Final asylum-seeker children to leave Nauru, emboldening campaigners

PM announces last children and their families to go to United States

PHOTO: #KidsOffNauru Campaign

February 5 2019Refugee advocates from around Australia have welcomed the news that the final four asylum seeker children held on Nauru will soon be off the island.  

But the advocates have called for renewed efforts to release the around 1000 adults still held on Nauru and Manus Island and urged political leaders to support a Bill that would allow asylum seekers to come to Australia for medical care.

Although the exact date of their departure remains unclear, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Sunday that the four remaining children on Nauru and their families had been approved to go to the United States.

“Every asylum seeker child has now been removed from Nauru or has had their claim processed and has a clear path off the island,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.

World Vision Australia Chief Executive Officer Claire Rogers, who launched the #KidsOffNauru campaign in August last year with a coalition of humanitarian organisations, said the campaign was a success because Australians didn’t want children held in detention.

“Once ordinary Australians realised that the government was locking up kids in our name, they made it clear they wouldn’t stand for it,” she said.

Ms Rogers said refugee advocates were now calling on all political leaders to support a cross-bench and Labor-supported Bill to create a pathway for medical evacuations for those who were sick and still detained on Nauru and Manus Island.

The Urgent Medical Treatment Bill will go to the Lower House when Parliament resumes on 12 February, having passed in the Senate last year.

The Bill’s supporters have rejected the Prime Minister’s counter-proposal, which would see a panel selected by the Minister set up to review medical transfers. Under that proposal the Minister would select the panel’s members, which its opponents argue gives no assurance of independence.

Ms Rogers said she was gravely concerned about the wellbeing of the more than 1000 people still held in offshore detention, including young adults sent there as unaccompanied minors.

“It is horrifying that 12 people have died in this offshore detention and I call for our political leaders to stop playing politics and back the Bill,” she said.

“Australia cannot leave sick people languishing without proper treatment – and we can’t leave people indefinitely detained on an island.”

Matt Darvas, Campaign Director at Micah Australia, an ecumenical Christian social justice organisation involved in the #KidsOffNauru campaign, said that Christians around the country had let the Prime Minister know that they “feel very passionately about this issue”.

“This has been an extraordinary campaign, led by Australia’s humanitarian and refugee sector with many thousands across the country raising their voice on behalf of these children,” he said, adding that “so many” Christian organisations “have played an incredible part in mobilising churches and thousands of Christians”.

“It has been incredible to watch the momentum build in churches and in the public, and it’s proof that when we raise our voices together, change can happen.”   

More than 170,000 Australians and 420 organisations signed the #KidsOffNauru petition asking the Federal Government to remove all children from offshore detention.

When the campaign began in August last year, 119 asylum seekers were held on Nauru with campaigners hoping to secure their release by Universal Children’s Day 2018 (20 November).