7 Aug 2013

Nauru opposition banned from commenting on refugee resettlement

5:13 pm on 7 August 2013

The Nauru opposition says the country lacks the capacity to cater for the settlement of refugees under Australia's contentious arrangements for dealing with asylum seekers arriving by boat.

The Nauru president, Baron Waqa, and his Australian counterpart, Kevin Rudd, have revealed plans to extend the present arrangements, processing asylum seeker claims for refugee status, to allow for resettlement.

Mr Rudd says the scheme unveiled last month for Manus Island in Papua New Guinea - namely the permanent resettlement there of asylum seekers granted refugee status - would be extended to Nauru.

But the spokesperson for the Nauru government, Joanna Olsson, told Don Wiseman that is not the case.

JOANNA OLSSON: Our understanding of settlement is [it is] for families and unaccompanied minors. So they will be with us for a long time. I don't know what the duration is. They haven't given a timeframe. But they will reside here until they can be moved on and their processing is finished. They won't be entitled to permanent residency or Nauruan citizenship.

DON WISEMAN: When you say there's no time limit on it, they could stay for a lifetime, still.

JOANNA OLSSON: I don't know. They don't give a timeframe in the MOU, so I can't speculate on it.

DON WISEMAN: Nauru has said it will let refugees stay, but for a limited period of time.

JOANNA OLSSON: Yes.

DON WISEMAN: But you haven't specified the limit in any way.

JOANNA OLSSON: No, the limit isn't specified. I don't know why, it's what the two leaders have decided on. They haven't given a specific duration of it, expect the interpretation of 'settlement' is that they will stay here for a length of time until they can be moved.

DON WISEMAN: Potentially, of course, there could be many hundreds of people who fit into this category. Nauru is a very small place, of course, with very limited resources. How will it cope with these people?

JOANNA OLSSON: Well, Nauru will decide on how many asylum seekers are brought to Nauru. For example, if the government says we are only taking 1,000 then it'll stop at 1,000.

DON WISEMAN: So 1,000 people increases your population by 10%. How would you accommodate these people? How would you provide them with work, et cetera, et cetera?

JOANNA OLSSON: Well, they wouldn't need to work, I presume. But, otherwise, I think that's an arrangement with Australlia, that they would provide them with their salaries and things like that.

DON WISEMAN: The Nauru opposition spokesperson, Mathew Batsiua, says the settlement of refugees on the island is unfeasible.

MATHEW BATSIUA: There has been, since 2001, when Nauru became involved in the regional solution to combat people smuggling, there was always a general acknowledgement by all parties concerned that there was a limit to Nauru's capability to engage because of its limited capacity, limited land space, limited resources and the small size of the population. So there was always a general unspoken understanding and acknowledgement from all parties concerned that Nauru, yes, can host a processing centre, but that's the extent of Nauru's involvement in the regional solution. This escalation now departs from that understanding. I think it is very unrealistic and our group believes that it should be reversed.