Refugees right to burn down Nauru
Refugees right to burn down Nauru
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“Blazing fire lit the skies… Very loud. Shouts of ‘freedom’ along with sound of riot shields banging… Massive smoke rising from within the camp. Shouting and commotion. Baseball-sized rocks can be seen flying into the midst of the police.” Local photographer Clint Deidenang had never seen anything like the mass revolt of more than 500 asylum seekers which destroyed the Nauru detention centre.

The concentration camp, misnamed by the Australian government as a “regional processing centre”, was burnt to the ground on 19 July. People who had been held behind its barbed wire, many since its opening in August last year, vented their frustration and anger at the Australian government’s disgraceful refugee policy.

A hundred refugees on the island had already been protesting and holding hunger strikes for a week before the riot. But the protests escalated into a full-blown uprising. Given the dehumanising treatment they have received, this comes as no surprise. Refugees on Nauru have faced all manner of inhumane conditions: deteriorating facilities, overcrowding, under-resourcing, and the fact that they had been forced to live in tents for almost a year.

One Palestinian detainee previously explained in an interview with Red Flag: “We are treated like animals. If I had an animal I would treat it so much better than they treat us. This is inhumane. Do they think we came here because we are bad people? We are not; we needed to escape the horrible life we are living… In here every day people are attempting suicide – every day!

“And every day there are people on hunger strike. No cameras or journalists are allowed in here. Being in prison would be better because at least I would know how long my sentence is. Here I know nothing.”

In response to the protest, Nauru police deputised hundreds of locals with powers to detain and arrest any person attempting to break out. This led to the disastrous situation of locals assaulting refugees as they were boarding a bus to hospital. Emergency legislation was also passed, enabling the police force to hold prisoners for up to seven days without charge.

Of those 50 or so who have been charged, Immigration Minister Tony Burke said “Be in no doubt that the sort of crimes that appear to have been committed are crimes which carry serious prison sentences.”

But the real crime here is the whole system of mandatory detention, offshore processing and the demonisation of refugees. Human beings who have committed no crime are being locked in cages.

The detainees were right to take action. They should be congratulated for standing up for their own rights when no one else will. Their riot was an assertion of humanity in the face of a barbarous system.

The damage to the buildings is nothing compared to the damage that is daily inflicted on thousands of refugees.

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