Legality of Nauru detention being challenged
Australian group of lawyers bring constitutional challenge over detention of asylum seekers on Nauru
A team of Australian human rights lawyers has launched a constitutional challenge in Nauru over what they say is the illegal detention of Australia's asylum seekers there.
More than 1300 people are being detained in camps on the island, with some having been held since September of 2012.
One of the lawyers involved, George Newhouse of Shine Lawyers social justice team, told Don Wiseman the lengthy detentions are not allowed under Nauru's Constitution.
GEORGE NEWHOUSE: I understand that they have been told that they could take up to five years [to be assessed] because of Australia's 'no advantage' policy. So, far from being processed promptly, it looks as though, because of some policy in Australia, these poor asylum seekers may well be detained for up to five years. Now, that in my opinion would breach the Nauruan Constitution.
DON WISEMAN: What specifically is it that has been breached?
GN: Well the Nauruan Constitution actually has protections for the individual. You can only be detained if you have committed a crime and gone before a judge, but you can only be detained for immigration matters if you are about to be deported. And it is quite clear that if they are being held because of some Australian government policy reason, that is not a legitimate purpose under the Nauruan Constitution. We understand that many of the asylum seekers have had their claims assessed and been found to be in need of protection but that they are not being properly processed, because of the Australian government's policies - that is quite improper. It is not proper to keep people in detention for a political reason.
DW: They have been found to be refugees.
GN: We understand that. They have not been formally advised but we have information from people on the island that many of them have had positive findings made.
DW: In discussions I have had with justice officials on Nauru they get very upset when you talk about people being detained, so they get around this somehow by pretending that being in those camps is not a detention.
GN: Look I don't know what information they are giving you but there are 1300 people crowded into a tent city in the most appalling conditions and that is another reason why we are challenging their form of detention. Anyone who tells you that they are not in detention should describe clearly how they are being housed; how they are being fed; what level of health care they are getting; the fact they are being beaten; the fact that their claims are not being processed. If they are not being held prisoner, in detention, I don't know what is detention.
DW: Now there have been very serious ructions in Nauru over the last several weeks with the cancellation of the visa of the Chief Justice and the removal of the resident magistrate. Are these concerns for you as you launch this legal action?
GN: Well the constitutional crisis that is currently going on in Nauru is of great concern to the legal team and to our clients. We have no idea what's going on in the courts and in the battle between the courts and the Nauruan government. This is not the way a civil society is supposed to be operating. At the moment we don't know what process is going to be followed through the courts, we don't know who is available to hear the case or when it will be heard.
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