their refugee claims. But there were no answers.
They had planned to breakout and march to the airport and then return to the detention centre. But frustration and anger boiled over when they were prevented from leaving the camp.
One hundred and fifty-two people are being held in badly overcrowded conditions at Nauru police headquarters, pending charges of riot, unlawful assembly and perhaps arson.
The remaining detainees are now being held in tents on a makeshift site with conditions deteriorating rapidly. There are two toilets for around 250 people; and no running water for drinking or washing.
“People are getting sick; there are big queues for the toilets,” Solidarity was told by one asylum seeker from Nauru. “One man self-harmed, and people are collapsing from the sun. The security guards are treating people badly, yelling at people and pushing them. They are all carrying handcuffs.
“Some of the people in prison didn’t do anything,” he said.
Rudd plans to build a mega detention centre for 3000 on Manus Island. But no detention centre can withstand against the kind of revolt we have seen on Nauru.
The Nauru asylum seekers have lit flames that might yet spread to PNG and Canberra.