Nauru leader claims life rosy at Aust detention center
President Baron Waqa describes life akin to a luxury resort, rather than environment that has been described as 'hell hole' by asylum seekers
You could be forgiven for thinking that Nauru President Baron Waqa was describing life in a 5-star resort instead of an asylum seeker "hell hole” in a public relations opinion piece published this week in News Corporation papers.
In stark contrast to reports by independent agencies of well below par conditions and facilities, Waqa paints a rosy picture of "world class” standards at Nauru's universally condemned Pacific Ocean island detention center.
In the Daily Telegraph exclusive, Waqa wrote Monday of asylum seekers enjoying an "open center” policy and regularly "swimming, dining out and enjoying a lifestyle that is safe, far safer than the lands they left.”
It's a far cry from the center of riots and protests by asylum seekers detained by Australia for offshore processing in July 2013, which caused AU$60 million (more than $44 million) worth of damage and led to 125 people being charged
Australian human rights lawyer David Manne told Anadolu Agency he was shocked when he read Waqa’s glowing words about a holding facility, which has been dubbed "a hell hole” by more than one refugee advocate.
"I thought, this beggars belief,” Manne said. "With such clear cut evidence supporting a contrary picture the onus was on News Corp to verify the claims made by President Baron Waqa.”
Scoffing at Waqa’s swimming and dining boast, Manne said: "No swimming or dinner outing can ameliorate the daily conditions of profound inhumanity, danger and harm which they [asylum seekers] are forced to live in locked up in Nauru.”
"Every day detained is another day of danger and damage in Nauru,” he added.
Waqa came out swinging against "bullying” foreign journalists who, he alleged, attack the Nauru government "based on their belief that our differences make us inferior.”
Maintaining that hosting Australian processing centers for asylum seekers "has made us a target for those who are lobbying the Australian government to change their policy,” Waqa took aim at refugee advocates and human rights lawyers accusing them of lying.
"Our police and people have been wrongly accused of being violent towards refugees,” he said.
Australia has been sending asylum seekers to Naurusince 2012.
Allegations of physical and verbal abuse have become common on the island since the release from detention of hundreds of refugees.
In March, the Moss review into sexual abuse at the detention center on Nauru, headed by former integrity commissioner Phillip Moss, revealed evidence of rapes, sexual assault against minors and guards trading drugs for sexual favors.
Moss also found many asylum seekers on Nauru "are apprehensive about their personal safety.”
Late last year, refugees living on Nauru said they would prefer to return to detention to flee violence and harassment from locals.
Around two months ago the Nauru government removed access to Facebook for Nauruans and refugees.
Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told the ABC that one of her contacts within the Nauruan community told her that the Australian government was behind the ban.
The U.S. State Department has called for a lifting of the Facebook ban.
The detention center is an important source of revenue for Nauru and critical for the economy due to the employment it provides.
Waqa defended Nauru’s legal system, failing to acknowledge a crisis last year that led to the resignation of the country’s Australian chief justice and sole magistrate, and claims of political interference in the country’s judicial system.
News Corp journalist Joe Hildebrand, who scored the Waqa exclusive, notes in his cover piece that recently the president was named for an alleged role in a bribery scandal by the ABC but remains in power.
Hildebrand told Anadolu Agency that the exclusive came about via a request from an intermediary for the president -- an "Australian PR operative who does consultancy work for the Nauru government.”
Hildebrand said the president wanted to write a piece simply saying "Nauru is a lovely place” but he insisted that the detention center and asylum seeker issues be addressed.
Manne declared that Waqa’s words are "fact-defying.”
"They’re contrary to the facts,” he said. "The question is whether the conditions [in the detention center] accord with fundamental principles of human rights and meet basic standards of decency and humane treatment.”
Manne insisted they do not, but rather "involve mandatory, indefinite, and arbitrary incarceration” and arbitrary detention in "profoundly inhumane” conditions.
"Children, women, mums and dads are subject to appalling deprivations and there are serious allegations of systematic physical and psychological abuse being inflicted by those involved in their detention.”
Paul Power, CEO for the Refugee Council of Australia, said the main point of contention about Waqa’s assertions is that they can’t be verified independently by anybody who isn’t associated with either the Australian orNauru government by contractual arrangement.
"If the president of Nauru is so confident then he should open the doors of detention centers for outside scrutiny,” Power said.
"And if Joe Hildebrand is so confident that the government of Nauru is being unfairly vilified then he should seek to be the first independent reporter to go there and observe.”
Based on Waqa’s comments in the News Corp opinion piece, Power said he’d be writing to him this week "to find out when we can visit."
Last Modified: 2015-08-04 09:53:32
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