This is my article which appeared in The Irish Times, Saturday August 13, explaining the Nauru detention centre scandals to a non-Australian audience
The Black Armband has come back to haunt Australia. Twenty years after conservative prime minister John Howard brushed off national guilt about mistreatment of Indigenous people, revelations have emerged of cruel and unusual sufferings of asylum-seekers whom “the Lucky Country” had dumped offshore. The appalling conditions imposed on people – especially children – has angered and ashamed many Australians.
While western Europe this summer saw queues of refugees at the borders of the EU, and has become hardened to mass drownings after perilous sea journeys, Australia has long adopted a bi-partisan attitude of zero tolerance to its refugee problem.
(A person is not technically a refugee, under the UN Convention of 1951, until they have been recognised as such by a host country. So most of the fleeing people mentioned here are actually asylum-seekers.)
The scandal of Nauru is not new, but the sheer enormity of the files released this week by The Guardian newspaper is horrifying. There are around 500 asylum-seekers in the detention centre on the island, about one-tenth of whom are children. People being abused, physically, sexually, emotionally, driven to attempt suicide, is described. And the key point: these 2,000 reports were not written by “bleeding heart” liberal luvvies from do-good organisations. They are written by actual staff at the detention centres , which were privatised in the 2000s.