Australia’s offshore detention centres merit condemnation

On 27 August, six Danish MPs boarded an aeroplane in Copenhagen. Our intention was to visit Australia and the tiny Pacific island state of Nauru – a country that depends on the money it receives for hosting the internationally criticised Australian offshore detention centre for asylum seekers.

The delegation consisted of MPs from six different political parties with different views on the Australian offshore asylum model. The nationalist Danish People’s party has for many years argued in favour of a similar model in Denmark. They suggest the deportation of refugees to a Danish military base in Greenland.

I, on the other hand, had sharply criticised the Australian camps in Danish and international media. The governing party in Denmark has been lying low, but the minister for integration, who was originally going on the trip, has indicated that inspiration could be sought in Australia.

On 29 August – just over 24 hours after arriving in Australia – we received a disheartening piece of information. Three MPs were denied access by the government of Nauru, which didn’t even try to hide the reason. Government representatives openly said to the chairman of the delegation and to the Danish embassy that critics were not welcome.

Nauru is an extremely poor country facing serious democratic challenges. Law professor and president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, has been denied a visa. Very few journalists have been granted access to the camps.

It is, however, quite disturbing that Australia operates refugee camps on these conditions. During our visit to Canberra we met UNHCR representative Thomas Albrecht. He told us that after 30 years of working with refugees he expected that nothing could shock him.

But on Nauru he saw greater hopelessness than anywhere else. He told us of his shocking encounter with a girl of about eight years old – the same age as his grandchild. He had asked her name. “EZBO7,” she replied. “No, what is your name,” he insisted. “EZBO7.”

He told us about children that had stopped playing and about self-harm and attempted suicide even among pre-teenagers. Continue reading

  • Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen is a member of the Danish parliament for the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten).
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