Australia signs new agreement with Nauru to continue offshore processing of asylum seekers

Both governments on Friday signed a memorandum of understanding to "establish an enduring regional processing capability" on the South Pacific island nation, drawing criticism from advocates.

Accommodation facilities at a refugee settlement on Nauru.

Accommodation facilities at a refugee settlement on Nauru. Source: AAP

Australia has signed a new agreement with Nauru to continue the offshore processing of people who are seeking asylum.

Both governments on Friday signed a memorandum of understanding to "establish an enduring regional processing capability" on the South Pacific island nation, drawing criticism from advocates. 

In a joint statement, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the new agreement "provides a framework for continuing regional processing presence in Nauru" and demonstrates the countries' "continued commitment to countering maritime people smuggling." 

Since August 2012, Australia has sent asylum seekers arriving by boat without valid visas to Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea to have their claims processed. 

The terms of its offshore processing policy were set out in two original memoranda of understanding, signed in August and September 2012 with Nauru and PNG, respectively. 

Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews
Source: AAP

In July 2013, the then Labor government announced its policy that asylum seekers arriving by boat would be subject to offshore processing, and would not be permitted to settle permanently, even if they are found to be refugees.

Ms Andrews on Friday said policies that started under 'Operation Sovereign Borders', launched in September 2013, will remain under the agreement. 

"There is zero chance of settlement in Australia for anyone who arrives illegally by boat," she said. 

"Anyone who attempts an illegal maritime journey to Australia will be turned back, or taken to Nauru for processing. They will never settle in Australia." 

President of the Republic of Nauru Lionel Aingimea said the memorandum extends the bilateral agreement in place since 2012 but "creates an enduring form of offshore processing". 

He said Nauru has worked with Australia to ensure those who are successful in their asylum applications are settled in third countries.  

By January this year, almost half of the approximately 4,180 people transferred offshore between 2012 and 2014 were back in Australia, according to the UNSW's Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. 

Despite arrangements for offshore processing remaining in place, no new asylum seekers have been transferred to Nauru or PNG since 2014, the Kaldor Centre says, with new arrivals instead being intercepted and turned back at sea or returned to their countries of origin. 

Around 108 refugees and people seeking asylum are currently held on Nauru and 125 in PNG, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) says, many of whom have been there for more than eight years. 

The ASRC said it is shocked by the government's announcement, claiming the trauma and violence experienced by those on Nauru over the last eight years shows it to be a "failed and dangerous policy". 

“An ‘enduring regional processing capability’ in Nauru means: enduring suffering, enduring family separation, enduring uncertainty, enduring harm and Australia's enduring shame," Director of Advocacy and Campaigns Jana Favero said. 

“This MOU is only extending a failed system, the Morrison government must give the men, women and children impacted by the brutality of offshore processing a safe and permanent home.

"Prolonging the failure of offshore processing on Nauru and PNG is not only wrong and inhumane but dangerous.”

Last month, the Kaldor Centre's Madeline Gleeson and Natasha Yacoub called for an end to the policy, claiming it has failed to "save lives", "stop the boats" or "break the business model of people smugglers" and has racked up enormous costs. 

"Nine long years of a cruel, costly and ineffective policy sustained by successive governments of both major parties, despite consistently failing to meet any of its stated aims," they wrote in an opinion piece for The Conversation.  

"This deeply flawed policy must not be permitted to reach its ten-year mark."

Published 24 September 2021 at 5:33pm, updated 24 September 2021 at 5:37pm
By Emma Brancatisano
Source: SBS News