Since a few boatloads of Vietnamese asylum-seekers were first welcomed on the sunny Australian shores in the late 1970’s, immigration policies concerning these so-called ‘boat-people’ have become increasingly harsh in their attempt to stop refugees reaching Australia.
Along with much of Europe and other areas of the world in 2013, Australia had experienced a marked increase in the numbers of refugee arrivals. Compared to elsewhere these numbers were trivial, but satisfactory for the Australian Government to decide that enough was enough, declaring that asylum seekers arriving by boat would have “no chance of being settled in Australia”.
The Australian Navy was deployed to forcibly turn around the fishing-come-refugee boats leaving Indonesia, and those who made it through the barricade into Australian waters never quite reached Australian soil. Instead, these few thousand people were sent to remote tropical islands, far out of sight and mind of the polarised Australian public, where they have remained ever since, stuck in a Kafkaesque limbo described as a “regime of cruelty”.
One of these tropical islands is Nauru, the smallest island republic in the world that was once, per capita, the richest nation in the world due to its phosphate reserves. This valuable commodity has since been completely strip-mined, leaving nothing but bare rock, economic despair, and an opportunity for a new industry – refugees.
Home to roughly 10,000 people, Nauru was always going to be ill-equipped to deal with an influx of 1200 foreign refugees, even with Australian funding that runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
At the time these images were taken, some refugees had been ‘released’ into the community, however they lived in fear of regular beatings, robbery and rape. Unable to go back to their homelands due to fear of persecution, and living in continuous fear of the local population, refugees were stuck, quite literally, between a rock and a hard place. Many refugees had escaped war, terrorism and other serious trauma, so were already in a fragile state of mind, however the situation on Nauru has been found to have severely exacerbated existing mental health issues, and also to have created swathes of problems in people previously unaffected by trauma. Self-harm and suicide attempts are commonplace, even among children, and in 2016 two refugees set themselves on fire within a week of each other, one of whom died.
After being incarcerated in Nauru for more than four years with no end in sight, the situation has been described by the likes of Amnesty International as a gross violation of human rights, akin to torture. Pressure from various human rights groups, the UN and even concerned foreign nations have led to nothing but the Australian government retreating further from decency, instead entrenching their already severe immigration policies. The government regularly postures that offshore refugees are not even Australia’s responsibility anymore, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
All the while, day after day, year after year, the damage to these people is mounting, their lives descending into something less than an existence. It becomes increasingly obvious as to exactly what kind of asylum they have found.