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Australian refugee group raises concerns over protests in Nauru

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated 23 October 2012, 10:56 AEST

An Australian refugee advocacy group has criticised comments made by Australian opposition politicians suggesting that asylum seekers should be kept in offshore processing centres for a minimum of five years.

The criticism from the Australian Refugee Action Coalition follows protests in Nauru and the Australian city of Melbourne at the weekend over the offshore processing policy. The RAC says it understands the Nauru protest on Sunday involved around 300 asylum seekers, and was the second in less than a week.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

Speaker:Spokesman for the Australian based Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul

RINTOUL: Well, there was one of over 300 people on the Sunday just gone, yesterday, so they've been at least three major protests now on Nauru and a couple of smaller ones. I suppose there's three general things now. One is for the Australian government to begin processing them immediately, that they've been told it could be eight months up to a year before they're even begun to be processed. So that's their first demand, that they begin processing immediately. Second is for the government to stop sending people to Nauru, that's both because you see they object just in principle to Nauru what's happening on Nauru, but it's also associated with the third demand and that is their grave concern about the physical and mental impact that detention on Nauru is having on them. They've got a lot of complaints about the detention centre itself, living in tents, in the intolerable heat, the fact that there's dirt floors, the level of facilities that are there, the fact that there's no recreation area, there's no area in the shade in the middle of the day in the detention centre. They're concerned even about the medical centre and the level of facilities that there are for that.

COONEY: Have they been made aware of the debate that seems to be going on in Australia at the moment about certainly the Coalition Opposition here talking about that they should be detained for at least five years. Have they been made aware that this discussion is going on in Australia?

RINTOUL: They are aware of that, that's added to their very extreme concerns. They simply cannot understand why there would be a political party in Australia that would be trying to do that to someone who has been fleeing persecutions. They've been a few backwards and forward things, trying to understand, trying to get across the complexities of the debate in Australia, but they're very aware, although obviously the more immediate thing is what they've been told by Chris Bowen, that your processing may not begin for a year and that they could be, even under the Labor Government held on Nauru inspite of being found to be refugees, they could be there for some years after that.

COONEY: This protest that's gone on there. I mean have you heard from others about it as well, not just the guys who are the refugees?

RINTOUL: Yes, there are some other people on Nauru that give us information from time to time, so we do what we can to actually confirm, but there's nothing like direct contact to give that confirmation both yesterday's rally and the protest they had the week before that. We got a phone call and you could hear the enormous amount of noise in the background from chanting asylum seekers on Nauru. So we both are able to hear directly as well as get the odd email. The language provides some complications at times, but there are sympathisers in Australia who've got the language skills of different sorts. So we've been able to get the message out and get the messages from them, from the horses mouth so to speak.

COONEY: And is there any word from officials over there?

RINTOUL: Well, mostly the only official response we tend to hear is through the media. There've been some indirectly from other people, some of whom don't want to be identified for obvious reasons. So we've heard some things sort of suggesting that perhaps the claims that we're making are exaggerated and they'll talk up the degree of the facilities that are there. On the other hand, they haven't denied what we've said.

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