5 Jul 2013

First Nauru asylum seekers might earn refugee status in days

5:56 pm on 5 July 2013

The secretary of justice in Nauru, Lionel Aingimea, says he expects to make decisions on the refugee status of some of the first asylum seekers to arrive on the island within weeks.

Australia has made no secret of its intention to slow the process, but it's being handled by Nauruan officials with assistance from the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, or DIAC.

Don Wiseman asked Mr Aingimea how many of the now 521 asylum seekers on the islands have had their claims assessed.

LIONEL AINGIMEA: Well, quite a few have had their refugee status looked at. We haven't gone through all of them because the numbers keep increasing. We do have a number of Nauruan refugee status determination officers that are working with Australian immigration officials who also have expertise in regard to determining the status of refugees. And the interviews are ongoing.

DON WISEMAN: When you say they're done, they're completed, they've been finished.

LA: Yes, while the interviews have been completed, the research that is necessary to determine the bona fides has been done also. Not all of them, but certainly the first arrivees. And they should be coming to my desk in the coming weeks so that we can start determining those that need to be declared as genuine refugees.

DW: There doesn't seem to be much of a sense of urgency about it.

LA: There is an urgency about this. We understand that we need to get cracking on this and the Nauru government is working very hard to meet its obligations under our laws.

DW: So you expect to get it next week. When do you think you are going to be in a position to say yea or nay on refugee status? And who makes that final decision?

LA: The final decision will rest on the office of the Secretary of Justice and Border Control. It basically rests with me. And we're expecting decisions to be coming out next week or early in the following week.

DW: How much input does DIAC have into that?

LA: DIAC does help [Nauru's] refugee status determination officers. They do help, but most of the work is by the Nauruan officers.

DW: If they achieve refugee status, and the expectation from the refugee activist groups is that a large number of them will, most of them will, and that's what happened last time around, what will happen then? Have they got countries prepared to take them?

LA: Well, there are ongoing discussions in regard to having countries to accept those who have been declared to be genuine refugees, but that's at a higher level. That needs to be done at a ministerial level, and those discussions are also ongoing.

DW: There has been talk right from the start that the inmates in the camp...

LA: That's a very bad word. That's a bad word to use. We don't consider them to be inmates. The court of Nauru did not find them as inmates, also. There was a habeas corpus decision. That's a wrong word to use.

DW: Well, they're incarcerated. They're not freely roaming.

LA: They are not incarcerated, they're asylum seekers, they're having the status determined to see whether they're genuine refugees or not, and to call them anything else I think is just wrong.

DW: They're not freely roaming the island.

LA: At the moment there are visa conditions they have to abide by, and like everybody else on Nauru there are laws we have to abide by and if one breaches the laws you'll be put in jail, but at the moment they're not in jail.

DW: But they're held in a form of custody, aren't they?

LA: Well, we don't think they are. That's a matter of opinion.

DW: Well, yes, it is. In terms of them having full free access to the island, will that happen the moment they're given refugee status?

LA: The government is working with the Australian officials to have in place an open centre once refugee status determination has been done and they have been determined to be refugees.