Nauru + 1 more

Pressure on Australia to Free 50 Child Detainees Held on Nauru

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Phil Mercer

SYDNEY — Australia wants to ban refugees that have been detained after arriving by boat and resettled in other countries from ever entering Australia. Ministers say the measures would stop migrants using the so-called ‘back door’ into the country.

There has been mounting pressure on Australia’s center-right government to give refuge to more than 50 child migrants held on Nauru. Some have been detained on the tiny South Pacific republic for five years. The island of Nauru is host to an Australian sponsored detention facility. Doctors have been expressing increasingly grave fears for the children’s mental and physical health.

The government says it is willing to allow asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru to start new lives in other countries. The United States has an agreement to resettle hundreds of migrants held in Australian offshore processing centers. New Zealand, too, has offered a home to 150 refugees.

There is though a condition to Australia’s acquiescence. Any migrant resettled in a third country would never be allowed to enter Australia. Canberra argues this would maintain the integrity of a border protection policy that is designed to deter unauthorized boat arrivals.

The opposition Labor party says it will now support the legislation, but only for those refugees being sent to New Zealand from Australia’s controversial offshore processing center on the island of Nauru.

Peter Dutton, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister, said Labor’s approach is flawed.

“Let me say this, Mr Speaker, there are 13 children on Nauru at the moment. They are involved in family groups. Adults, mostly males within that family unit, are the subject of adverse security assessments from the United States. Now, the first question, Mr Speaker, is New Zealand going to take those people where the United States has advised that that person, that individual within the family unit is a risk to national security,” Dutton said.

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, said the well-being of vulnerable children is his priority.

“Labor thinks that we need to prioritize the health and welfare of these children and their families in Nauru and that is why Labor has been prepared to move its position in this respect,” Neumann said.

More than 200 detainees are held in Nauru. Under strict border control laws Canberra seeks to deny them resettlement in Australia, even if their refugee claims are genuine.

Australia argues that offshore processing is a powerful deterrent for migrants risking their lives at sea, often trying to make the journey on rickety fishing boats from Indonesia. Rights groups have consistently claimed conditions are cruel and inhumane.

A second offshore center at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea closed last year after local judges said it was unconstitutional.