“I recently visited approx 400 men detained in a small gravel camp site in the middle of a phosphate mine on Nauru. The men constantly asked “Why us? What did we do that makes us different from the others who arrived after 13 August?” It is still difficult to comprehend why the men I met in the camp have been transferred. The cramped tents they are staying in are a far cry from the ‘appropriate accommodation’ recommended by the Expert Panel. There is no processing system in place and the freedom of movement promised is also an illusion. This is arbitrary detention pure and simple. These are the sorts of conditions which we know from experience will damage people. Damage their mental health and damage their physical health.
The detention conditions on Nauru are harsh. There is very limited shade and the temperature can reach up to 40 degrees during the day. At night it is only marginally cooler, making sleep difficult in the crowded tents. When it rained we witnessed a number of the tents leaking or water literally flooding in through the doorways. If they are lucky enough to go out on an excursion for an hour, they must be supervised. The lack of privacy, for you are never alone, further exacerbates the stress these men are under.
Treating people on Nauru like this will cost a minimum of $2 billion over the next four years. And after they have been found to be refugees, what then? It is still unclear how long they will remain on Nauru. Ultimately though, Australia will have very little option but to bring them here. History has shown that the mental health damage this has caused will continue to cost the Australian tax payers. And the human cost?

Australia is taking healthy men and making them sick. A number of the men wanted to tell us about the violence, imprisonment and torture they had suffered in their home country. Some had recently lost family, while they were stuck on Nauru. Others broke down when they spoke about the threats to their family back home and their sense of hopelessness about not being able to do anything to help them. Again we were asked “Why?” It is difficult to under-stand how holding 400 men hostage on Nauru, to send a signal to other vulnerable people not to get on a boat, makes any sense at all when more recent arrivals will now be released into the Australian community on bridging visas.

It is time to rethink why these men are on Nauru. It is time to treat them with the dignity, respect and compassion they deserve”.

Graham Thom, Asylum Seekers Centre Board Member
ASC Newsletter — Summer 2012/13

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