Saturday, January 11, 2014
The cabinet of the island nation of Nauru endorsed rise of the cost of an application for single-entry three-month media visa from AU$200 to $8,000 last Thursday.
The rise followed a scandal last weekend involving 60 Lebanese asylum seekers voluntarily deciding to return home from the Nauru offshore processing facility, an Australian immigration detention facility, after facing harsh physical conditions and disorientation.
Nauru’s Government Information Office Director Joanna Olsson appeared to be unaware that the new visa fee had yet to take effect, writing an email to a visa applicant about the new fee last Tuesday: “Sorry for the late response but yes we are granting media visas. The fee is $8000 per visa, single entry valid for 3 months. The visa fee is not refundable if the application is not successful.” She also claimed the new fee had been implemented “a couple [of] months ago”, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
On the contrary, on Thursday during a meeting, Nauru’s Principal Immigration Officer Ernest Stephen said the price change was “not official” and the price rise had not yet passed into law through the Parliament. Stephen said only three or four Nauru media visas were granted last year.
A member of Nauru Opposition Group, Mathew Batsiua, claimed the move was an oppression of journalistic freedom. “They [the Nauru authorities] certainly bully our local media in terms of what they can show, who they can interview, and this is another illustration of that kind of behaviour in terms of bullying media and avoiding accountability. … This hiking up of fees for journalists coming in to Nauru is a step in that direction, and we think that it’s the wrong move and we’re certainly opposing it.”
The rise of the visa fee followed a recent scandal involving the majority of 60 Lebanese asylum seekers, targeted by people smugglers, deciding to return home from the Nauru and neighbouring Manus Island detention centres after a discussion with Australian government adviser Jamal Rifi on the weekend of January 4.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reviewed the detention centre in December 2012, reporting poor physical conditions:
The conditions at the closed and congested detention centre [are] harsh, with little natural shelter from the heat during the day. These conditions are aggravated by noise and dust from the construction of the permanent facility.
The UNHCR has also cited delays processing the refugee applications, lack of legal counseling, health issues including trauma and mental health cases, and responsibility of both Australia and Nauru for the treatment. In another review in November last year, UHCR reported improved physical conditions while criticizing progress on reception conditions and refugee applications processing.
Yesterday Australian officials told a Pakistani refugee living in Australia that a refugee application could take up to ten years to process, while he was applying for refuge for his brothers following death of his parents and wife in Pakistan.