After a letter threatening to harm refugees was circulated, two young men have been assaulted. It’s just the latest in a string of attacks. Max Chalmers reports.
Serious concerns about the safety of asylum seekers currently settled on Nauru have again come to the fore after another violent incident left a young man hospitalised earlier today.
Unaccompanied minors on the Island have been left shaken by an attack on a teenage refugee who was followed back to his accommodation while returning from a shopping trip
A local pursued the young man by bike, taunting him as they returned to the housing. Once they arrived the local man became violent, punching one refugee in the chest and another in the face, breaking his nose in the process.
“When I opened my eyes everything was black and I couldn’t see anything,” the refugee hit in the face said.
The young man managed to get back inside the house and lock the doors, while another asylum seeker called police and Save the Children.
“I was in my room, and suddenly I hear some noises, my friend he was shouting ‘lock the door, lock the door’,” one the witnesses said. “It was crazy, I was scared.”
New Matilda has seen photos taken after the incident which show the young man who was punched sitting on a couch bloody nosed. He will seek attention from a specialist tomorrow morning.
The assailant has now been apprehended by police but it is feared he may soon be released. The asylum seekers said they had informed that in his statement to police, the man had vowed to kill them.
The incident comes after a threatening letter was circulated by an angry group of locals, warning refugees to leave the country.
The letter referred to asylum seekers as “rubbish” and complained that they were taking jobs, making the island congested, and could one day “make local community people their slaves”.
Earlier in the week a copy of the letter was left outside the house of the young men who were today assaulted. One of them has been working at a local grocery store, in an attempt to supplement the $90 allowance provided to those who have been released from detention.
Asylum seekers told New Matilda another unaccompanied minor had already left their job after threats from locals.
Employment has emerged as a point of tension between asylum seekers and locals in recent months. Officially, Nauru’s unemployment rate is around 25 per cent, but some reports put the number far higher.
Since being released into the community asylum seekers have begun to try to find jobs, with some success. Many complain that without work they barely have enough money to buy groceries on an island where the absence of local production means prices for basic goods – including water – are high.
In October, tensions erupted in the form of a series of attacks on asylum seekers. One attack forced four unaccompanied minors to flee for their lives and make a panicked call to Save the Children and police, who eventually recovered them and took them to hospital.
For those asylum seekers held in detention the situation has hardly been much better with reports of sexual assault emerging, and rates of self-harm appearing to remain high.
Since the October attacks, asylum seekers in the community have been offered some protection.
But the boys assaulted earlier today say the local guard assigned to their house was not helpful in the face of the attack. It is unclear whether guards assigned to these duties have any formal qualifications for the job.
The asylum seekers continue to feel unsafe.
“We are really really worried, we are anticipating we will lose some of us,” one told New Matilda.
“In my emotion and everything that I know [about] this [situation] and have experienced from this Nauruan situation I’m not trying to exaggerate, I’m just telling you the truth.”
“No one can protect us. This is the thing that Nauruan locals told us; not Save the Children, not local police, not [Australian] immigration.”
He said the government had chastised asylum seekers for speaking out about the violence to the media but that they would continue to do so.
“This is my right; I should have a voice, it’s not fair to me,” he said.
“I escaped from my country because of these things, because of threatening to death, and now it’s the same thing.”
“Australian immigration put us in the same situation. I cannot tolerate it at all.”
Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison has denied he bears responsibility for securing the safety of these asylum seekers.
“People found to be refugees and settled on Nauru are no longer accommodated at the offshore processing centre,” he said in a statement after the October violence. “This incident is wholly a matter for Nauru.”
That claim has since been disputed by legal commentators.
While the young men involved in today’s incident are now in consultation with Save the Children and Australian Immigration officials, it is not clear what long term plans are in place to ensure their safety.
Update: Save the Children have declined to comment in relation to Sunday’s incident and referred New Matilda back to the following statement, issued after the October violence.
Save the Children is appalled by any instance of assault on refugee children in Nauru. Unaccompanied child refugees are some of the most vulnerable – far from home, family and friends, many already witness to horrors no child should go through. These children deserve every protection that can be offered.
Save the Children is working flat out to provide the best possible support to the children in our care. However, Nauru is a small and remote island nation with a small population and limited resources, and Save the Children maintains it is not a sustainable solution for refugee children, particularly those unaccompanied by any family.
The Department of Immigration and the Minister are yet to respond to questions put by New Matilda.