Nauru government takes stock after riot at detention camp
Nauru government takes stock of asylum seeker detention camp processes following destructive riot at the camp.
The Nauru government says last Friday's riot at the Australian-run detention camp on the island has brought the assessment of asylum seekers' refugee status to a standstill.
The riot wrecked the camp and 152 inmates are due to appear in court on various charges in relation to rioting, wilful damage and arson.
Hundreds of Nauruans went to help police and the private security team at the camp on news of the rioting.
There are now plans to beef up police training and develop a squad of locals who can formally be called on during an emergency.
David Adeang is Nauru's acting president and Don Wiseman asked if the events at the camp had had a traumatic effect on the islanders.
DAVID ADEANG: Yes and no, in the sense that this is not the first time that a riot has occurred at the RPC (Regional Processing Centre). Of course, in the first model of the RPC, it was managed by the international offfice of migration in the period 2001 to 2007. They were right on that occasion, too, but we've just never had one on such a scale and as bad as this one.
DON WISEMAN: The scale of this event and its potential to have such a significant impact on what is a small island, is there any rethinking within the government of the merits of having the camp there?
DA: Naturally, yes. We do realise, though, there are ways to improve the management of the centre, particularly to address the welfare and the grievances of the clients of the centre. There are very important lessons to be learned from Friday's incident for both parties. I say for both parties because if the transferees had been patient they would have found that, I'd say, about 40 of them would have had their refugee status determinations made. Very soon, in a matter of days maybe, we had the open centre very well planned out and about to be implemented, I would say, within weeks, rather than months. The living circumstances would have changed a lot. But, of course, Friday's incident reflected some very poor choices made by a number of people there. Of course their processing has come to an absolute stop now, and, of course, their prospects for a successful determination or even, in fact, resettlement in their countries will be very much affected by the outcome of the judicial process in regards to the violent incidents on Friday.
DW: So some people who have effectively been recognised as refugees will lose that status?
DA: No, I think there are about 40 case files with the centre for justice who, under our laws, make the final determination of the refugee status. Now, this issue was about to be made very soon. Of course that has all come to a stop now and then there are the open-centre arrangements which will, of course, come to a natural pause now given the community concerns over the level of violence that came out on Friday.
DW: You say a number of volunteers from the community went up to the camp. In what way were they able to help there? What did they do?
DA: They made sure no-one actually ventured far from the RPC if they managed to break out of the RPC. There were several hundred of them at the camp and there were several hundred posted either at the police station or at the local jail cell, which very soon started accommodating a great number of people from the RPC. They came in busloads. As soon as they were identified as perpetrators of the violence they started being bussed out.
DW: The police commissioner has been suspended. Why is that?
DA: We had a difference of views in terms of how to approach and manage the situation that occurred on Friday. We lost confidence in him and we've decided to go with a local lady who, I think, proved herself very capable. By all accounts, the people that manage the centre, the police force and all the chiefs that were there saw her leading from the front and spoke very highly of her.
DW: So it was incompetence on the part of Mr Britten that led to him being suspended?
DA: That would be part of it, yes.
DW: These people are now being housed in the incomplete centre that has been set up for families. What does that mean? Will the other camp be rebuilt so there are two camps? What's going to happen?
DA: As we speak they are on a rebuilding phase. They're demolishing the burnt-out accommodation blocks, but they're continuing the ongoing .. blocks for the administration centre, and, of course, they've still got accommodation blocks on the ship that's posted offshore, they'll be bringing them in. I understand in about six months time, after the rebuilding process, they should be back to what they were prior to the Friday incident.
DW: How many people do you think the island can safely accommodate in these two camps?
DA: That's hard to say, but certainly we've got some very important lessons on how to better manage the security at the centre, not just the immediate future but for the longer term, in terms of police training and recruiting additional force on stand-by to address emergency situations like a mass riot.
DW: In terms of the lessons learned, and you've mentioned a couple of those, but clearly one of the key things is the slow process in terms of assessing people for their refugee status, and then what happens once they get that status or if they get given that status, for a lot of people they're concerned that they're going to be on Nauru for many, many years.
DA: Well, yes. The processing is, of course, perhaps not as expeditious as the clients would want. We all have to understand that Nauru handles the processing of that. And we are new to this. We are people who have been trained up, supported by the Australian government, of course. But the interesting thing is, despite our inexperience in this, we were on the verge of making some decisions on refugee status for about 40 of them. And those 40 now will have to be put on hold for now, particularly because those 40 may be in jail right now by reason of allegations of arson, larceny and other charges.
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