The dark truth about the island of Nauru
November 4, 2015 11:00pm
The Daily Telegraph
TWO things struck me as we broke the clouds and descended to Nauru: the island’s remoteness and that the airstrip occupies a quarter of the nation’s circumference.
Then there was the stifling humidity, and the phosphate dust that sticks to your tongue like an antacid tablet. That was February 2014, and as I reflect on Save the Children’s two years of support of the most vulnerable children and adults in detention, there’s a flood of emotion.
There’s a sense of pride and defiance, drawn from the incredible resilience of those in our care. But also from our inspiring colleagues who’ve lived the peaks and troughs working in an extremely challenging environment.
Save the Children staff on Nauru educated, counselled, protected and just plain cared. They brought a glimmer of hope by standing up for the rights of asylum seekers — children and adults.
From a basketball ring in “RPC-3” or an extra pair of shoes, to a family concert or an AFL demonstration day. They cared for children who’d been assaulted, attended police interviews to ensure children’s rights were respected and worked relentlessly to put in place a range of protective policies and measures to better shield children from violence.
They picked up the pieces when children stitched their lips in protest at being denied an Australian visa. Then they were attacked by their government for doing their jobs.
Remember, it was our child protection, welfare and education staff who were accused of fabricating claims of abuse and “coaching self-harm” on Nauru. These claims, now completely disproved by the government’s own Moss Review, were abhorrent to our values: protecting the wellbeing of children and their families on Nauru.
But alongside the outrage, there’s also a sense of achievement — for the gains we’ve made in establishing a school inside the detention centre to rival any in Australia.
Or the progress we’ve seen in adults, some of whom a few weeks ago completed their English language exams after studying their hearts out in our adult education program.
The overarching feeling though, which I know will linger long beyond the end of Save the Children’s contract on Nauru, is that I’ve witnessed a stain on history.
The unpalatable truth is that the asylum seeker and refugee population on Nauru represents the terrible human consequences of Australia’s immigration policy.
These consequences have arisen because of (or at least been exacerbated by) a policy that intends to deter refugees travelling by boat to Australia at any cost.
No one wants to see asylum seekers dying at sea. But to insist the only way to prevent such deaths is to adopt Australia’s current, harsh immigration policy is false.
Even worse is the lack of transparency and Orwellian- double-speak from our government that clouds the public’s view of what is being done in our name to some of the world’s most vulnerable people — asylum seekers fleeing violence in places such as Iraq and Syria.
I am therefore torn between feeling immense pride at what my colleagues have achieved on Nauru as well as feeling deeply troubled our government has caused lasting harm to those children.
For their part, the defensiveness of the Nauruan government is somewhat understandable. Their country is judged on a daily basis through the lens of an Australian media that expects better, but whose real target is the Australian government.
Nauru is caught in the crossfire defending its way of life — their “normal” — to an audience who may not fully understand the reality of life in a developing nation, nor their cultural perspective.
However, there’s no excuse for failing to prosecute child abuse. It should not have taken almost two years to process refugee claims, or open the detention centres to allow freedom of movement. Our government has no excuse either. And that’s why transparency and accountability are so important on Nauru, and must form part of this sorry chapter’s future.
Australians should not close their eyes to acts done in their name. And neither should it be incumbent on not-for-profits or individual aid workers to blow the whistle on acts of abuse.
Because these acts are being done in Australia’s name, and with more than a billion taxpayer dollars, it’s in the public interest to have independent and transparent oversight of our offshore processing centres.
Importantly, more transparency would also shine a light on the other human consequences of “stopping the boats”, and ensure the public’s assessment of this slogan’s human end game is viscerally comprehended.
Australians might then know whether it’s all been worth it. Or whether, perhaps, resettling these vanquished few elsewhere would have been a better thing to do.
Mat Tinkler is director of public affairs and policy for Save the Children Australia
Janet Wilson I can’t like this but thanks for speaking out. I am outraged and feel impotent to respond other than to annoy my local MP which I do very often. this government is an abomination.
Unlike · Reply · 24 · 5 November at 11:09
Eveline Goy I have to like this despite the sadness it generates. Save the Children have done an incredible job In horrific circumstances, and the curse of trying to support the indefensible stop the boat policy is indeed a stain on our history. When we awake from this nightmare we will scarcely believe that we could have allowed this to be done, all in our name
Unlike · Reply · 19 · 7 November at 04:18
Susan Johnston Thanks for all your efforts in looking after these people with dignity and respect. I abhor our policy of off shore processing but am so grateful people from STC could be there to make a difference.
Like · Reply · 8 · 7 November at 11:39
Leonard Peady Our governments treatment of refugees is inexcusable. This government has to go
Unlike · Reply · 9 · 7 November at 20:32 · Edited
Mary Blight So does the Labor party. They invented the ‘offshore’ solution.
Like · Reply · 4 · 13 November at 11:03
Adele Scott Thankyou Mat for helping these poor people. Their inhumane treatment in the name of Australians is totally unacceptable. I have a lump in my throat, a sore heart and tears in my eyes. This Government makes me sick
Unlike · Reply · 11 · 12 November at 09:19
Clare Pritchard Thank you Mat
Unlike · Reply · 3 · 13 November at 05:54
Norman Hunt I am ashamed to think that, apparently,the majority of Australians support this disgraceful policy.
Unlike · Reply · 4 · 13 November at 09:10
Remi Forcet At least you care Norman, and you raise your voice.
Like · Reply · 1 · 14 November at 04:35
Anna Crozier A transparent and well written article on the emotional conflict between those mindfully working with Save the Children Fund and the disgrace of Australian governance on asylum seekers.
Unlike · Reply · 3 · 13 November at 09:18
Catherine Sawkins Thank you Save The Children for your extraordinary work you have done on Nauru. I am deeply sorry for the treatment you received and profoundly ashamed of my government’s disgraceful inhumane policy. Now we have to put up with our ex PM spruiking it wo…See More
Unlike · Reply · 3 · 13 November at 10:46
Mary Blight Mat Tinkler this is very brave of you to write and publicise. Thank you. Australia is doing a wrong and criminal thing in locking up refugees, including children, indefinitely in this way on Manus and Nauru. Thank you so much for helping them.
Like · Reply · 3 · 13 November at 11:03
Mary Blight Why has no government official thought of a one off humanitarian intake of the 10,000 refugees in Indonesia – the ones who are likely to become boat people as they are so desperate. That would stop the boats. Then a practical program dealing with new refugees coming to Indonesia would need to be worked out. Why has this not been tried?
Like · Reply · 1 · 13 November at 11:06
Mary Blight I have liked and shared this with all my friends and I have asked many of my fb friends to like you page. Good luck!
Like · Reply · 4 · 13 November at 11:22
Free the Children NAURU
Free the Children NAURU thanku
Unlike · Reply · 2 · 13 November at 11:57
Kerri Lee I did too.. many others are also sharing.
Like · Reply · 1 · 14 November at 10:07
Zoe Martin Amy Martin
Like · Reply · 13 November at 12:31
Raven Harding NO APPLICATION SHOULD TAKE 2 YEARS TO PROCESS!and women and children should be housed in the community until such time as a speedy assessment of their application is done…!!!
Unlike · Reply · 6 · 13 November at 13:05
Dominic Pukallus This was in a Murdoch rag? Inconceivable!
Like · Reply · 13 November at 13:06
Jennifer Ruth Hatte
Jennifer Ruth Hatte Australia’s concentration camps.
Unlike · Reply · 4 · 13 November at 13:50
Mary Blight Yes indeed. Our shame.
Like · Reply · 1 · 13 November at 17:05
Suzanne Dixon Good journalists, with morality and heart, work for a bad corporation. Good people are part of a country with a cruel government policy. Good on the journo who wrote this.
Unlike · Reply · 2 · 13 November at 14:15
Amorkor Amartey Good page Lekha Prasad
Unlike · Reply · 2 · 13 November at 18:59
Chris Bekker I can tell that you and your colleagues did your best.thank you for that. You speak for me. This lousy lowdown government does NOT speak for me.
Like · Reply · 5 · 13 November at 21:42
Gill Payne frown emoticon
Like · Reply · 1 · 13 November at 21:42
Kieran O’Brien Very well written. Thank you.
Like · Reply · 1 · 14 November at 10:41
Joel Stibbard Well written!
Like · Reply · 2 · 14 November at 17:33
Kenneth Wade Manuel
Kenneth Wade Manuel Horrible.. I hope these children get their happy ending..
Like · Reply · 14 November at 19:56
Kenneth Wade Manuel
Kenneth Wade Manuel Very well written.
Like · Reply · 14 November at 19:57
Amanda Kendall Thank you and the other staff for allowing these people to have some hope and for treating them with dignity. The government should be ashamed, detention needs to be stopped now
Unlike · Reply · 3 · 15 November at 05:11
Free the Children NAURU
Free the Children NAURU Thank you for your support. We just wish all Australians could see what we’ve seen. I think even the hardest hearts would soften.
Unlike · Reply · 8 · 15 November at 17:40
Janet Wilson ideologues and zealots don’t have hearts. they have a mission. In this case it is an insane mission. No one even remembers what the mission is anymore.
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 15 November at 17:44
Margit Pataky I believe we are we’ll and truly being monitored by FB etc…….unable to delete …they say there is an error yet find they cannot delete it……..very odd to say the least………
Like · Reply · 18 November at 09:39
Catherine Sweeney Why did Save the Children leave?
Like · Reply · 19 November at 06:46
Free the Children NAURU
Free the Children NAURU They were not successful for the new contract to run welfare and child protection services in detention
Like · Reply · 19 November at 06:48
Catherine Sweeney So who has or will be coming in their place?
Like · Reply · 19 November at 07:02