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“Refugee advocates in Australia say asylum seekers on Nauru have told them there will be more protests on the island, following an action at the weekend reportedly involving around 400 people.

Further reports suggest asylum seekers have had access to communication with the outside world restricted in the wake of the protests.

The Australian Immigration Department declined a request from Radio Australia to comment on this story.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Coalition

RINTOUL: I’m not party to any specific details of the protests that are coming up, but there’s no doubt, there will be more protests.
EWART: So how are the protests so far being managed? I take it that these are not spontaneous, plainly there is some planning going on?
RINTOUL: Well, there usually is and I think the whole camp is united. All the nationalities inside the camp are united in protesting against the conditions on the Nauru and they’ve put out their demands, which essentially are to close Nauru for the Australian government to stop sending people to Nauru and most importantly for them is to begin their processing as refugees immediately.
EWART: Now, we’re being told that access to the outside world for detainees on Nauru is being restricted in the light of these demonstrations. Are you finding it harder therefore to get information from there?
RINTOUL: It has been harder. The restrictions were lifted a little bit yesterday, but it is harder. They’ve got a shorter time on the internet and those calls that are being made …? the use of the internet, the computers and phones are being more closely supervised, so it does mean that things are more restricted.
On Monday, following the protests on Sunday, actually they cut off the ability for people to use the internet and web and sorry the Facebook page, which the asylum seekers on Nauru have been using was also not accessible for them for Monday. Now that’s changed a little bit and that’s a good thing. It’s most important for them to get the truth out from Nauru and access to the computers and phones is essential for them to be able to do that.
EWART: Now, you make the point there about getting the truth out. We’ve attempted to get some comment from the Department of Immigration without success, but they have issued a short written statement and within that statement they criticise your organisation The Refugee Action Coalition and they say and I quote ” that the RAC has actively misinformed the media and the public about many elements of these facilities”. How do you react to that?
RINTOUL: Well, I think this is pretty typical of the Immigration Department. We’ve had similar comments made before, but have generally and overwhelmingly been vindicated in terms of what we have put out. Our information comes from the detainees themselves and is as I said far more accurate than from what you get from the Immigration Department. I think it’s fairly typical that the Immigration Department will put out such comments, but at the moment, media and visitors are precluded from actually going to Nauru.
Nauru asylum seekers themselves have asked the international media, the Australian media to come to Nauru to actually see the conditions for themselves, so they’ve got certainly got nothing to hide, but the Immigration Department does have something to hide.
EWART: Could you perhaps be laying yourselves open as an organisation to being accused if you like of being agitators, of encouraging the detainees to protest or are you merely acting as a mouth piece for them in Australia?
RINTOUL: Well, we’re certainly happy to act as a mouth piece, but we organise protests in Australia. The detainees, the asylum seekers on Nauru have a right to protest. They’re not criminals, they’re a questionmark over the legality of their detention in any case. I don’t think it needs any encouragement from us for them to protest. The protests have been happening before we were even able to get access and have communique with the people there. And I think it’s already well known in Australia. I mean the protests are created by the conditions in detention. We’ve had 15 years of it now and it’s the conditions themselves that create the protests. But I think what we’ve seen is it protests, both inside the detention centres and outside the detention centres which is necessary both as we discussed earlier to get the truth out, but also to bring about change in what is a very cruel and inhumane system.
EWART: Now, I don’t think that the government could deny that the reassembly as it were of the camps on Nauru was done pretty hastily. Is there anything to suggest the conditions could improve over time?
RINTOUL: Well at the moment, there’s no indications that the government’s committed to improving the conditions. There’s now construction happening for the even semi-permanent, let alone permanent accommodation. It’s pretty clear that people are going to remain in tents now for many months, certainly into early next year and it’s partly the physical conditions of the camp which is creating the climate for the protest, the heat and the humidity on Nauru, the rains. The monsoons will start soon. There’s already  been sort of heavy, heavy rain which saturates the camp as wet their ?? conditions. And the heat means their tents are actually intolerable. We’ve seen little epidemics of gastric problems, flu problems and it’s the actual physical conditions of the camp which is helping to create those things. So but it’s clear I think that the government is not committed or put it the other way around. The government is committed deliberately maintaining the camp on Nauru in such appalling conditions as part of their No Advantage policy. They don’t want to do anything on Nauru or will create these conditions on Nauru which is perhaps worse even that what they’ve experienced in Indonesia or Malaysia or perhaps in their home countries. It’s part of that deliberate no advantage policy to try to force people into going back to their home countries.
EWART: And against that background, is there anything to suggest that those people who are determined to make the trip to Australia are thinking twice about it now which is plainly what the government says their intention is?
RINTOUL: Yes, you know their intention, but at that level, it’s clearly failed. It’s like the measure to excise the mainland from the migration zone. People are coming. Since the 13th August, which is the beginning of the actual processing arrangements and have threatened to send people to Nauru and Manus Island. The rate of arrival of boats in Australia has actually increased and I think there is no conditions that they’re going to create on Nauru which is going to deter people from actually getting seeking protection that they can only find in Australia. Australia is a signatory to the Convention even if people have to suffer some years on Nauru, eventually they will be resettled in Australia. The punitive measures that the government is taking is doing nothing, but adding misery on top of the tragic experience that people are fleeing persecution and attempting to get protection and certainly for their lives. The government is very deliberately involved in trying to undermine the Refugee Convention and punish people by sending them offshore or by maintaining them in Australian detention centres without processing, which is what is happening to the thousands who have arrived since the 13th. August. It’s disgrace really that the government is adding this kind of misery to the experience of people who are fleeing persecution.
EWART: We invited the Australian Department of Immigration to comment on this story for Pacific Beat but they declined to join us this morning. Instead the Department’s sent a written statement criticising the Refugee Action Coalition. It says the RAC has “actively misinformed the media and the public about many elements of these facilities”.
It adds that the “the RAC’s actions are highly disruptive to the good order of the Nauru Regional Processing Centre”.