From September 2001 I made three attempts to obtain a visa to visit Nauru in
order to gain first hand knowledge of the conditions under which asylum
seekers were being kept and to hear their stories.
In particular I wanted to speak with Mohamed (family name undisclosed), an
ethnic Hazara with whom I¹d established written contact. I¹d engaged a
solicitor to put into action a sponsorship plan and formal application for
me to sponsor Mohamed through DIMIA. My wish was to take full financial
responsibility for Mohamed in the event he could be brought to Australia,
either under a migrant or humanitarian program. Mohamed struck me from the start as an articulate ambassador for his people.
All attempts to gain a visa were fruitless. The only reason given was lack
of accommodation and that all hotels are fully booked. This is not true.
I eventually obtained a visa to visit Kiribati which allowed me a three day
stop-over in Nauru. (Interestingly New Zealanders don¹t need a visa for
Nauru but Australians do).
On my arrival in Nauru on May 31, 2002 I passed through customs without any
trouble. Also on the flight was a BBC journalist called Sarah (who travels
on a NZ passport) with whom I¹d planned the trip.
We were met by separate contacts and taken to our hotel which is said to be
the “second best” in Nauru. It was dirty, there was no running water,
electricity was rationed to brief periods during the early morning and
evenings (which also regularly failed) and very limited telephone access.
Any calls to other hotels had to be booked through the hotel and no phone
contact could be made with anyone else on the island. All attempts to call
There were Australians all around the hotel, primarily security staff for
Chubb and Australian Protection Services APS.
Sarah and I headed straight for Topside camp.
The road to it was lined with smouldering rubbish and smelt like a tip.
The heat was the most intense I¹ve felt.
Sarah had a hidden camera on her. I had five letters for female detainees
from their husbands who are in Australia on TPVs along with personal affects
for them and their children; legal letters from solicitors searching for
survivors of certain maritime incidents who were entitled to participate in
pending coronial inquests; cash for detainees and a stills camera.
We drove past the first sentry point after saying we were visiting, smiled
and waved ourselves through.
The next sentry-box had a boom-gate and two Australian guards whom I told I
was a visitor ¬ while they were trying to stop me I walked around into the
camp which appeared to be like a series of gate stock-yards. There were
about thirty detainees and I asked them for Mohammed. More detainees
started gathering around me as the guard started to panic and got onto his
walky-talky. Two more Australian guards came.
We were forced to accompany the guards back to the first sentry-box and
after about half an hour an IOM car came and picked us up.
We were taken to the Menen Hotel where IOM management, UNHCR, Chubb security
and DIMIA all reside and work.
We met Cy Winter, head of the IOM who was on his way for a swim, he cheerily
greeted us, praised us for our compassion and left us to talk with other IOM
staff. I told them why I was there and they didn¹t ask Sarah the purpose of
They stated concern that our presence would cause a disturbance in the camp
and suggested they would bring some detainees out of the camp for us to
meet. They asked for a list of whom I wanted to meet and were despondent
when I gave them a list of roughly thirty names and ID numbers.
Eventually they arranged to take us back to a room on the perimeter of the
camp and said they would bring all the listed detainees out to meet us. As
it turned out roughly twenty were brought out including Mohammed. Those on
the list who were not brought out and whose existence was denied by IOM were
people who¹d written to me in Australia telling me they¹d lost family
members in failed rescues at sea. I knew they were in there.
Our two hour visit was observed by Chubb security as many other detainees
clamoured to meet us but were ordered to keep away like cattle.
While security was distracted we filmed our visit and took statements on
I also showed the detainees how to work my stills camera and left it with
them. Additionally I asked them to write their recollections of dealings
with the Australian Defence Forces as I¹d heard numerous disturbing accounts
of how detainees had been treated aboard the Tampa and Australian ships
including the HMAS Manoora and HMAS Tobruk. ( I eventually obtained about
fifty accounts which are attached).
IOM then returned us to our hotel.
The next day we were met by the Australian Consul-General and IOM head Cy
Winter. Winter was very hostile and said our presence would disturb his
plans to start excursions around Nauru for the detainees.
He also claimed that Nauruans objecting to my presence. I told him it was
nonsense that any detainees or Nauruans were objecting to my visit, that any
objections they had were to his obstructing my visit.
Suddenly my visa became an issue and Winter claimed I¹d misused my visa.
Sarah explained that visas were not an issue as we were legally in transit.
As I¹d said on my immigration card, I was in Nauru to visit friends. Those
friends happened to be in detention.
Winter said he was going to call the Nauruan police and have me jailed, that
their jails were unpredictable and frightening and who knows when I¹d be
(the police we¹re talking about here are predominantly Australian. As Nauru
only had about three police, APS members have been inducted in to the
Nauruan police force)
I turned to the Consul-General and said that in that event he would of
course be helping me. He agreed that of course he would but was obviously
feeling very uncomfortable with Winter¹s threatening us.
Winter kept abusing us for daring to visit Nauru. I told him I wanted to
take photos of family members for husbands who hadn¹t seen wives or children
for more than two years. He said he¹d be delighted to jail me if I took a
They said that while the Australian government would help me if I landed in
jail, there¹d be very little they could really do if Nauru decided to take a
dim view of me.
After prolonged argument about my wish to hand over letters, money, goods,
clothes and toys to detainees I¹d been in contact with it was eventually
agreed I¹d be escorted on a brief visit to each camp.
At Statehouse Iraqi people are detained. The men looked as if they were in
shock. They were ceaselessly moving, talking and restless. I was prevented
from talking to them.
Sarah and I were taken to different rooms.
Five women and one man from my list were produced and I spoke with them
through a translator. I gave the women their husband¹s money, letters and
news. They each cried and asked me when this would end. They were all
young, pretty, polite and defenceless.
At Topside camp we were met by Cy Winter who had suddenly switched into PR
I didn¹t trust him a bit. This is the man who rules the camp and the Menen
Hotel where all the workers in the asylum-seeker industry worked and hid out
in cool air-conditioned comfort with ocean views ¬ detached from the pain of
It is a thriving business with enough administrators, translators, Chubb
security officers, builders, carpenters, technicians, electricians, UHNCR
staff, DIMIA staff, APS staff and more to run a country.
These are the carrion-feeders of the industry. We saw builders and other
tradesmen fly in business-class. Carpenters told us of being paid $5,000
Australian per week plus perks, with contracts insisting on absolute
Electricians were being paid more than $5,000 per week.
If only as many experts were assisting Nauru, with its meagre population of
11,000 impoverished and ailing citizens.
Little wonder there are signs that Nauruans now loathe what Australia has
done to their island.
There is graffiti around the island such as OUT IOM and AUSTRALIA CARES?
I personally witnessed a violent attack on Australians by a Nauruan. A
dance was being held at the Bondi Club. Some Australian builders arrived
and a Nauruan smashed his fist through the windscreen of their land-rover
screaming “I hate all whites”.
He was not arrested. Other Australians at the club said it was a common
occurrence and they did what they usually did ¬ which was to leave.
Nauru is a disaster.
Apart from power and water shortages, petrol is rationed.
IOM and UNHCR vehicles without petrol locks have their petrol siphoned off
The situation causes constant tension and creates an environment in which
business is impossible to conduct.
There is no reliable source of information and news. There is no newspaper.
The food supply is appalling with no access to fresh fruit, milk and
vegetables. According to translators any attempts to fly fresh produce in
generally see the food perish due to the intense heat and transport
Cy Winter treated me to the best on offer in the camps ¬ a plate of greasy,
The water for detainees comes from the Solomon Islands and tastes foul.
There are serious health problems in the camps. Bacterial skin infections
are common and persistent due to hygiene problems. Detainees have no water
to wash their hands after toileting. They bathe when there¹s rain which is
an uncommon event. Soap is rationed to one block per detainee per month.
Detainees have great trouble washing their clothes and bedding. Against
advice, Australians have installed flush toilets, which have no water to
flush them. They overflow with human waste and are insect infested.
Many detainees have been hospitalised outside the camp after suffering blood
diarrhoea and other endemic parasitic and bacterial illnesses.
Nauru¹s small and struggling hospital has a permanent rotating population of
psychologically traumatised detainees even though Nauru was assured by
Australia that this would never happen.
Local Nauruans have been told there is a bed shortage at the hospital and
requested to bring mattresses with them when admitted.
Drugs are in short supply.
The medical and baby clinic at the camp is under-resourced. Six babies have
been born in the camp. These babies are now stateless.
In all, I visited the Topside camp on three occasions. Children could not
even approach the newly installed tiny playground as they would fry. It is
totally unsheltered. Everywhere you look there are listless men lying on
their beds, too hot and dispirited to get off them.
Men are regularly jailed in Nauru for walking outside the camp, for
expressing distress or causing any sort of disturbance. They are jailed for
up to three weeks and are kept naked in prison in case they attempt suicide
with their clothing.
Muslim men told me this indignity is the worst humiliation they have
Everywhere in the camps there are signs of ongoing expenditure. The
building works suggest permanency.
Translators told me that they feel guilty about what is happening to the
detainees, that they love these people and feel protective about them. Many
say they are reduced to tears at night.
There is a lot of pressure being put on staff to convince detainees into
taking the Australian Government¹s “package” and return home.
Translators and other staff say they are being pressured to bully the
detainees and feel they are being spied upon by DIMIA.
On my third day on Nauru I was apprehended by four APS officers after I was
trying to re-visit Topside. I told them I knew I was acting within my legal
rights and that the detainees also had a legal right to receive visitors.
They told me I was infringing my visa.
I referred them to article 5 of the Nauruan constitution which allowed my
They called Cy Winter who ordered my arrest.
The APS officers then refused to say if I was in fact under arrest but
agreed to my request to be taken to the IOM at the Menen Hotel.
They drove off after depositing me at the Menen Hotel. I was assaulted around my neck. I will not accuse the person who did this in print. As I know the detainees will suffer as I will from new restrictions and possibly a ban on communication. I do not know if it hasn’t already happened. No-one at the camp has answered my letters, emails or faxes.
I fled to a translator¹s room where I told a number of Australians working
in Nauru what had just happened to me. They believed me.
They told me they were under a lot of pressure from the Australian Government.
They also gave me numerous and lurid accounts of what they themselves had
witnessed aboard the HMAS Manoora.
Among other atrocities, children were witnessed having their mouths burned
with chili in order to force their mothers to disembark.
The Nauruan opposition (leader David Adeang) wants to know where all the
money that Australia says has been paid is going and is calling on
Australian lawyers to help them trace the money-flow.
PM Rene Harris and cohorts are said to have purchased a fleet of cars from
Japan. When challenged on this he says the cars are not for personal use
but are part of a new business enterprise he¹s setting up to benefit Nauru.
Nauruans are living just as badly as ever while the Australian dominated detention
centre industry on the island is thriving. It’s a parasitic business to be sure.
If you would like to write to or assist detainees on Nauru, we have an informal guardianship scheme. Why not send a self-addressed business envelope. We’ll assist you to contact a small group of detainees on Nauru.