Last refugees leave but Labor won’t close Nauru

The last refugee has now been evacuated off Nauru. For the last several months, Labor has been transferring the remaining refugees and asylum seekers off the island.

Like everything associated with offshore detention, it has been an opaque and torturous process. Some refugees staged protests, and even sewed their lips shut, when it seemed not everyone was going to be transferred.

More recently those transferred have been held in hotel detention for a few weeks (but sometimes inexplicably for months!) in the Meriton hotel in Brisbane before their release, usually forced to support themselves, on bridging visas.

Despite almost ten years in offshore detention, refugees are told they will never be allowed to permanently resettle in Australia.

But Labor is not closing Nauru. While it is expected that no refugees will be on Nauru after 30 June, the Labor government is paying US private prison company, Management and Training Corporation (MTC) more than $422 million to keep Nauru “open” until September 2025.

And Labor is doing nothing to get the remaining 82 refugees out of PNG, despite their mental and physical health being worse than those on Nauru. Albanese is leaving them to rot.

Too sick to be a refugee

Of the 82 still in PNG, 33 have no pathway to permanent resettlement. Another 21 are in the increasingly uncertain pathway to the US or Canada. No one has been resettled in the US for several years and three who had been accepted to Canada were recently rejected at the final stage of processing.

Labor, following the Morrison government, insists that it has no duty-of-care for refugees in PNG. There is a formal agreement to allow Australian refugees in PNG to be referred to New Zealand by the UNHCR, but there is a Catch-22. Those who are too unwell to engage with the UNHCR are arguably the ones who need resettlement most urgently. But their inability to engage renders them ineligible.

One refugee who recently attempted to self-immolate had been considered too unwell to be interviewed. Yet the UNHCR did call him after his suicide attempt. Will he be referred to New Zealand? No one knows.

What we do know is that it was Labor’s offshore policy that held him in detention, killed his hope and destroyed his health. Labor has a particular responsibility to bring the refugees from PNG to Australia.

Labor’s legacy

It was the Rudd Labor government that negotiated the Pacific Solution II in 2013 that banned refugees sent offshore from ever settling in Australia.

Instead of dismantling mandatory, offshore and indefinite detention, the Albanese government has enshrined them as the centrepiece of Labor’s policy.

Labor is still enforcing boat turnbacks. It scaremongers about boat arrivals but does nothing to ensure there are safe pathways to get protection in Australia. Despite announcing that all 19,000 refugees on Temporary Protection Visas or SHEVs will be granted permanent visas, the process is excruciatingly slow. And the law has not been changed, meaning any new asylum seekers who arrive by boat are not eligible for a permanent visa.

Around 12,000 asylum seekers rejected by Morrison’s fast track processing system remain on bridging visas as a permanent underclass. There are still almost 170 boat arrivals in immigration detention on the mainland, and 142 in community detention.

Fourteen thousand refugees are stranded in Indonesia by a ban imposed by the Morrison government in 2014. Yet Labor won’t end the ban.

A year ago, the Albanese government granted permanent visas to the Biloela Murugappan family. But that gesture can’t hide that Labor has become the gatekeeper of Fortress Australia.

Consecutive governments, Liberal and Labor, insisted that refugees sent to Manus and Nauru would never come to Australia. Yet protests and demonstrations have finally emptied Nauru and seen many brought from Manus to Australia under the Medevac laws.

It will take more protests to force Labor to end the border protection and mandatory and indefinite detention policies that they cling to. “Ten Years Too Bloody Long” rallies are being organised around Australia in July to call for an end to offshore detention and for permanent visas for all.

By Ian Rintoul


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