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“Amnesty International’s Refugee Experts will be visiting Nauru to determine the human rights situation at the Australian processing centre fpr asylum seekers from November the 19th to the 22n

Amnesty representatives to inspect Nauru processing centre. (Credit: ABC)

The representatives will speak to the asylum seekers who have been transferred to Nauru in the past few months, and explore the existing infrastructure in order to assess the conditions of detention on the island.

Meetings will be organised with officials from the Department of Immigration & Citizenship as well as the Nauruan Government, the Salvation Army and health officials.

Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International Australia’s Refugee Spokesperson & Refugee Policy Expert.

Richard Ewart asked him about the trip.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International Australia’s Refugee Spokesperson & Refugee Policy Expert

THOM; Well, I think we’ve had more problems with the logistics of getting to Nauru and it’s not so much getting a plane ticket, it’s finding accommodation, because there are only two hotels on the island and they’re booked out for the next six months and you can’t get a visa to the island unless you’ve got accommodation and so things like that have made it somewhat more difficult that we expected. Hopefully, we’ve been in touch with the Department of Immigration and we expect to be able to have access to the facility in the same way we do when we visit mainland facilities here in Australia, so we’re still in negotiations with the Department around who will be meeting and when and some of the finer details. But it’s been a bit of an interesting ride even just getting to Nauru.

EWART: So there’s been no official attempt either by the Australian Government or the Government in Nauru to prevent you from visiting?

THOM: Not as such and as I say, we haven’t got on the plane yet, but we try and make sure that we’re very transparent in terms of what we want to do and who we want to see and obviously we want to make sure that we visit with Nauruan officials when we get there and so our representatives will be talking to Nauruan consulate officials here before we go and we’ve also, as I said been in discussions with the Department of Immigration. It’s not a secretive investigation or anything like that. We really want to be very transparent, but we want to see firsthand what’s going on, what is the situation and what’s happening on the ground, how are people being treated, what are the conditions that’s facing them day-to-day and obviously look into concerns around hunger strikes and other things that we’re hearing in the media.

EWART: Are you perhaps a little surprised though that it appears as you say, you haven’t got on the plane yet, but it appears all is set for you to go and spend three or four days on Nauru, when over the last two or three weeks, certainly our experience here at Radio Australia is trying to get much information out of the Department of Immigration in Canberra has been very difficult. They seem very reluctant to talk at any length about what is happening on Nauru and plainly when you get there, I imagine it’s going to be warts and all in terms of what you see?

THOM: Well, we certainly hope so and again we haven’t got there, we haven’t had to try and navigate through the systems that are there, but certainly our experience has been at the beginning of this year, we went to Christmas Island, we went to Curtin, we went to Darwin and where we’ve gone we’ve had very good access and very open access to all parts of the detention centres. We’ve been able to meet with any individual that we’ve requested to have a meeting with and we’re hoping that will be the situation on Nauru as well. I mean obviously this is a slightly different situation. We are going to Nauru and so it is a different sovereign country that we’re all dealing with and so whether that shifts the goal posts for us in terms of our visits, that’s something we really want to see, because part of the reason we’re going is we’ve been calling very strongly for the need for independent monitors to be allowed to go and to be allowed to have access and to be allowed to have that warts and all view as you’ve stated and so this is really putting that to the test and we’ll be able to let you know when we get back what exactly we were allowed to see and who we were allowed to meet.

EWART: So how many will there be in the delegation altogether?

THOM: There will only be two of us, who work specifically on refugee issues here at Amnesty in Australia and this as I say is just an initial visit for us. We’re only going for three-and-a-half days, so this is not a comprehensive Amnesty investigation, but clearly the situation at the moment is of a nature where we want to be on the ground, we want to be able to comment firsthand about what is happening there. So we will go and see as much as we can and meet as many people as we can in three-and-a-half days and then make a determination around whether we need to do a follow up more comprehensive visit in the next few months.

EWART: Based on the information that certainly we have received through refugee activist organisations that the picture in Nauru certainly doesn’t sound a very happy one at the moment. I mean if it’s as bad as it’s being painted, if that’s what you discover. What can you hope to do about it?

THOM: Well, I think we need to be able to see that firsthand, we need to be able to hear from the detainees firsthand what’s happening to them. We hope then to be able to highlight that both with the Nauruan Government, but also the Australian Government. And one of the things we’re planning to do when we get back is to meet with Australian government officials and politicians and also to highlight it as publicly as we can as well, because obviously if the situation is as dire as it could be, then we need to make sure that the people are being treated appropriately. We already have very real concerns about offshore processing and our objections to offshore processing are on the public record that’s no secret. But ultimately we want to make sure that individuals are having their rights respected and importantly that they’re having their refugee status determination done in a timely manner and that’s one of our major concerns at the moment. So I mean really we need to see firsthand what’s going on and then hopefully be able to effect any change that is necessary if the situation is indeed as dire as we’re hearing at the moment.

EWART: And you pointed out that you’re not on the plane yet, but assuming nothing happens between now and take off. When do you leave and how many days will you be spending there.

THOM: Well, we’re hoping to arrive Monday next week and we then fly back Thursday afternoon, so we’ll be there for three-and-a-half days, which is not a long time, admittedly it’s not a big island, but there are a lot of people, nearly 400 people detained there at the moment and we do want to meet with the organisations that are now working on the island, as well as Nauruan officials. So it’s a lot to do in a very short amount of time, but I think it’s important that as I said, independent organisations are able to get there and view these these things firsthand and if we’re going to call on others to go, then we really need to be going there ourselves, and we think it’s important that Amnesty International is there at this time”