People fleeing persecution and armed conflicts in their own countries have a very tough and dangerous road ahead of them. Many dislocated people from Africa, South Asian and Middle Eastern countries are coming to Australia by the boatloads. Due to the dangerous seas, overcrowded, rickety boats and deadly storms, many ships sink and many asylum seekers die, never completing their journey to a safe haven. In August 2012, Australia implemented some newly revamped policies to deter refugees from attempting to arrive in Australia by boat. The revamped policies attempt to stop people smuggling and to prevent even more asylum seekers from drowning.
To offset the increasing numbers of refugees illegally entering the country, Australia now asserts that any asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat will be sent to immigration detention centres on Nauru Island and Papua New Guinea (PNG) until their cases have been processed by the Department of Immigration. Asylum seekers are told that the processing will take at least six months and perhaps longer. Recently, refugees of many nations detained at Nauru have begun a hunger strike to protest conditions at the camp and to demand their cases be processed immediately. Another demand is that they be moved to Australia for the processing time. Some refugees are turning to self harm or suicide attempts in their despair.
In the midst of protests by human rights activists and NGO refugee activists concerning the detainment of refugees, the Australian government insists that asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat illegally will not benefit by being taken into the community, rather they will be detained until their application for asylum is processed. While refugees complain of conditions in the detainment camps, Andrew Bartlett, a Senator in Parliament who has visited the Nauru camp twice insists that the refugees’ despair stem from not knowing when they will be released from the camp and settled in Australia. Bartlett has stated that “the physical conditions for the refugees are probably not much worse than for the average Nauruan….” The Salvation Army, which provides humanitarian support for the camps defended conditions on Nauru, saying there is sufficient and nutritious food available for the detainees and while the intense heat may be a problem, there are air conditioned common areas and fans are available.
Still, for asylum seekers, the hard and dangerous road to safety in Australia is at best utterly challenging, and at worst, deadly. Once settled in Australia, however, refugees find their safe haven and begin to rebuild their lives without fear.