The teeny Pacific Island nation of Nauru has been in the spotlight recently because it runs a refugee base for Australia. Instead of allowing refugees to enter Australia, the government pays for them to be housed in other places, such as Nauru.
Some of the refugees have been on Nauru for more than five years, in less than ideal conditions. The Australian media has complained about the way Nauru – dubbed the least visited country in the world – charges US$5,800 (HK$45,500) just for journalists to apply for a visa.
Refugees on Nauru have limited access to medical help, and even when doctors have said they need to be sent to Australia for treatment, the Australian government refuses. Recently, an inmate at the refugee camp killed himself, and his mother – herself suffering from bad depression – refused to allow his body to be taken until the Australian government eventually allowed it to be sent to a relative in the country. Then, the mother was barred from attending her son’s funeral.
Reports of refugee abuse have filtered through to the outside world but for the most part there has been little to no independent media coverage of conditions at the camps.
Now, the Pacific Islands Forum, a yearly gathering of leaders from 18 nations, will meet in Nauru from September 1 to September 9, to discuss a host of urgent issues facing the region. The country has been under pressure to be more open in allowing foreign media to cover the conference. And, while it has waived the huge visa fee, it has limited the number of media personnel permitted to 30, less than two per nation attending. Their reason is that they are a small nation.
Canberra argues that keeping refugees in this way saves lives by discouraging people from trying to reach Australia in rickety boats.