Over the weekend, the last refugee held on the island country of Nauru under the Australian government’s abusive offshore processing policy was finally evacuated to Australia. Despite the good news, the Australian government remains committed to its unlawful and expensive policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers. In this year’s budget, the government allocated AU$1.5 billion (US$1 billion) over the next four years to fund offshore operations.
The last evacuee from Nauru is also a stark reminder of the plight of about 80 refugees and asylum seekers who remain trapped in limbo in offshore processing in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Since July 2013, the Australian government has forcibly transferred more than 3,000 asylum seekers and refugees to Nauru and PNG. Human Rights Watch has documented how this resulted in individuals and families with children spending years living in substandard conditions in these centers, where they suffered severe abuse, inhumane treatment, and medical neglect.
Refugees in PNG have endured violence, threats, and harassment from residents, with little protection from local authorities. Many have dire mental health problems, often caused or exacerbated by their living conditions.
The Australian government has told refugees and asylum seekers transferred from PNG and Nauru that they will never settle permanently in Australia. Refugees evacuated to Australia continue to face uncertainty, with no permanent visas and little support, living in fear that one day they could be forcibly removed from the country.
Although no refugees remain on Nauru, offshore processing on the island will continue to cost Australia AU$485 million (US$322 million) this year, with a further AU$350 million (US$232 million) per year as a “contingency” to continue operations in case of future boat arrivals.
While the final evacuation from Nauru is a significant step towards dismantling Australia’s ill-conceived offshore processing system, the government still has a long way to go. The next step is to immediately transfer refugees who remain in PNG to safety in Australia.
Offshore processing should end once and for all.