Nauru to end detention of asylum seekers

A child amongst a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers sent back by Australia looks on before entering the magistrate's court in the southern port district of Galle on July 8, 2014 Image copyright Getty Images

Nauru's government is promising to open up its regional centre for asylum seekers, effectively ending detention.

Justice Minister David Adeang says some 600 outstanding asylum seekers' refugee claims would be processed within the next week.

It means asylum seekers will be free to move around the island, something that has been welcomed by rights groups.

All people who try to get to Australia by boat as refugees are detained in offshore centres like Nauru.

The latest development comes amid concerns over the conditions of the centre for vulnerable asylum seekers, particularly pregnant women and children.

Just last week the Australian Broadcasting Corp aired allegations made by a Somali woman who said she had been raped by two men on Nauru - and that it took police on the Pacific island four hours to respond.

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Image caption Nauru: The world's smallest republic

The surprise decision also came two days before the Australian High Court was due to examine the legality of Australia's role in the offshore detention.

The Nauru authorities said in a statement that the regional processing centre was to become an "open centre" 24 hours a day, seven days a week - meaning asylum seekers can move around the island freely.

"The start of detention-free processing is a landmark day for Nauru and represents an even more compassionate programme, which was always the intention of our government," justice minister David Adeang said.

Mr Adeang also confirmed that the Australian authorities would provide support with "safety, security and law enforcement".

Last month an Australian senate report found conditions on Nauru were not "appropriate or safe" for detainees and urged the government to remove children from the centre.

It said allegations of rape and abuse should be investigated and access given to journalists and rights workers.

Australia's new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has come under pressure to shut down all offshore migrant detention centres.

But he has defended the rules - a central policy of his predecessor Tony Abbott - by saying they are tough but save lives.

Australia and asylum

  • Many asylum seekers - mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran - travelled to Australia's Christmas Island by boat from Indonesia.
  • The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and early 2013. Scores of people died making the journey.
  • To stop the influx, the government adopted hard-line measures intended as a deterrent.
  • Everyone who arrives by boat is now detained and processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Those found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG, Nauru or Cambodia.

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