This is a joint report published by the Refugee Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

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On 14 September 2012, Australia sent the first people back to Nauru under the second version of its offshore processing policy. This joint report reports on what is happening to around 900 people who are still stuck on Nauru six years later, including an estimated 109 children.

Young girl in blue top holding doll sitting on bedframe

Executive summary

Six years after the Australian government began sending people seeking asylum to Nauru, there are still around 900 people left on the island, including an estimated 109 children. All of them will have been there for over four years. Almost 200 people lived in a processing centre, including 14 children, until they were cleared out along with tents and temporary accommodation they were living in for the Pacific Island Forum.

In 2013, Amnesty International reported that Australia’s policy of offshore processing was breaking people. Six years on, people are broken. Children as young as 7 and 12 are experiencing repeated incidents of suicide attempts, dousing themselves in petrol, and becoming catatonic. At least two people have killed themselves, and three others have died. Many more are trying to kill or harm themselves. People are losing their hope and their lives on this island. This is Australia’s man-made refugee crisis in the country it still treats as a colony, Nauru.

Experts are saying that the people transferred to Nauru by Australia are among the most traumatised they have seen, even more traumatised than those in war zones or in refugee camps around the world. Despite repeated calls by the United Nations, medical bodies, hundreds of charities and community groups, both major political parties in Australia continue to believe that it is politically necessary to punish a small number of highly vulnerable people at extraordinary cost. Those costs are borne not only by those people, but also by Australian taxpayers and to Australia’s democracy and sense of itself as a humane, decent country.

Despite unprecedented efforts at secrecy by both governments, Australians and the world cannot claim they do not know what is happening on Nauru. There have been many reports by the Australian Parliament, by civil society organisations and the UN documenting sexual and other forms of abuse, of seriously deficient medical treatment and appalling conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Many of those living there have spoken out and shared their suffering at great risk to themselves, as have brave whistleblowers who have worked there.

What is happening now on Nauru has gone well beyond our worst fears when this policy was resumed in 2012. Australia’s policy has traumatised children so much that they are giving up eating and trying to kill themselves. Australian courts are increasingly forced to step in so that people can get the medical treatment they urgently need, as the Australian Government repeatedly ignores doctors’ advice and does everything it can to avoid people being transferred to Australia, including sending them to Taiwan and Papua New Guinea. It has even tried to coerce a 63-year-old man dying of lung cancer to die in Taiwan, and to send a woman to Papua New Guinea to terminate her pregnancy, despite it being illegal there.

It has also separated around 35 people from their families, between Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Australia. There are fathers who have never held their babies, mothers who have had to leave behind their children on Nauru. By insisting that family members stay behind when others need medical treatment, the Australian Government puts people’s lives at risk. In one case, by the time the Australian Government agreed to let a young boy with traumatic withdrawal syndrome be transferred with his family, he was 36 kilograms and could not even stand. Every family member of every child (except for parent staying in hospital) has been detained on arrival.

For many there is no end in sight. While the Government of the United States of America has offered to resettle up to 1,250 refugees, only around 335 people have so far left, almost two years since the agreement. At least 121 refugees have already been refused resettlement, and many people are from countries subject to ‘extreme vetting’. Of the seven people who took up Cambodia’s offer of resettlement, only one is reported to still be there.

Australia still adamantly refuses to even accept the offer of the New Zealand government to resettle 150 people, even though it has conceded that there will be no other third countries coming forward to resettle those left. It continues to double down on its position that they will never come to Australia, even for the handful of people who have family in Australia or for those raped in Nauru.

There are many real and very complex refugee crises in the world. There are more refugees in the world than people in Australia at the moment. Yet there is a very simple solution to the man-made refugee crisis on Nauru – and six years on, it is clearer than ever that it is the only possible solution.: the suffering must end, and Australia must bring them all here now.

Read the full report

Read the ASRC’s factsheet on child trauma

More info

Amnesty International, Australia’s Regime of Cruelty in Nauru (17 October 2016)

Amnesty International, Island of Despair: Australia’s “Processing” of Refugees on Nauru (ASA 12/4934/2016, 17 October 2016)

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Australia: Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru (2 August 2016)

Australian National Audit Office, Offshore Processing Centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea – Contract Management of Garrison Support and Welfare Services: Department of Immigration and Border Protection (2016)

Wendy Bacon, Pamela Curr, Carmen Lawrence, Julie Macken, and Claire O’Connor, Protection Denied, Abuse Condoned: Women on Nauru At Risk Report (June 2016)

Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the Initial Report of Nauru (CRC/C/NRU/CO/1, 28 October 2016)

GetUp! and Human Rights Law Centre, Association With Abuse: The Financial Sector’s Involvement in Gross Human Rights Abuses of People Seeking Asylum in Australia (2016)

Philip Moss, Review into Recent Allegations Relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru (6 February 2015)

Janet Phillips, The ‘Pacific Solution’ Revisited: A Statistical Guide to the Asylum Seeker Caseloads on Nauru and Manus Island (Background Notes, Parliamentary Library of Australia, 4 September 2012)

Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru, Taking Responsibility: Conditions and Circumstances at Australia’s Regional Processing Centre in Nauru (Final Report, 31 August 2015)

Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru, Recent Allegations Relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru (31 July 2015)

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Serious Allegations of Abuse, Self-Harm and Neglect of Asylum Seekers in Relation to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and Any like Allegations in Relation to the Manus Regional Processing Centre (21 April 2017)

Special Rapporteur on the human rights and of migrants, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants on His Mission to Australia and the Regional Processing Centres in Nauru (A/HRC/35/25/Add.3, 24 April 2017)

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR’s Top Asia Official Briefs Press on Australian Offshore Processing on Nauru, and UNHCR Talks with Bangladesh and Myanmar (Transcript, 4 April 2018)

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Monitoring Visit to the Republic of Nauru (7 October 2013)

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Mission to the Republic of Nauru (3 December 2012)

United Nations Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on the Sixth Periodic Report of Australia (CCPR/C/AUS/CO/6, 9 November 2017).