Harsh immigration laws in Australia mean that, when refugees are caught attempting to enter the country illegally by sea, they are not allowed to enter the country. Instead, they are sent for “offshore processing” in another country. Several hundred migrants are stuck in detention centres on The Republic of Nauru, an island nation in Micronesia in the Central Pacific, after being sent there by Australian authorities. About 40 of them are thought to be children.
Over the past two weeks, several dozen migrants there have been protesting the fact that they’ve spent close to 1,000 days in the camp.
According to several witness accounts, a protest held on Wednesday, April 6 descended into violence. A video, which was posted after the incidents on the Facebook page "Free the Children of Nauru", shows the high level of tension in the camp.
The video was filmed in the dark, so it hard to make out. As it begins, you can make out a person on the ground, with people gathered around her.
You can hear a man’s voice, obviously distressed: “The officers started kicking them!”
Then, a woman speaks: “They assaulted us, they hit the children”.
The video is dark so it is hard to tell what happens next but it looks as if people are throwing chairs. At one point, many people start screaming.
The footage does not clearly show clashes between security forces and detainees. But according to several witnesses, several people—including children—were injured by the guards. Several photos alleging to show these injuries were shared on social media.
"A guard threw me against the wall"
There have been protests going on for the past 19 days because some people have been in this camp for more than 1,000 days.
After two weeks of protesting, seven boys — all minors — climbed up onto a tent. People say that they were threatening to kill themselves by jumping off.Photo sent to the Observers by Ian Rintoul, the spokesperson of NGO Refugee Action
The security services came and asked the boys what they were doing and why. The boys said that they were exhausted by having so many questions without answers. They don’t understand why they were brought to Nauru by force while others, who also tried to reach Australia by boat, weren’t. They also don’t understand why they still can’t go to Australia.
They had actually asked all of these questions in a letter they sent to the Australian Border Forces.
On Wednesday, a woman came to deliver a response to the letter, but the Australian authorities didn’t actually answer any of the questions. They wrote that Nauru was a good place to be and that the education system was the same as in Australia.
They suggested that, if we couldn’t accept living in Nauru, we could go back to our country of origin or be sent to Cambodia. [Editor’s note: Australia signed a controversial agreement in September 2014 with Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the world, saying that migrants who had been given refugee statuses in Nauru could, if they wanted, permanently settle in Cambodia].
After hearing the police officer’s responses, the young people in the camp got really frustrated and started throwing chairs. The security forces intervened violently; they started hitting the kids. My brother was there so I tried to help him but a guard threw me against a wall. When parents rushed over, the guards started hitting them, too. We were trying to push the kids back to keep them safe. When the guards saw that we were trying to calm down the situation, they left us and went baack to the other side of the fence.
This video was filmed when the guards were outside the camp, just after the violent encounter. When you hear screams in the video, it is because the guards were trying to get back in. We were afraid that they were going to assault us again.
"When we left Australia, we thought we were going to a country that respects human rights"
In an official press release, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed that a “disturbance” took place on Wednesday to Thursday night. They said that “seven service provider staff” were injured as were two “transferees” (the word used to describe the refugees on site). The authorities also asserted that “claims that women and children were assaulted are false”.
It’s hard to know exactly what happened in the camp, especially because the international media has systematically been refused access to the island. In October 2015, Amnesty International published a report on this media blackout.
According to our Observer, life in the camp is like being trapped in prison, but leaving it is dangerous.
When we leave the camp, the locals are often violent and aggressive towards us. [Editor’s note: In December 2014, the British daily The Guardian reported on this and published several accounts of migrants who said that they had experienced daily intimidation, harassment and even violence at the hands of the local population. A man was stoned and beaten, while others reported having cars swerve at them and being spat on in the street.]
We were given the option of going to school with young people in Nauru. But they look down on us and we don’t feel safe going [Editor’s note: The Guardian also reported that several unaccompanied child refugees were attacked and one went to hospital.] So we stopped going to school and here, there is nothing to do.
No one can come to this camp. The authorities are trying to hide us. When we left for Australia, we thought we were going to a country that values human rights.
A year ago, we received several photos of refugees detained on Manus island in Papua New Guinea, another country where Australia sends its asylum seekers.