The Nauru Experience: Zero-Tolerance Immigration and Suicidal Children

A recent visit to Nauru revealed the effects of Australia’s offshore detention policy and its impact on mental health.

Comments: 67

  1. This is a very one sided story. In the interests of balance, there is also a counter argument. The government accepts 13500 genuine refugees from camps around the world every year. Each one of these people who arrived by flying to Indonesia and paying smugglers to get to Australia takes the place of a poor refugee in a camp somewhere living as a displaced person. Some have been in camps for more than 15 years. The medical care available to the people on Nauru is the envy of many people in regional Australia and certainly way more than our own remote indigenous people receive. As for removing children from Nauru, personally I think children belong with their parents and I would never condone forced removal of children to Australia. Australia accepts more than 190,000 immigrants every year as well as the refugees, in an orderly process. Australia is a hugely successful country of migrants which is accepted precisely because it is well managed and controlled.

  2. @Gavin There is no counter-argument that justifies what amounts to the mental and emotional torture of children and innocent human beings. “Arguments” about the enviable standard of medical care on Nauru are an obscene irrelevance, if people are nevertheless suffering like this on the island. “Arguments” about the number of refugees Australia accepts are irrelevant because no amount of good Australia might do elsewhere changes the reality faced by the people on Nauru. There are no circumstances that can make this horror right or reasonable when other kinder solutions have always been possible.

  3. @Gavin This is as vile as Trump separating children from their parents upon arrival. There are all kinds of "reasons" but the fundamental reason is cruelty and inhumanity. To deter illegal immigration and smuggling of asylum seekers through cruel and inhumane practices tells us all about Australians. (And Trumpkins as well.)

  4. @Chris, I am an Australian doctor, who cared for adult male 'unauthorised maritime arrivals' in Immigration Detention Centres on the Australian mainland 4 years ago. In the space of 5 years, we landed 55,000 of them, and it then cost Australian taxpayers 12 billion Australian dollars. That included the costs of aircraft and naval vessels searching for refugee overloaded boats in rough weather, engines having stopped, or having run out of fuel. The stories justifying refugee claims would abruptly change - with changes of name, origins, birthdates - when they realized the story they told was implausible. The cost to the Australian taxpayer was over 200,000 Australian dollars per person. And if we did not rescue them, the boatload would drown. For most of that time, the fare paid the people smugglers was 20,000 Australian dollars per person. The 'caravans' passing through Mexico at this time are people walking, and they cost the US government nothing until they reach the US border. The Nauruans have been living on Nauru for hundreds of years, they are not trying to escape. They have fulfilling lives. We in Australian have no obligation to continue to carry these quantum of costs.

  5. I am appalled by the government’s and the opposition’s response to our fellow human beings on Nauru - they have been held hostage for years - their blood stains our nation - a nation which once had an international human rights record of which we could be proud.

  6. Sorry, is this meant to be tongue-in-cheek? Australia’s human rights record?

  7. No one has a right to asylum in the country of their choice. At least in America the burden of proof is on the asylum seeker not on the government. If these people are fleeing war at least they are safe on Nauru. Disliking Nauru does not give them the right to enter Australia after paying smugglers to transport them illegally. Nor does the US have to take them no matter what agreement a previous administration made, if they can not pass the strict vetting process.

  8. You're wrong. The right to asylum has been recognised by both the USA and Australia for decades. Some people are terrified by that, I have no idea why since we Australians import cheap labour on a massive scale anyway. Both countries have deeply unresolved and historical racial inequities (one as a colonial state and the other as a slave economy), so the racial issues make it easier for the powerful media interest to warp and manipulate the politic. These poor suffering people are being terrorised not to discourage other refugees, but to satisfy the racial disquiet thats always under the surface here. The more effective deterrent practised by Australia is the turnback at sea of refugee boats, itself an illegal act, and by statute made secret. In the whole sorry saga the Australian public has become encumbered with a bloated, quasi-military department that similarly by statute operates largely in secrecy. There are no winners in this.

  9. @casbah Whether or not these particular illegal migrants "do not" plan to harm anyone is open to question. The purpose of the extreme vetting going on in the US is to keep immigrants out who do intend to do harm. For example the previous administration allowed an immigrant into the US on a fiancee visa. This person was a religious fanatic intent on doing harm here. She and her husband ended up murdering 14 people at a holiday party in California. She ended the killing spree by swearing allegiance to ISIS. Later more through vetting revealed social media posts exposing her as a religious fanatic. The father in this story could not pass the vetting process of the US either there was not enough information about him or something in his past was sketch. The US is under no obligation to take in him and his family. However just because American and Australia have rejected him does not mean he can not apply to enter any of the many other countries on this planet. He just needs to apply legally. His mistake was paying smugglers to take him into Australia illegally.

  10. @Brendan lewis Actually, YOU are wrong. While countries DO have a duty to provide asylum to refugees, countries do NOT have a duty to provide asylum to economic migrants and do NOT have a duty to provide asylum to real refugees who have passed through other countries in which they could have found asylum. Refugees, let alone economic migrants, do not get to travel the world over to pick their favorite country with the best welfare benefits.

  11. Get those kids surfboards and out on the water.

  12. Nauru is a prison island, with no rights, no hope, and no end in sight. Shame on Australia, and on America for not protesting.

  13. They are (alledgedly) fleeing from persecution in their homeland. They are being taken care of in Nauru. They have refused the offer to immigrate to the USA. They have gone through multiple countries to arrive at Nauru, therefore they are country shopping. The USA can start the bidding within the UN community if they wish.

  14. @KLo30 did you read the piece? They haven't rejected the option to go to the US - the piece says quite clearly that many have been turned down by the US and others are refused the right to apply there because they are of 'banned'nationalities.

  15. @franko Are you ok with sending them from where they came?

  16. Many Australians are shamed by the vile cruelty inflicted on these desperate refugees, driven by the desire for the votes of a bigoted minority. Out of sight, out of mind, and beyond local legal remedies. The claim is made that this is because treating them humanely (as we should do as signatories to the Refugees convention) would lead to drownings at sea as they turned to people smugglers. The truth is that the Liberal (actually conservative) government processed less than 50 claims for refugee status a year from the 10,000 plus caught in limbo in Indonesia, unable to work or access education and healthcare, while chanting the mantra of "join the orderly queue". The left wing Labor party was wedged into following the same course by the faux outrage. I shudder to think what future generations will think of this policy. Shameful and inhumane will be just the beginning.

  17. @Steve Bright Australia has an immigration policy and it is a good one. If they start letting in these people more will come and it will be a never ending battle to be borne out by Aussie taxpayers. Australia is under no obligation to open its borders to the worlds refugees. Don’t do it or you will pay for it later.

  18. @Charles Australia *is* under an obligation to resettle refugees. As laid out in the Refugee Convention. It is not illegal to seek asylum, even when arriving by boat and the current policy of mandatory, offshore detention, in some cases indefinite, is monstrous. ps... we pay very extravagantly, as taxpayers, to enact this cruelty on refugees. This approach costs $ billions. It is far more expensive than on-shore processing.

  19. @Janieblack That’s simply not true. Australia has no obligation to resettle refugess, fewer than 30 of the countries who sign the refugee treaty do. And we certainly should not be resettling the losers of a civil war they started in Sri Lanka and whose preferred weopens included child soldiers and suicide bombers.

  20. There are likely 1-3 BILLION people who are desperate to emigrate to a country other than their local country. They are sick, uneducated, oppressed by govt,, and nearly hopeless. They represent a portion of the Earth's overpopulation, There is not much room left at the inn, at the lifeboat. Helping a few (tens of millions) leaves a few BILLION faceless, desperate people to die back as their societies and civil order collapses. What can be done!!! Many of these people need to stay in their own country. They are not refugues, they are economic sufferers. They need to fight to change their society. We need to help them in their local communities. It is no solution to bring a few million broken people onto a sinking lifeboat and turn our backs on the BILLIONS who are faced with diving into the cold water of certain death and social collapse.

  21. @Paul, Collapsing and destroying our own country is a ridiculous way of helping billions of others who desire to be here, (and other western nations). Too many people.

  22. @Paul How about trading humanitarian aid for sterilization? Sounds like a win-win solution.

  23. 1 billion peeps in 1800, 7.5 billion today, on the way to 12? 15? billion by 2100. We're frogs in the pot, and things are heating up. Forward - into the dystopian void!

  24. @Miss Anne Thrope we will never get to 12 billion people. The biosphere will collapse first.

  25. @Jason Galbraith And we should just all turn into bleeding hearts, and sit and wait for that to happen?

  26. The Tamils in this article could certainly return to Sri Lanka. Tamils are a sizeable minority in the country. They are not oppressed as long as they are not attacking the elected government. In fact, prior to independence in Sri Lanka the Tamils were the dominant group since they had been brought over and favored by the British. We have many wealthy Tamils in the US since they have been a large proportion of the huge number of Sri Lankan doctors who have come to the US. Quite a few have found a home on Wall Street in hedge funds and major banks. In fact, medical training in Sri Lanka is focused on the US market where most of their graduates go. It is hard to understand just what sort of solution to the poverty in Sri Lanka the Times is proposing. Certainly a far more aggressive tax policy in the US combined with a massive cut in the defense budget would free up funds to spread among the poverty stricken in the world. I suppose one could just move all of the people in Sri Lanka to Australia since the vast majority do not enjoy the standard of living that exists in Australia....

  27. The accepted death toll of Tamils in the final days of the conflict is 10,000, largely from artilliary fire into the civilian population of Jaffna. Indefinite detention, torture and extrajudicial killing of Tamils by the police and military continues to the present. The Sri Lankan and Australian government's deny this despite the abundance of evidence, freely available. The Sri Lankan president has recently dismissed the elected prime minister, a moderate, and replaced him with the man who orchestrated the Jaffna atrocity. There's plenty to flee from if you're Tamil Elam. The boat people indefinitely detained by successive Australian governments in the large part have been recognised as genuine refugees, not economic aspirants (who usually fly in on a visa and then overstay). As for waves of climate refugees, that no doubt will happen, but to destroy our own humanity in response is a solution that benefits only the entrenched interests such as the Murdoch's of this world.

  28. Australia has lurched to the far right in recent times. Racial vilification is commonplace in Australia's political system and media. The cruelty metered out to refugee children reflects the attitudes of the majority of Australians who elected the government. Child abusers always seek out soft targets and refugee children are the most vulnerable and voiceless people on earth. Even doctors cannot work with the Australian government. This shows that Australia's government lacks even basic humanity.

  29. @EE Good point. I see Russia is taking in thousands of Muslim refugees. Oh, wait.....

  30. Like America, Australia imports cheap labor, the engine of its strong economy. Like America, Australia is the nearest refuge for victims of state neglect and violence. Like America, the moral calculus and economic math is really, simple. Like America, a lot of dumb people in Australia are afraid of moral calculus and economic math. Make the working class white men in rich countries numerate, literate, and decent! (Does that fit on a hat?)

  31. And how many people would have died at sea if Australia hadn't shut down the boat traffic? I mean, if Australia let in everybody then this article would just be about how horrible it is that Australia doesnt go and pay for plane tickets for these people so they wouldnt die in boats. I think Australia did the right thing. Hundreds of people would have died in boats if they hadn't shut down traffic. There are always millions and millions of people that would do anything to get to a western nation. Using their sob stories to prevent people from using rational thought to form opinions is a form of media manipulation that doesnt work on me anymore.

  32. Everyone assumes that refugees are idiots. I know though that they are intelligent people. They see that if their kids are suicidal they get preferential treatment. Suddenly every kid is suicidal. I mean, being trapped on a tropical island with free food and no need to work sounds like a pretty great thing to me. I get that these people want to get off the island and start making some money, but quite frankly I think the depiction of this place as some sort of hellhole is incomplete at best. I mean, these kids are safe. Their parents are safe. No one is going to come and murder them. They go to school. They get health care. They can pray to whatever God they want. To me it sounds pretty good. It takes awhile to properly vet someone, and you cant just let everybody into a country because of a bleeding heart. It has to be a logical and rational decision, which liberals the world over would rather just not think about.

  33. @Jacqueline how can this sounds good? They have no purpose, no life, no jobs, nothing to strive for, nothing to improve on or to work towards, nothing to get up in the morning for. Human beings need more than food and water, they need a purpose, an oportunity to grow and expand and these people have been denied that for years. Pretty islands don't make everything great.

  34. @Jacqueline goodness - that is one of the most callous posts I've seen in a while. These people are hopeless and traumatised because they lack agency and purpose and face the deep humiliation of not being believed and of being rejected by the world. They wouldn't be the first to be trapped in a gilded cage (though how gilded this is is open to question) to pine awya.

  35. @Jaqueline, how many wars have we, the US of A and its forbears, fought defending that most hallowed and basic principle of liberty and self determination? The prisoners on Nauru have no liberty or the ability to pursue their own happiness. Tropical paradise to you is a prison to them.

  36. Global warming will exacerbate the problem of human migration as severe droughts become common. Starvation will be wide spread and along with it political turmoil. This will also increase the xenophobia and racial hate propagated by politicians and believed by peoples of a nation. Australia will not be a good place to migrate to in the future, since they will be very severely affected by climate change. Western nations would be better served if in the long run they helped bring stability to disturbed regions. Rather than propping up despots for the economic benefits they might help grow local economies in sustainable ways. It's not necessary that they insist on democracies, but they should discourage blatant dictatorships that destabilize their own countries for personal economic gain or religious or ethnic retribution. Of course that would suppose that the western countries are capable of discerning those aspects of a country honestly without their own predatory instincts kicking in. I am not sure that most are capable of that. I know suicide may seem like a very severe thing, but in the future it might be about the only self determined act that will be available to most of the people on the planet.

  37. So the children of these refugees all happen to have a mysterious psychological condition, never seen before except in refugees waiting to be deported from Sweden. A condition which somehow immediately reoccurred in a country on the other side of the world, conveniently escaping the millions of other refugees in camps Africa and the Middle East, who don’t have the option of a ‘medical emergsncy’ escape to the country they paid a people smuggler to take them to. WOW. What are the odds!

  38. @James the odds are shorter than you suggest.

  39. I wish either an alien entity or single Large calamity threaten all humanity. This is the only way for People see past ones race creed or national Origin. As a species we are cruel and unjust

  40. @Dharma, you are about to get your wish on the "single large calamity" threatening all humanity, and it is a calamity of our own making.

  41. Offshore detention policy works. Low moral in those detention centres is kinda the point. If migrants in those camps were happy and content as they eagerly awaited their speedy resettlement in wealthy countries, there would be untold thousands of new ones coming every day. There is no other way to stem the migration avalanche but to convince the migrants themselves that it is simply not worth and will not pay to go the illegal rout. As it stands, no one is trying to come to Australia by sea anymore and nobody is dying while trying either. People smugglers are out of work too. Is it worth it to stop suffering and death of many thousands by making an example out of the few? Absolutely!

  42. @David, you think this policy is "worth it". You don't mention that the prisoners have run for their lives from their home countries, only to be illegally locked away to rot. You have swallowed the arguments of the Australian Government which allow a cohort of humans to suffer brain damage or slow deaths, "but at least they didn't drown". If you were held in such circumstances, would you still consider it "worth it"?

  43. @Ian Fisher, How many safe countries did some of these supposed refugees pass through on their way to get to Australia?

  44. @Ian Fisher They aren't prisoners. They may leave whenever they want.

  45. Why wouldn't they be resettled in Australia, a closer country? Where also is the UN on policies for resettlement? All the wealthier nations should contribute more to funds for resettlement, and the leaders of warring countries who slaughter and displace their people should be threatened with loss of sovereignty and all their foreign and domestic monies. If your people have to flee to survive, you clearly don't deserve your role as leader.

  46. @Dr. Conde The problem is that they are NOT fleeing to survive; they are fleeing to better lives -- or in many cases to better welfare. Virtually none of them are refugees at all. That's one reason they are not granted refuge in Australia or the US. Best solution: drop them off where they first paid their thousands of dollars in smuggling fees.

  47. The article deliberately ignores the fact that offshore detention works - the migrant pressure went from tens of thousands to zero. Once the incentive disappears, (illegal) migration stops. In the absence of Nauru there is eVerify.

  48. The last thing we need is to take in these people. Most of them seem to have three or more children, parents with no skills so the family immediately becomes a ward of the state...US taxpayers. Say no to unskilled labor immigration. If you can't earn your living, you don't belong.

  49. So let's examinine the situation. 1. Living in a South Pacific paradise. Check. 2. Free food and housing. Check. 3. Safe from alleged life-threatening terrors in their former homes. Check. 4. Not being prosecuted for illegal entry. Check. 5. Celebrated darlings of the Australian Left. Check 6. Downside: Out the thousands of dollars the allegedly penniless people paid to get to Australia. Check. This is driving the alleged refugees' children to suicide? I think not; their lives seem like a child's dream come true.

  50. There is a reference to the many asylum seekers who have “called Nauru home.” While Many Have been “housed” in Nauru for long periods, it seems unlikely that any consider the tents, containers and place in which they have been forcibly detained to be their “home.”

  51. I would like our American and international friends to know that there has been significant resistance to this inhumane policy over many years. Successive governments have used the fear of strangers and played up racist elements to control the many Australians who have had little contact with non-white, non-English speaking arrivals, and who due to our geographic isolation, have never seen the world outside Australia. Shamefully, Trump praised this policy to our former PM! Both major political parties have retained it, only recently has the success of several independents entering the Parliament cracked their resolve. Children and families currently being repatriated from Nauru face an uncertain future, real freedom for them is elusive.

  52. @Julie Shaw This article itself will see many, many Australians posting comments defending this government policy. Politicians know this. They know demagoguery wins, particularly in a country controlled by the Murdoch media.

  53. Australia has found the perfect justice to meter out to those who attempt to invade their nation and most horrifically (as our Latin American illegals do) use children as hostages and shields in an attempt to extort a ransom of citizenship and all the government benefits it entails from the Australian people. If the authors, NY Times editors and some readers of this piece are actually interested in some kind of relief for these children brought by their parents into this situation they need to consider what we do to citizens of our nations who abuse and risk the lives of their children. These illegal immigrant parents need to be given no opportunity to return to their nations of origin and now opportunity to gain asylum, but rather placed in prison for life on this island and their children sent back to nations of origin by any means possible.

  54. @winthrop staples Wow, where does this come from?

  55. Funny that this story omits two pertinent & telling facts that the Australian & Nauru press recently reported: Pertinent Fact 1: "...71 asylum-seekers in detention on Nauru have rejected an offer to resettle in the US after discovering they would need to work and wouldn't get free (lifelong) welfare. "Reports have come back to people on Nauru it's all a bit financially tight there because (refugees) have to get a job..." Pertinent Fact 2: The Nauru government in late Oct issued a statement condemning "refugee and asylum seeker parents who put their children at risk by intentionally hurting them, ordering them not to eat or drink, or encouraging them to self-harm, in order to influence legal proceedings or create a medical emergency so that they will be taken to Australia (for treatment). "'As we've stated many times,' (the government said), 'this has happened and continues to happen, and those who deny this are misinformed or simply don't want to admit the truth.'" Some medical evacuations of children have been delayed by entire families insisting they go along, or because an individual accompanying a child was being investigated for child abuse, sex crimes, or drug use.

  56. @curiousme Wrong, the comment about peopl3 refusing to go to the US is simply not true. 100% of those approved by the US are now in the US. There are refugees who have refused to apply, because the Australian Border force has told them to sign documents to give up their wives and children, from who they are already separated (wives or children moved to Australia for medical treatment.) Do you think that is reasonable? I would believe MSF doctor’s long before I would believe the totally corrupt Nauruan government, whose main nterest is to retain these refugees, a# it is a major income source for their third world nation.

  57. Again NYTimes, a very biased article on immigration. Australia has done a good job caring for people that came for economic reasons. They receive healthcare, food, water, and housing. For some reason, the bankrolled smugglers to bring them to another nation, one of their choice. When one thinks they can move to wherever they like, they are suspect. These are not refugees, they are economic immigrants and western countries are not obliged to care for them. I wonder, do readers believe that homeless people in NYC should be given a home on the coast, if that's what they want? There are miserable people everywhere and while I donate money and am willing to donate time, I am not donating my country. And neither should Australia.

  58. @Ma Sorry, but the article is completely correct. The Australian government is behaving appallingly to the genuine refugees.

  59. Of course we allowed Rupert Murdoch in, who has done inestimable harm to our country.

  60. The short story is: 1 These people aren't prisoners. 2 They may leave whenever they want.

  61. "Nauru has “appropriate mental health assessment and treatment in place.” Indeed, while it is no paradise, it beats drowning at sea. It is seldom mentioned that there are native residents of Nauru, who call it home without arousing international outrage. Refugees on Nauru have applied for entry into Australia, which has quotas for immigrants. Refugees who are waiting for possible entry into Australia on Nauru may change their minds and leave whenever they want.

  62. OK, so it's not Club Med but it's not supposed to be. If this were the case many of us would try and go live there too. Discouraging illegal immigration must start somewhere and I think Australia has it right. If you are found illegally within Australia, you are permanently banned from ever entering again, for any reason. AND you may NEVER be allowed to apply for citizenship, ever. Law breaking is not a good way to bust your way into any country. It proves your untrustworthy actions from the get go. If we did the same here in the US there would be a dramatic downturn in illegals entering. We should be adopting more stringent measures as they are in Australia. You break our rules once, never again.

  63. @MS Seeking asylum is not illegal, these people have a right to come to Australia under international law.

  64. @Celeste, Yes but how many safe countries did these 'refugees' pass through on their way to Australia?

  65. @MS Is that a rhetorical question, or do you actually have an estimate of the number of "safe countries" that you suggest are refusing these refugees?

  66. Australian policy toward the refugees who are or have been on Nauru is pure evil. It is not one bit amazing that leaders in Australia in the early 21st century are capable of behavior similar to the worst displays in the 20th century in the heart of Europe. The people who do this are evil. Anyone who in any way supports this evil is complicit in crimes against humanity, and needs to be held to account.

  67. Fariborz Karami died of a drug overdose. There was no blood. Fact-check, please.