August 02, 2014
A group of 157 Tamil asylum seekers – at least 50 of whom are children – have been transferred to Nauru from the remote Curtin detention centre in Western Australia.
Scott Morrison, the immigration minister, confirmed to reporters from News Corp late on Friday night that a “secret overnight operation” was underway to remove the Tamils from Australia.
The Daily Telegraph reported, under the headline “G’Day Nauru: Tamil boat people say hello to their new home”, that the asylum seekers would be transferred in three plane loads.
One of the planes arrived at around noon on Saturday. Eyewitness sources told Guardian Australia that many of the Tamil men had rips in their shirts after they were forcibly put on the plane.”
“They were traumatised,” said a Nauru source.
Contractors are understood to have expressed concerns that there is not enough space to house them all on Nauru.
It is understood that the asylum seekers will be processed in the OPC1 camp – which does not hold families. It is likely they will then be moved to the family camp.
Morrison told the Australian newspaper that he made the decision to move the asylum seekers – who spent nearly a month on board a Customs vessel before being sent to Curtin – after they had all refused to meet Indian consular officials after advice from their lawyers. However, a lawyer working for the asylum seekers, George Newhouse, denied the Tamils’ legal team had advised them to boycott the Indian officials.
Newhouse told Guardian Australia he had not been informed of the decision to transfer his clients. “Our clients have been disappeared to Nauru,” he said.
Lawyers from the Human Rights Law Centre who are also assisting the group said the transfer was a deliberate move to prevent legal scrutiny and that they had been asked to prepare a defence to prevent the group being moved to Nauru just hours before it went ahead.
“Since last Sunday, we have been urgently seeking to speak to all 157 people to give them advice about the proposed visit by Indian officials and the Australian government’s plans for them,” said the Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser.
“We were allowed to speak to only four of the 157 clients this week in telephone interviews of one hour or less.
“At around 4.30pm yesterday, the two clients we were able to speak to, asked us to examine legal options to prevent a possible transfer to Nauru or Manus Island. A few hours later, all 157 were secretly sent away.
“It highlights the government’s deception, secrecy and willingness to undermine the rule of law in Australia.”
Guardian Australia has also seen a letter sent to the Australian government solicitor by the asylum seekers’ legal team. It urges for a “cooperative approach” between the Indian high commission, the Australian government and the asylum seekers’ lawyers.
It requests access to the asylum seekers to inform them of the ongoing high court case and “any other matters relevant to any visit or interviews by Indian High Commission officials”.
“After our clients have received that advice we would hope to be able to engage in a cooperative approach concerning any interviews. It is of course imperative that agreement on these matters be reached prior to any interview process by Australian or Indian Government officials commence,” the letter states.
Morrison told the Australian: “Going back to India, where they are likely to have family and friends, is no longer an option for those who were living there. They passed up that option when they chose not to meet with Indian consular officials in Australia.”
The asylum seekers were brought ashore in the Australian territory of the Cocos Islands last Sunday, after spending nearly a month in locked, windowless rooms on an Australian Customs vessel. On Friday, Morrison registered the arrival in the monthly Operation Sovereign borders update – marking the first registered asylum seeker boat arrival in over six months.
Around 80% of them are reported to have shown signs of torture and trauma.
A number of asylum seekers detained in the family camp on Nauru have begun peaceful protests over conditions at the centre. Nauru sources said on Saturday that three Somali women had self-harmed on Friday night as part of the protests.
The asylum seekers departed Pondicherry in southern India on 11 June, meaning they spent a month and a half at sea. Morrison had tried to negotiate with Indian authorities to hand them straight back without landing the asylum seekers in Australia.
The decision to transfer the asylum seekers to Nauru comes just days after a damning evidence at the national inquiry into children in immigration detention where former centre workers described conditions in the detention centres on Nauru as entirely inappropriate for children.
Guardian Australia revealed on Saturday that just 50% of requests and complaints from asylum seekers on Nauru were resolved by detention centre staff, with approximately 12% of requests for clothing being granted.
Former Nauru detention centre worker Kirsty Diallo told the inquiry that one asylum seeker was so desperate for clothes for her daughter that she stitched her a dress from a mosquito net after managers consistently failed to provide her with clothes.