Editorial
Close Nauru

There is no more simple way to say this: the detention centre on Nauru must be closed and the people held there brought to Australia.

Every day the centre continues to operate, Australia gives away a little more of its decency.

For some time, it has been well known that sexual abuse is endemic in the camps. The Moss report simply confirmed what was already the subject of extensive reporting: that women and children are abused in the camps, that conditions sexualise minors, that the guards paid to protect asylum seekers had become their tormentors, that men are too often assaulted.

The report this weekend by The Saturday Paper’s chief correspondent, Martin McKenzie-Murray, shows that conditions outside the camps are worse still. Refugees are being settled into situations that are entirely obscene.

Any one of the stories in his report should demand a significant change in government policy. In concert, they require an immediate end to offshore processing.

The prime minister must now decide whether he can accept a system that allows a woman who sought asylum from Australia to be raped and immolated. He must explain how, after being brought to Australia to abort the pregnancy that was the product of that rape, she could be forced back to the island of her suffering.

The prime minister must decide whether he can accept a situation where rape is so common that women have appellations for their abusers. He must accept that these are women who sought asylum from Australia and who are only in Nauru because he forced them to be there. They are doomed to live unwelcomed in a failing state propped up by the money Australia pays it to keep our secrets.

The purpose of Nauru detention is simple. It exists to be worse than the war zones its prisoners have fled. It exists as a deterrent, and in this it has been successful.

But success in this instance is a terrible thing. Success is a woman in hospital, made catatonic by abuse, whose body is killing itself after her own attempts failed.

Success is the awful number of asylum seekers who with detergents and bedsheets and blades and rope have attempted death in preference over the life Australia has condemned them to live. The prime minister must consider this.

The senate’s select committee inquiry into conditions and circumstances on Nauru heard this week of asylum seekers being waterboarded by the guards paid to carry out the government’s injustices, a claim that was immediately dismissed.

It heard of a guard falsifying evidence in an assault case against an asylum seeker, to be sure the “shithead” would never be settled in Australia. It heard of a shredder used so often to destroy official documents it was nicknamed File 13.

The situation on Nauru has become so appalling it would not be surprising if worse was still to be exposed. But the prime minister should not have to wait for this. The government should need no more evidence that it is presiding over a gulag.

The horror of offshore processing has largely succeeded in stopping the arrival of asylum-seeker boats. But this success has been paid for with the country’s humanity. Its price has been much too high, and continues to climb. The detention centre on Nauru must be closed and the people held there brought to Australia.

 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 22, 2015 as "Close Nauru". Subscribe here.

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