The Australian Government does not provide permanent protection to asylum seekers who arrive “illegally” by boat. The government refers to these asylum seekers as “illegal maritime arrivals” (IMAs). Australia transfers all IMAs to Regional Processing Centres on Nauru or Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea.
On 3 August 2013, Australia and Nauru entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to regulate the transfer and assessment of IMAS in Nauru. The MOU supersedes an earlier agreement between Australia and Nauru entered into by the then Labor Government in 2012.
However, unlike the Pacific Solution, current Australian Government policy includes the resettlement of people found to be refugees on Nauru on temporary protection visas, before they are offered permanent resettlement in Cambodia.
Nauru is an island state in the South Pacific with a surface area of 21 square kilometres and a population of approximately 10,000 people. As at 31 July 2014, there were 1146 people in detention there. Nauru became a party to the Refugee Convention in 2011 however it is not a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) or the Convention against Torture (CAT).
Due to the operational secrecy with which Operation Sovereign Borders is conducted, the government does not provide information about the conditions in which asylum seekers are detained on Nauru. However, a number of non-governmental organisations have visited the island to inspect the detention centre.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) visited Nauru in October 2013 and reported that Nauru does not ‘provide safe and humane conditions for treatment [of asylum seekers] in detention.’ UNHCR concluded that ‘no child, whether an unaccompanied minor or within a family group, should be transferred from Australia to Nauru.’
Amnesty International also inspected the detention centre in November 2012. It found that ‘the physical conditions are harsh and repressive’ and that ‘Nauru’s capacity to adequately care for vulnerable asylum seekers is of concern.’
A range of issues have surrounded conditions for IMAs on Nauru, including riots in July 2013; allegations of abuse; and allegations that staff encouraged self-harm as a protest action (currently under review).
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Last updated 6 November 2014
Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, Factsheet: Immigration Detention (2013)
Cornall, Robert, Review into the events of 16-18 February 2014 at the Manus Island regional processing centre, 23 May 2014
Human Rights Law Centre, Complaint Concerning G4S Australia Pty Ltd, September 2014
Memorandum of Understanding between Papua New Guinea and Australia, signed 6 August 2013
Memorandum of Understanding between Nauru and Australia, signed 3 August 2013
UNHCR, Mission to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea report, 4 February 2014