Challenging detention on Nauru

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A constitutional challenge against the detaining of asylum seekers on Nauru could result in the closing of the Nauru detention centre, and thus would also have ramifications for the detention centre on Manus.

The constitutional challenge against the detaining of asylum seekers on Nauru has been brought by lawyers working 'pro bono' for ten asylum seekers who are facing 'riotous offences' charges in the Nauru courts. The lawyers are working for free as the Australian government has denied the asylum seekers legal aid.

The Australian department of immigration has stated: "The Department's view is that the provision of adequate legal representation in criminal proceedings in Nauru is a matter for the government of Nauru as a sovereign state." (read article here)

This despite the fact that the ten asylum seekers have been detained in Nauru on Australia's orders and are facing the 'criminal' charges following protests about the legality of their detention. It is not an offence to seek asylum and therefore people seeking refugee status should not be locked-up.

Australia pays Nauru to detain and "process" refugees despite the people having asked for asylum in Australia.

This practice of off-shore processing is known as the 'Pacific Solution'. First introduced in 2001, the 'Pacific Solution' was abandoned in 2007 but then re-introduced last year with a hue and cry about how it would not only stop people smuggling but also send the message to asylum seekers that rather than trying to enter Australia on a boat, they should join a queue to apply for refugee status.

But the queues are a myth – the queues are a propaganda tool to stir emotions.

The myth of the queue implies that there is an orderly and proper way to become a refugee. The 'queue' myth obfuscates the very meaning of seeking asylum and denies the reality of life.

By definition a refugee is someone forced to flee to a place of safety. There are no orderly queues and procedures when people are fleeing, and even if someone seeking asylum ends up in a refugee camp – and wait there for resettlement, that is no guarantee of safety. Children are born and bred in refugee camps as they wait to be 'accepted' as refugees. The queue does not exist.

The myth of the queue also propagates the notion of legal and illegal refugees.

The people detained on Nauru and Manus have done nothing wrong – and further, their detention has not had any effect on deterring other asylum seekers from trying to reach Australia.

Since August more than 20,000 people have been stopped and many others have died trying to seek safe haven in Australia.

If the Australian government was really worried about the number of people risking the sea voyage, they would be doing their up-most to assist people seeking asylum. But instead Australia continues to lock more and more people up.

The constitution challenge to be heard on 7th June offers one flicker of hope for the people detained on Nauru.

It is a habeas corpus application in Nauru's Supreme Court and it will force the Nauru courts to prove that the detention of the asylum seekers is legal under Nauru law. If the habeas corpus application is successful it will hopefully mean that Australia will not be able to detain asylum seekers on Nauru. It could also mean the plight of all people detained by Australia in off-shore detention centres will have to be re-evaluated .

But meanwhile the protests and hunger-strikes against the detention centres and Australia's immigration policy continue, with protests occurring not only in Nauru and Manus but in Australia. The most recent hunger strike was by 27 people in Australia protesting their indefinite detention. They are part of 50 people known to be detained indefinitely as a result of negative ASIO-assessments. These people have been granted UN refugee status but after failing their ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) clearance they cannot be released into the Australian community. They can also not leave Australia, they occupy a murky world of state paranoia and legal jargon. The group includes children.

Children are also detained on Manus and Nauru and their plight in particular is highlighted in a new documentary just broadcast this week on Australian TV. The documentary, 'No Advantage: Inside Australia's Offshore Processing Centres', gives a simple background to the Pacific Solution and attempts to show the reality of life inside the detention centres. The TV programme comes with warnings because of its graphic and disturbing content.

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To keep informed about what is happening, two websites are:
[Here's the limbo Nauru] (http://naururefugees.wordpress.com/)
[Chil out: Children out of immigration detention] (http://www.chilout.org/home)

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