First we wanted to apologise for the radio silence over the last few weeks. We thought we would improve our chances of getting visas to go to Nauru if we kept our heads down and just marched through the long official process of applying.
As you will read, that was not the case.
This is how things have unfolded over the last two months and why we have moved to plan B.
Eight weeks ago a group of Australian women realized women on Nauru – asylum seekers, refugees and Nauru nationals – were being bashed, raped and extorted on a horrific scale. We decided to do what we could about that.
That began by crowd-sourcing $20,000 to enable Professor Carmen Lawrence to go on a fact-finding visit with Professor Wendy Bacon, a nationally recognised independent journalist.
The idea was simple: Find out what is happening to the women sent there by Australia and publish those findings.
But in these extraordinary times there is nothing simple about getting access to Nauru.
“Shortly after making an inquiry about getting a visa, the Nauruan consul told me as a journalist I needed to contact the Nauru Government directly,” said Wendy Bacon. “I sent two emails requesting information about a visa to Nauru and have not received any reply at all – that was nearly two months ago.”
On the 29th October Nauru’s Justice Minister, David Adeang, declared, "Nauru is not a state of Australia! The Australian media approaches us with great arrogance and an air of racial superiority, which is highly offensive to us. They do not show us the respect of a sovereign nation and in return we have little respect for them."
With the prospect of Wendy Bacon being able to get a visa looking grim, it was decided that Claire O’Connor S.C. would apply to go with Carmen Lawrence on the fact finding visit in December. Claire is an Adelaide-based Senior Council and has worked on numerous cases involving Australia’s asylum laws.
However, in an extraordinary admission, a Nauru consul assistant told Claire O’Connor by email on the 5th of November that:
‘All regional processing matters are handled directly through our (Nauru’s) Justice and Immigration Department in partnership with the Australian Immigration Department. I would suggest you approach the Australian Immigration first to ascertain the possibility of going to Nauru, I do not have the contact details for DIAC but this will be the best place to start. If everything proceeds then they will handle your application with Nauru Immigration as our office only deals with tourist permits.’
We made further inquiries to determine which country was in control of Nauru’s borders. Our questions produced this response from a Border Force employee on the 17th of November. It reads in part:
‘I have passed your details to the Nauruan Government Department of Justice and Border. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has no involvement in the management of travel to and from Nauru, despite the email you received from Mr. XXXX. Nauru as a sovereign nation is solely responsible for approval of visas. The Department is unable to assist with visa application.’
On the strength of that clarification from Border Force, Claire again wrote to Nauru. The consul agreed they had made a mistake and that was the last Claire has heard from the Nauru Consul.
Meanwhile Carmen Lawrence had also been making regular contact with Nauru to ask where her visa application was up to; most were met by silence. The last email she received was last week. She was told a decision would be made on the 1st of December about her application. The silence has since been deafening.
It is clear that what is left of the Nauru government has no intention of allowing an independent media or civil society on Nauru. It is also clear the Turnbull government has no intention of asking Nauru to open its borders and join the rest of the world. Tragically, it is also clear that conditions on the island for women continue to deteriorate.
It was left to Save the Children to turn off the lights as they left. There are now no independent voices left on the island and no one who can even bear witness to what is occurring there.
But ultimately no one and no country are above the law. In order to keep faith with the women who need to have their voices heard and all of you who donated money into our appeal we have developed Plan B.
We will take the next three months to research and document the violence against women on Nauru. While this began life as an issue for women who were seeking asylum or had been found to be refugees, it is now clear the women of Nauru experience shocking levels of violence against them as well. Those findings will be presented to the UN in March on International Women’s Day 2016.
If neither the Turnbull government nor the Shorten-led opposition is willing to intervene on behalf of these women, we believe there are many in the international community who will.
We are extremely disappointed the Nauru government has continued to refuse access to Australia’s camps and even more disappointed that neither the Coalition or Labor have been able or willing to negotiate access for the media and civil society.
Considering both major parties have been able to negotiate with Nauru to convince them to increase their population by another 10 per cent and to manage multi-million dollar contracts for service provision to run these camps, it doesn’t appear to be too difficult to also ensure independent access for those concerned with the human rights of those people in Australia’s care.
Thank you so much for your support and patience. This is an ever-evolving situation and we won’t stop working toward giving voice to the women who desperately need to be heard. From there we will do whatever we can to harness the power of concerned Australians and the international community to bring an end to this appalling state of affairs.
Finally, if anyone has other ideas or suggestions or stories they are hearing please contact Julie Macken on firstname.lastname@example.org or Luisa Low at email@example.com - we will get in contact with you as soon as we are able.