Tag Archives: nauru detention centre

Nauru refugees ‘treated like animals’, subjected to ‘bride shopping’ by guards, social workers say

June 30, 2015 | ABC News

Refugees walk about the detention centre on the island of Nauru

Refugees walk about the detention centre on the island of Nauru

Desperate and dispirited asylum seekers at the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru formed “suicide pacts”, identified themselves as numbers instead of by name, and were treated like animals by some guards, according to accounts by two social workers who worked at the centre.

“There was single adult female.. there was a group of teenage girls, there was a group of fathers, there was a group of mothers,” said Natasha Blucher, a case worker who personally signed 10 reports alerting centre management to the pacts.

Ms Blucher and another former social worker, Michelle Groeneveld, were among 10 Save the Children staff ordered to leave Nauru last October when former immigration minister Scott Morrison claimed they encouraged refugees to self-harm.

A Government review dismissed the claims, but none of the workers at the centre of the storm has spoken publicly until now.

Ms Blucher said she often clashed with guards about the practice of identifying inmates as numbers.

“Most of the time it wasn’t toxic but then sometimes … I would challenge them on things that they were doing or ask them to stop treating people with disrespect or ask them to stop referring to people by their boat IDs,” she said.

Ms Blucher said she believes the practice demoralised and degraded people: “So, something that people would constantly say is, ‘they think we’re animals, they’re treating us like animals’.”

Sinister stories have already emerged about the sexual exploitation of inmates by guards.

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AUDIO: Listen to Peter Lloyd’s report. (PM)

Ms Blucher described an atmosphere where local Nauruan staff saw the camp as a showcase for bride shopping.

“They would say things like, ‘hey baby, come and sit on my knee’,” she said.

“They would peer into their tents, they were trying to set it up for when they got outside and they could have a relationship, and the women found that very, very threatening.”

Ms Groeneveld argues the Australian Government was deliberately cruel and did not meet needs on purpose.

“It’s very obvious in that environment that the Government do not want to give any comfort or make anything comfortable at all,” she said.

Social workers were constantly reporting abuse

By late last September, as some asylum seekers on Nauru were planning to kill themselves, the Government decided to sack some Save the Children case workers.

In leaked documents, one official described the public sacking of staff as a “circuit breaker”.

I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence – a boiling pot of despair.

Michelle Groeneveld, Save the Children staff

Ms Blucher has come to see the dismissal as an act of intimidation.

“I was just constantly challenging when I felt that people were not being respected or that where somebody’s safety was at risk,” she said.

Ms Groeneveld had a similar view.

“I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence — a boiling pot of despair,” she said.

“We were constantly reporting inappropriate behaviour of guards towards children.”

The Senate inquiry into allegations over Nauru received a submission from Wilson Security, denying wrongdoing.

Ms Blucher believed Australia’s detention camp on Nauru had become the bitter harvest of successive governments — intentionally cruel to force asylum seekers to give up their claims.

“Even if it works to stop the boats, it’s not worth it,” she said.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-29/desperate-nauru-refugees-formed-suicide-pacts-social-worker/6581906

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More than 200 asylum seekers on Manus Island join legal challenge to contest detention

June 23, 2015 | ABC News

The asylum seekers will argue that their ongoing detention breaches the right to liberty.

The asylum seekers will argue that their ongoing detention breaches the right to liberty.

Almost a third of the asylum seekers at the Australian-run immigration centre on Manus Island are challenging their detention, after 277 of them were added to an ongoing case in Papua New Guinea.

The case will argue the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island has breached at least 8 parts of PNG’s constitution, including the right to liberty, freedom of movement, information about detention and access to a lawyer.

Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia approved a move to join 277 new applicants to the original 25 asylum seekers who started the case.

“I will be travelling to Manus [Island] and will spend 21 days to collate the 277 signed affidavits for filing by the first week of August,” Ben Lomai, the lawyer representing the asylum seekers, said.

The legal action began when 25 asylum seekers were jailed without charge during unrest in January and were able to make contact with a lawyer while in a provincial prison.

The case has been filed against PNG’s chief migration officer, immigration minister and the state.

Australia’s role in the case remains unclear.

“We are aware of the case being run by Mr Lomai in PNG on behalf of a number of detainees in Manus … [but] the Commonwealth has not been served documents in relation to this case,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said.

However, Mr Lomai said he has served documents on the Commonwealth of Australia via diplomatic channels that were suggested by the Australian High Commission.

“If the court finds in favour of the applicants there are serious implications for the Commonwealth of Australia, because I will be asking for [the asylum seekers] to be released to the first port of entry, which is Australia,” he said.

The case is one of numerous legal challenges to the Australian-funded processing of asylum seekers on PNG’s remote Manus Island.

Former PNG opposition leader Belden Namah launched a Supreme Court challenge last year, which has since become bogged down in the court system.

Australia has funded PNG’s legal challenge against Mr Namah’s case.

In March, PNG judge David Cannings launched a Human Rights Inquiry into conditions for asylum seekers,allowing rare media access to the detention centre.

The PNG government stayed that case, citing conflict of interest, and Justice Cannings promptly launched a second human rights inquiry into whether asylum seekers’ rights were being denied.

Separately, asylum seekers are undertaking a class action in the Victorian Supreme Court, suing the Commonwealth for negligence relating to the standard of care provided at the detention centre and for psychological injury caused by conditions.

There were 943 asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island — according to Australian immigration figures from May 31 — and approximately 40 refugees at a transit centre awaiting permanent resettlement.

Some of the men have been on the island for almost two years and the PNG government is yet to form a policy on how to resettle them in other parts of the nation.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-22/hundreds-of-manus-island-detainees-join-legal-challenge/6564698

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Nauru staff call for closure of asylum centre and royal commission into abuse

April 07, 2015 | the guardian

Open letter from detention centre employees alleges Australian government knew of physical and sexual abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru more than a year before it acted.

Asylum seeker children play in the dirt at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Nauru.

Asylum seeker children play in the dirt at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Nauru. Photograph: Supplied

The federal government has been aware of physical and sexual abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru for more than a year but failed to take appropriate action, workers from the detention centre have alleged.

In an unprecedented move, 23 current and former medical staff, teachers, social workers and child protection staff have signed an open letter calling for the removal of all asylum seekers from Nauru to Australia. They have also called for a royal commission into sexual abuse on Nauru and into the government’s response.
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The three-page letter says comments by immigration minister Peter Dutton that there was a “zero tolerance” attitude to sexual abuse “do not reflect the attitude or actual response” on Nauru.

It says Dutton’s request for asylum seekers to come forward and report sexual assaults could put them in further danger because of the close-knit nature of the detention environment.

The recent review led by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss found some allegations of sexual assault at the centre were substantiated. The review has now sparked a federal Senate inquiry to further investigate allegations of abuse at the centre.

Some of the workers were also due to appear on ABC’s Lateline on Tuesday evening.

The letter says: “We are a group of current and former employees from the Nauru detention centre who have first-hand knowledge of the conditions in which children and adults are detained.

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“We would like to inform the Australian public that the government and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection [DIBP] has been aware of the [allegations of] sexual and physical assault of women and children on Nauru for at least 17 months, long before the Moss review was ever commissioned.

“[DIBP] and all service providers were informed, in writing, of several of the assaults detailed in the Moss review in addition to many other assaults not mentioned in the report.”

The letter was signed by former and current staff and workers from Save the Children and International Health and Medical Services.

Former Save the Children workers named on the letter include Jesse-James Clements, Viktoria Vibhakar, Tobias Gunn, Jarrod Kenney, Hamish Tacey and E Maree.

Named former staff from International Health and Medical Services include Dr Peter Young, Dr Rodney Juratowitch and Dr Michael Gordon.

A number of other current and former staff from Save the Children and the Salvation Army have signed the letter, but chose to remain anonymous.

The incidents it highlights include one from November 2013 in which a boy was sexually assaulted by a detention centre employee. Guardian Australia has previously reported on the case, and obtained documents that show the service provider Transfield filed an incident report at the time.

The letter says that on this and other occasions, the immigration department was made aware of the allegations through incident reports, meetings and minutes from Save the Children meetings, but that it chose not to act.

“Despite this knowledge, the DIBP chose to keep this child in the detention centre where he was assaulted and remained at risk of further abuse and retaliation. Indeed, this child was subjected to further incidents of abuse while he was in detention.”

The letter says Dutton’s comments encouraging asylum seekers to report abuse when the Moss report was released posed further risks as they continue to live in close proximity to the alleged perpetrators. The signatories allege this will place them at future risk of assaults.

“It is not safe to expect women and children to report abuse to authorities and then require them to live in close proximity to the [alleged] perpetrators,” it said.

“To do so places them at risk for repeated assault, retaliation for reporting the abuse, and exposure to repeated reminders of the assaults that they suffered which further delays their recovery from trauma.”

The letter says the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women by detention centre staff – another allegation raised by Moss – was reported to the Department of Immigration 16 months before the Moss review.

“However, DIBP refused to remove these women from the unsafe detention environment.”

The letter calls for the closure of the Nauru detention centre.

“In order to protect asylum seekers, and in particular women and children from further abuse, we immediately ask for the transfer of all asylum seekers in the Nauru detention camp to Australia. We also request the Australian people support a royal commission into abuse allegations in the Nauru detention centre.”

The Senate inquiry into events on Nauru is now accepting submissions, and is likely to hold public hearings in April and May. Some former detention centre staff are preparing submissions, which will be protected by parliamentary privilege.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/07/nauru-staff-call-for-closure-of-asylum-centre-and-royal-commission-into-abuse?CMP=soc_567

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Three Refugees Hospitalised After More Self-Harm And Violence On Nauru

March 17, 2015 | newmatilda

Tensions have once again boiled over on the island of Nauru, amid growing protests and clashes between islanders and refugees. Max Chalmers reports. WARNING: This article contains images of a distressing nature.

At least three refugees living in the community on Nauru were hospitalised overnight after a stone throwing attack knocked a couple off a motorbike, and a young woman attempted suicide in the Anibare camp.

Around 10pm a group of refugees were attacked while riding motorbikes, with a man in his late 20s struck in the head by a rock, causing him to crash the bike and leaving him “badly injured”, according to a friend who visited him in hospital after the incident.

Images of the man show him bleeding heavily from his face.

New Matilda understands both the man and his wife remain in hospital, and that Nauruan police have questioned them, as well as another group of witnesses.

“It’s very common for the locals to throw stones, it happened to my friend last night… it’s common it’s, not something unusual,” one refugee said.

After hearing of the incident refugees and locals gathered at the hospital, with police on hand to prevent conflict between the groups.

In a separate incident that took place a short time after the stone throwing, a young Iranian woman was also left hospitalised after attempting to commit suicide.

Refugees who know the woman told New Matilda she had suffered severe back ache in recent months, preventing her from basic tasks, including shopping and cooking.

They said she had only been offered painkillers, and had become desperate for proper treatment.

One of these friends, who lives on the same block in a different room, had been caring for the woman last night, but was forced outside to make a call.

When she returned, the woman was in the bathroom.

“I call her, are you hearing me, and she didn’t answer me, and I was worried,” the friend, also an Iranian, told New Matilda.

“I opened the door and I saw her… she was bleeding, she was awake.”

“She was lying on the floor, her head was on the toilet, and she was not good, she was, how can I say, her face was completely yellow. She was not feeling good at all.

“I called other friends and I called the ambulance and police and anyone I know.”

According to the friend, Nauruan police arrived first, followed by an ambulance a full hour after the incident took place.

“Everything here is slow. The life here is nothing for them, the refugee, are not important here. No-one care about us,” they said.

The friend accompanied her to Nauru’s only hospital in the ambulance, crying as they travelled.

After being given painkillers, both returned to the Anibare camp in the early hours of Tuesday morning, where the injured woman is now resting.

An image from Nauru overnight, in which a young woman attempted suicide.

An image from Nauru overnight, in which a young woman attempted suicide.

As New Matilda revealed last week, former Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison had been left ‘shit-worried’ after a video informing asylum seekers they would never be settled in Australia caused escalating protests in September last year.

While these concerns related to the situation in the centre, tensions have also been steadily building in the Nauruan community as refugees are processed and released.

Protests have become a regular occurrence, with the Nauruan government issuing restrictions on where they are allowed to take place. Images seen by New Matilda (below) show women and children protesting today, holding banners that read “we are refugee women, we are not attacker” and “stop violence against women and children”.

Refugees are currently negotiating for the right to protest outside the Australian High Commission.

Close to 200 people, including children, were taken into custody after protesting earlier in the month.

Violence against refugees in the community has been regularly reported since released from detention began, including multiple attacks on unaccompanied minors.

According to refugee and human rights law experts, Australia maintains an obligation to refugees resettled on Nauru even after they are released from detention.

The Department of Immigration has been contacted for comment.

Source: https://newmatilda.com/2015/03/17/three-refugees-hospitalised-after-more-self-harm-and-violence-nauru

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Refugees told by locals to leave Nauru or face ‘bad things happening’ again

November 17, 2014 | the guardian

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In menacing letter, locals warn refugees against stealing jobs and fraternising with island women

NAURU
The letter is the latest in a string of attacks and threats against refugees sent to Nauru by Australia. Photograph: Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images

Refugees on Nauru have been threatened again by locals, told to stop stealing jobs, having affairs with local women, and to leave the island or face “bad things happening”.

In an menacing anonymous letter left at the houses of all resettled refugees on Nauru, the “Youth of Republic of Nauru” warned refugees would continue to be attacked if they stayed on the island.

“Refugees are taking over all our job opportunities and spreading over our small congested community, making our lives miserable.

“Second big and very important issue is that Nauru is a conservative country, it is not a multicultural country so resettling refugees means that in[tro]ducing different culture from different countries [is a] mistake and the wrong decision of a few corrupt people from Nauru Government putting the lives, culture, customs, values of Nauru local people in danger.

“Our women, girls and teenagers are interested in refugees because of their skin, colour, face, and handsomeness. Our wives, sisters, and daughters are in contact with refugees and having affairs with them. We can never see our women having fun with refugees and neglecting locals.”

The letter is the latest in a string of attacks and threats against refugees sent to Nauru by Australia, including the bashing of a group of unaccompanied child refugees, which left one child in hospital.

Another man was stoned and then beaten by a group of local men, and taken to hospital with serious head injuries and his sight damaged.

“We warn refugees to go away of our country [sic] and just to hell with all you concerns, if not, get ready for the bad things happening and waiting ahead,” the letter said.

Refugees awoke on Monday morning to find the letter had been left at all the refugee camps, and at resettlement homes at Fly Camp, Anibare Lodge and Ijuw Lodge.

The threat is reflective of the growing tensions between local Nauruans and the transplanted refugees, many of whom are Iranian Muslims and Christians.

Local Nauruans resent the Australian government-funded accommodation given to refugees, which is luxuriant by island standards, with running water and 24-hour-a-day electricity.

As well, several refugees have found jobs on Nauru, mainly low-paying, manual labour positions. But on an island with 90% unemployment, this has been fiercely resented.

But the largest tension, Guardian Australia has been told, is over refugee men fraternising with island women, which has angered locals.

The letter is condemnatory of the Australian government dumping its “rubbish [refugees]” on Nauru, but is also reflective of Nauruans’ growing disaffection with their own government, widely seen as a corrupt cabal that has bankrupted the once-wealthy island state.

The Nauru government ran out of money in September and had its bank accounts frozen over unpaid debts. The government is almost entirely dependent on Australian aid to survive.

“We warn our corrupt government as well as Australian government to take away your rubbish [refugees] and leave our country, otherwise there can be worse situation for refugees [than] you can see these days. Our group network is working and keeps watching on all the activities of the refugees.”

The letter, which has been written on a computer and has no handwriting on any part of the document, issues an ultimatum to refugees: “We warn all the refugees working … to quit the jobs and stay back [out] of our community and also stop walking around in the island.”

One refugee on the island told Guardian Australia: “Refugees are so scared, frightened that nobody would leave the camp. All the parents … worry about their children because the kids need to go to school but safety and security … is a big concern.”

The Nauruan government has made efforts to defuse local hostility. The country’s president, Baron Waqa, told parliament after the child refugees were beaten: “I’m disheartened that the refugees are being attacked by the locals verbally and physically.”

The Australian government maintains that the welfare of refugees resettled on Nauru is a matter solely for the Nauru government.

But several arms of the United Nations, including the committee against torture, have told the Australian government that it is wrong, and that Australia has “effective control” of the camps and the living conditions, and that it is legally responsible for what happens to resettled refugees.

Victoria Martin-Iverson from the Refugee Rights Action Network said Nauruans were entitled to complain about their government’s deal with Australia, but that they should not take their anger out on the refugees.

“Both the citizens of Nauru and the asylum seekers are victims of the Australian government’s appalling human rights violations. Refugees are not safe on Nauru and must be brought back to Australia.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/17/locals-tell-refugees-to-leave-nauru

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Teen Asylum Seekers Fear For Their Lives After Weekend Violence On Nauru

October 28, 2014 | new matilda

As asylum seekers are released into the community on Nauru, tensions have begun spilling over, with four boys hospitalised over the weekend. Max Chalmers reports.

Unaccompanied minors released from detention centres on Nauru and living among the community are today fearing for their lives after a series of violent attacks over the weekend which saw at least four young teens hospitalised, as tensions between islanders and asylum seekers escalate.

New Matilda has learned four underage asylum seekers were hospitalised on Sunday night after being attacked while returning to their accommodation from a day at the beach.

Asylum seekers involved in the incident, aged between 15 and 17, told New Matilda a group of Naruan men pulled up to them on two motorbikes as they made the two hour walk back to their housing.

The men are believed to have been intoxicated and began ridiculing the boys.

“They were swearing; fuck Afghanistan, fuck your religion, fuck refugees,” one of the boys told New Matilda.

According to the boys involved, the men stole and destroyed several phones, before attacking them.

“They punch me, they slap me – I was wearing a singlet, they broke my singlet,” one boy said.

“They gave us warning say ‘we will kill you’, and that time I felt very scared, no one can help us, and I don’t have a phone.”

“Everywhere was dark, they were big, big men.”

Multiple death threats were made.

A young unaccompanied minor on Nauru was one of four boys assaulted by Naruan men and hospitalised over the weekend.

A young unaccompanied minor on Nauru was one of four boys assaulted by Naruan men and hospitalised over the weekend.

“They [said] that Save the Children [an NGO working on Nauru] and Immigration are not able to protect you from us. This is our country and we can do what we want,” another boy interviewed by New Matilda said.

The violence forced two of the boys to flee to the beach, while the remaining two escaped to a separate location.

New Matilda understands the boys were eventually able to contact Save the Children employees. They were located by staffers, before being contacted by Australian Immigration officials and local police, and then taken to hospital.

One boy’s injuries were serious enough to result in an overnight stay.

Before being found, the boys hid behind a large rock on the beach.

“Same as Afghanistan, it’s not safe here. I was very scared,” one said.

“We came from Afghanistan for peace, not for fighting, not for beating.”

Dianne Hiles, Chair of asylum seeker advocacy group ChilOut, criticised Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison for sending children to Nauru.

“We’ve had concerns all along about the conditions in which people are being held on Nauru,” Ms Hiles said.

“The whole ethical responsibility for the state and wellbeing of these young people rests with our government. They’re financing the situation; they’ve set it up.

“Whatever the reason for the attack, these boys have been injured and there has been a huge failure in protecting them. Whoever the guardian is has not been able to keep these boys safe.”

Morrison is the legal guardian of all unaccompanied minors in Australian immigration detention, but abrogates that duty once children are moved to Nauru, as is standard practice under Australia’s current policy of offshore detention and processing.

New Matilda understands it has now been exactly one month since all unaccompanied minors held in detention on Nauru, numbering just under 30, were released from closed detention into the community.

They are being housed in three separate areas spread across the island.

One of the unaccompanied minors assaulted recently on Nauru.

One of the unaccompanied minors assaulted recently on Nauru.

Initially overjoyed to be free after a lengthy period of detention on Christmas Island and then Nauru, the group’s morale has collapsed after realising the inadequacies of settlement on the tiny island nation.

The unaccompanied minors have been provided with a small allowance on which to live each week, but say it is inadequate.

Travel around the island is hampered by a lack of buses. Water shortages are frequent, forcing minors to replenish toilets with seawater.

Their release has also increased tensions with locals and asylum seekers are reporting frequent abuse and threats, including during shopping visits and travel around the island.

“The young people, the old people, when they are driving and we are walking they are showing the middle finger to us,” one asylum seeker said.

“We need to escape and ignore… it’s very, very painful. Someone is doing something very bad and you’re not able to do anything.”

A group of locals has been established to assist the asylum seekers settle, and provide a point of contact.

Tensions inside the detention centre have also been high in recent weeks with reports of self-harm surfacing after it was announced asylum seekers on Christmas Island may be eligible for Temporary Protection Visas in Australia, while those already transferred to Nauru will not.

The new settlement deal with Cambodia has also inflamed the situation.

Like all asylum seekers settled on the island, the unaccompanied minors will eventually be moved on as Australia’s deal with Nauru only guarantees them a place on the island for five years.

There are reports of separate incidents of unprovoked violence against unaccompanied minors on the island, but New Matilda has not been able to independently verify them at this stage.

Afraid for their immediate safety, young asylums seekers say they remain very frightened, and are pessimistic about their future.

“Now we don’t know where we should go. We came from Afghanistan to save our life, now we don’t know where to go from Nauru to save our life,” one said.

The teenager made a plea to all Australians.

“Please, you can’t play with our future, you can’t play with our lives. [The Australian government] are playing now. I want to feel safe, just, I want to see my future bright, not like here.”

Hiles said the situation was an indictment on Scott Morrison.

“Young Hazara boys in particular are at huge risk in Afghanistan. Apart from being a persecuted minority, they are actively sought out and killed and they’ve usually lost family members,” she said.

“They come here, they generally qualify for protection, but we continue to choose to make life as harsh as possible for them.

“We should not be treating young boys like this.”

Save the Children provided the following statment a short time after deadline:

Save the Children is appalled by any instance of assault on refugee children in Nauru. Unaccompanied child refugees are some of the most vulnerable – far from home, family and friends, many already witness to horrors no child should go through. These children deserve every protection that can be offered.

Save the Children is working flat out to provide the best possible support to the children in our care. However, Nauru is a small and remote island nation with a small population and limited resources, and Save the Children maintains it is not a sustainable solution for refugee children, particularly those unaccompanied by any family.

New Matilda is seeking comment from Minister Morrison’s office.

Source: https://newmatilda.com/2014/10/28/teen-asylum-seekers-fear-their-lives-after-weekend-violence-nauru

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Asylum seekers: Morrison to sign resettlement deal with Cambodia

September 24, 2014 | the guardian

Australian immigration minister will later this week seal controversial agreement to move refugees from Nauru to southeast Asian nation.

Nauru
Australia is seeking to move asylum seekers from the island of Nauru. Photograph: Torsten Blackwood/AFP

Cambodia and Australia will sign a controversial refugee resettlement deal later in the week, which will facilitate the transfer of refugees who have arrived in Australia and been transferred to the tiny island state of Nauru to be resettled in the impoverished southeast Asian nation.

Neither Australia nor Cambodia has shared details of the deal with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), despite serious concerns it will break international law.

The Cambodian government said on Wednesday that Australia’s immigration minister, Scott Morrison, will sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two governments on Friday.

Morrison later released a statement confirming the two countries would sign an MOU later in the week but gave no further details on the content of the deal.

According to a statement released by Cambodia’s ministry of foreign affairs and international co-operation, Morrison will pay a two-day visit to Phnom Penh starting on Friday and will co-sign the memorandum with Cambodia’s interior minister, Sar Kheng, at 3pm.

Negotiations between the two countries began in February, when Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, paid a visit to Cambodia.

But the full details of the deal have not been publicly disclosed and refugee advocacy groups, as well as the UNHCR, have expressed concern about the welfare of the refugees upon their arrival in Cambodia.

Vivian Tan, a UNHCR press officer in Bangkok, said in an email to Guardian Australia on Wednesday that she did not have the details of the agreement, because the UNHCR has not been a party to it, but have “expressed our concerns to officials of both governments based on what we know about it”.

“The UNHCR is worried about the adverse precedent being set by this type of arrangement that in the first instance, transfers asylum-seekers who have sought Australia’s protection to Nauru, in conditions that have previously been described as harmful, then relocates refugees recognised in Nauru to Cambodia.

“Asylum-seekers should ordinarily be processed, and benefit from protection, in the territory of the state where they arrive, or which otherwise has jurisdiction over them,” Tan added.

She said the UNHCR is also concerned that the practice of relocating refugees to other countries “where they may not be able to access fundamental rights” enables countries to divest themselves of their responsibilities as regards the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Human rights groups and legal bodies in both Australia and Cambodia have said they have not been consulted on its contents.

Numerous groups have voiced serious concerns that the resettlement deal is in violation of Australia’s international obligations under the Refugee Convention.

The Cambodia Daily reported on Wednesday unconfirmed details that the deal that the deal could be worth $40m.

The Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, described the impending MOU as a “dirty refugee deal”.

“Cambodia doesn’t have the capacity to look after these refugees, but the Abbott government simply doesn’t care,” Hanson-Young said.

“As one of the poorest nations in the world, Cambodia struggles to care for its own citizens, let alone the refugees that Australia wants to dump there.

“Those most at risk if the Abbott government goes ahead with this shameful deal will be vulnerable young women and girls.

“This is not what a regional solution looks like, this is cruelty.

More than 20% of the Cambodian population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

At present, refugees coming to Cambodia rely heavily on support provided by NGOs such as the Jesuit Refugee Service. It assists with helping new arrivals find accommodation, attend language classes, and also provides small start-up loans.

However, Cambodia has a poor record with regard to its duty of care toward refugees. In December 2009, on the eve of a $1bn investment deal with China, Cambodia forcibly deported to China 20 Uighurs whose applications for asylum were still being processed. Of these, two were children and one of the women was pregnant. The decision was met with outrage from Amnesty International and the World Uyghur Congress.

Hanson-Young said that the Greens have received advice that the Australian government would need to get the resettlement deal approved by parliament.

Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said it was “disgraceful” that the agreement was “being rammed through in secret, with no public consultation despite concerns raised by Cambodian civil society”.

“Australia is undermining refugee protections by sending people to a country that is both ill-equipped to handle refugees and has an awful track record of not protecting asylum seekers,” Pearson said.

Sister Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Phnom Penh, said the news of the impending MOU was “stunning,” particularly because of a failure of the Cambodian government to consult with civil society groups.

She said she had not seen the MOU, but understood it to be accompanied by two other documents; an implementation guideline and another, more detailed, daily plan.

When asked if the Jesuit Refugee Service had been consulted, she said: “Absolutely not. It was a secret – it sort of came out of the blue between Julie Bishop and [Cambodian prime minister] Hun Sen [in February].”

“I didn’t expect to be consulted, and maybe because the whole thing is shrouded in secrecy. I’m not sure any civil society was consulted. It would be good to consult the refugees,” she said.

Sr Coghlan did meet with Greg Kelly, an official sent over by Australia to begin working as a counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, in August.

“I presented him my reservations about the [deal] and said I was quite pessimistic, whereas he was hoping to be optimistic

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/24/asylum-seekers-morrison-will-sign-resettlement-deal-with-cambodia

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Filed under Asylum Policy, PNG/Pacific Solution, UNHCR