Floods, new rules add to refugees' misery
Wet, wet, wet: Tropical downpours have caused flooding and damage in Nauru's detention centre. Photo: Angela Wylie
TORRENTIAL rain left parts of the Nauru detention centre underwater on Thursday in what Amnesty International described as vindication of their assessment of conditions at the centre as ''totally unacceptable''.
''Some spots of the camp were under nearly a foot of water,'' Amnesty's Graham Thom told Fairfax after visiting the centre. ''Shoes were floating on the water, some of the tent floorboards were floating. It was extraordinary how much like a pond the front of some of the tents had become in a very quick period of time.''
The heavy rain followed a reported suicide attempt at the centre by an Iranian asylum seeker on Wednesday night after the Gillard government announced that many of the asylum seekers who have arrived since offshore processing resumed would be released into the community on bridging visas.
Immigration officials confirmed an ''incident of attempted self-harm'' at the centre, saying the injuries were minor and the man had been treated on site, where 387 asylum seekers are accommodated in tents.
Refugee advocates said the Iranian tried to take his life after hearing of the new policy under which the ''no advantage'' principle intended to apply to those sent to Nauru has been adapted for those who will remain in Australia. They said that the injured man had been taken to the facility's medical centre and remained separated from other detainees.
Amnesty officials, who were at the centre as asylum seekers became aware of the news, reported that many asylum seekers were in a highly anxious state, and asking why they had been sent to Nauru, when others who arrived at the same time would be released into the community.
Despite assurances that they would be allowed to photograph detainees and conditions inside the centre on Thursday, the Amnesty officials were refused permission to record any images.
Dr Thom said the theme of interviews with asylum seekers over the past three days was how unfair they considered their situation. ''They said, 'Look at what we have been going through for the last few months, and now it's even worse for us'.
''A lot of them said, 'We're happy those people are going to be out in the community, but why have we been forgotten? Why have we been cast aside, pushed into a corner? Why are we locked up like this?' Again and again, they just spoke of the injustice of the situation.''
There was also despair after Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed that they could be waiting five years before being resettled in Australia if their claims for refugee status are upheld.
''I think the news came as a real kick in the guts to the guys inside,'' Dr Thom said. ''Those aware of the five years said, 'Come and look where we live? How can we stay like this for five years? We are going to die here.'''
Aside from the uncertainty of their situations, Dr Thom said that the leaking tents had left many with wet bedding and led to skin conditions before Thursday's heavy rain.