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Our Letter to the Minister for Home Affairs regarding the transfer of people to Nauru

On 28 March 2024, we wrote to the Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil seeking clarity regarding the situation for people seeking refugee protection from Australia transferred to the Republic of Nauru. We outline five questions for clarification and call on the Australian Government to exercise transparency in relation to regional processing.

28 March 2024

Hon Clare O’Neil MP
Minister for Home Affairs
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Minister, 

Re: Clarity regarding the situation for people seeking refugee protection from Australia transferred to the Republic of Nauru 

I wish to seek clarity in relation to the recent transfer of dozens of people from Australia to Nauru in February 2024. At the Refugee Council’s regular national gathering on asylum issues yesterday, our members have discussed their concerns about the latest transfers to Nauru as well as the situation for those people that remain in detention on Nauru since last year. The Refugee Council and our supporters oppose regional processing and the transfer of people seeking refugee protection to another country. We strongly believe that Australia has the capacity and the duty to support people seeking safety.  

We recognise, however, that the Albanese Government plans to continue transferring any “unauthorised maritime arrivals” from Australia to Nauru as part of Operation Sovereign Borders.  

While in Opposition, many Labor Parliamentarians spoke publicly of their dismay over the time spent and conditions endured by refugees in offshore detention and regional processing arrangements. Senate Committee inquiries chaired by Labor Senators reported1 their concern about the lack of clarity on the timeframes for transferees’ release from locked detention, their refugee assessments or their resettlement options.  

Labor Parliamentarians also regularly spoke out against the secrecy and lack of transparency related to regional processing. Media blackouts, gag orders, and the refusal of visitation for independent observers to Nauru were all regular occurrences during the Coalition Government’s operation of regional processing. The Refugee Council urges the Government to exercise the transparency Labor Parliamentarians expected of the previous Government.  

With the further transfer of dozens more asylum seekers to Nauru, the Albanese Government has the opportunity to demonstrate how it intends to operate this policy. There is substantial evidence outlining the mistakes of the previous Government in its operation of regional processing. Our hope is that the Government can take an approach that learns from these previous mistakes and that incorporates the knowledge and expertise of organisations and individuals that can offer practical ideas rooted in addressing humanitarian need. 

In particular, the Refugee Council and our sector members are keen to understand: 

  1. Refugee Status Determination: What is the process for refugee status determination on Nauru and what timeframes are expected for the protection determinations to be made? 
  2. Prolonged detention: What are the plans for community release for people detained in the Regional Processing Centre, noting that some people have faced six months without freedom of movement? 
  3. Independent legal advice: What arrangements are in place for individuals to request and receive independent legal advice to support their decisions in making a refugee application? 
  4. Safety and healthcare requirements: Noting the serious issues raised in relation to safety concerns and access to appropriate accommodation, food, and healthcare for people detained on Nauru over the past decade, what safeguards have been put in place to prevent this harm from being repeated again in 2024? 
  5. Access to durable solutions: For people found to be in need of refugee protection, what durable solutions will be made available to them?  

The Refugee Council of Australia is available to discuss some of these options and to link your office or departmental staff with key individuals to support a better approach. 

Yours faithfully, 

Paul Power

Chief Executive Officer 

Refugee Council of Australia 

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