Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is due on Tuesday to brief cabinet’s national security committee on border policy, including Nauru’s announcement that its detention facility has become an “open centre” and all refugee claims will be processed within a week.
The Nauruan government said in a statement that there are some 600 asylum seekers still to be processed. Under the new arrangement, which started on Monday, those in the facility will be able to come and go 24 hours a day, rather than only from 9am to 9pm.
There will be meetings of cabinet, the national security committee and the expenditure review committee in Melbourne on Tuesday.
It is understood the report to the national security committee is a verbal update, but it will give Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a chance to indicate any initiatives he wants taken. Turnbull has made it clear he is concerned about the people on both Nauru and Manus Island, where there are more than 900 men. But he is also anxious not to send signals that might encourage people smugglers.
Even when asylum seekers on Nauru are processed, found to be refugees and are in the community, they face very severe problems – including security risks.
Nauru’s Justice Minister David Adeang said Nauru had been working towards this open arrangement for a long time, after implementing a daytime open program. It had been waiting on confirmation of Australia’s assistance in the transition.
Adeang said the Australian government would be supporting Nauru with “safety, security and law enforcement”. This included providing more Australian police assistance.
To ensure asylum seekers were integrated into the community safely and cohesively, the Nauruan government had increased the number of community liaison officers from 135 to 320 – which included 30 refugees as liaison officers. More lifeguards would also be appointed, as swimming and other water sports were popular with refugee families, Adeang said.
Adeang said Nauru was working with Australian authorities to provide suitable ongoing health care. That would include sending people overseas for treatment when needed.
Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said the promise of processing to be done within a week was either a joke or more likely showed the Nauruan and Australian governments had been sitting on the determinations.
Rintoul said there were no resettlement arrangements for the refugees, no safety in the community and they could not leave the island. The Nauru moves were “cosmetic” ahead of a High Court case starting this week that challenges the Australian government over its involvement in the detention arrangements.
David Manne, executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said Nauru’s action did not address the fundamental issue of how people found to be refugees were going to be able to rebuild their lives in safety and with dignity.
The announcement raised “very serious questions about why the processing has taken so long and whether it will be fair”, Manne said. How fair could processing done within a week be, he asked.
The people needed to be got off Nauru, which is an impoverished country not equipped to deal with their basic needs and rights, Manne said.
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the people, who include women and children, should be brought to Australia. It was not safe for women and children on Nauru, she said.
Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie also said the refugees should be settled in Australia – the Nauru announcement was “a recipe for anarchy and violence”.