The Republic of Nauru is an island state in the South Pacific with a surface area of 21 square kilometres (smaller than Melbourne airport) and a population of approximately 12,000 people. Similarly to Papua New Guinea, it cooperates with Australia to process the claims of asylum seekers intercepted at sea by the Australian Government.

The Australian and Nauruan governments first entered into an agreement for the establishment of an immigration detention centre following the Tampa Affair in 2001. Under a set of policy measures known as the Pacific Solution, between 2001 and 2008, asylum seekers intercepted at sea by the Australian navy were either towed back to Indonesia or taken to the detention centres on Nauru or on Christmas Island.

In December 2007, newly elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that Australia would no longer make use of the Nauru detention centre, and would put an immediate end to the Pacific Solution. By December 2007, the last detainees had left Nauru.

In August 2012, the Labor Government under Prime Minister Julia Gillard, announced the resumption of the transfer of asylum seekers intercepted at sea to Nauru and Manus Island. Australia signed an initial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Nauru on 29 August 2012.  This MoU was renegotiated on 3 August 2013 and sets out the terms of the current arrangement for the transfer and assessment of asylum seekers intercepted at sea.

Under the 2013 MoU, Nauru has agreed to host regional processing centres (RPCs) for the purpose of processing protection claims of asylum seekers transferred to the centres by the Australian Government. The Australian Government refers to the transferees as ‘illegal maritime arrivals’ (IMAs). As at 30 September 2018 there were 163 IMAs accommodated in the Nauru RPC.

Since its reopening in 2012, the conditions at the Nauru RPC have been the subject of significant concern. Major riots at the centre occurred in July 2013. In October 2013, the UNHCR visited Nauru and reported that Nauru does not ‘provide safe and humane conditions for treatment in detention’. In May 2016, UNHCR further called for the immediate removal of refugees and asylum seekers to humane conditions, citing the ‘immense damage’ caused by detention and offshore processing. This was in response to the death of Omid Masoumali, who set himself alight during a UNHCR monitoring visit. In February 2015, the Australian Human Rights Commission released The Forgotten Children report, recommending that all children and their families be released from detention. In March 2015, the government-initiated Moss Review responded to allegations of sexual and physical assault of detainees and made 19 recommendations to improve conditions at the centre.

On 10 August 2016, the Guardian published the Nauru Files, a cache of 2116 leaked incident reports written by staff in Nauru RPC. The reports span the period May 2013 to October 2015 and contain numerous statements of mistreatment and abuse of detainees. In April 2017, after a 7-month inquiry, the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs released a report on the allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect in the Nauru and Manus Island RPCs that were raised in the Nauru Files. The report made 12 recommendations, including commissioning independent reviews on medical transfer procedures and on the impact of detention on physical and mental health.

Individuals recognised to be refugees began to be resettled outside of the RPC at various sites around Nauru from May 2014. In February 2015, the Nauruan Government announced the partial opening of the RPC, allowing limited freedom of movement for asylum seekers detained at the centre. It was hoped this would ease some of the tensions in the centre. In October 2015, just days before an Australian legal challenge against the offshore processing regime, Nauru declared the detention centre fully open. This marked the end of formal detention and allowed refugees and asylum seekers relatively free movement in Nauru. Concerns have been raised about the impacts of this development for the safety of asylum seekers. As at 21 October 2018, there were 652 refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru (p 95). Of these, there were 541 refugees, 88 asylum seekers and 23 failed asylum seekers.

Over 2018, significant numbers of children and families were evacuated from Nauru for urgent medical care. Attorney-General George Brandis stated that all children would be removed from Nauru by the end of 2018.

In November 2016 it was announced that a deal had been made with the United States to resettle people in detention on Nauru and Manus Island. As at 21 October 2018, 276 people had been resettled to the United States from Nauru.


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Last updated 23 November 2018