Australia dispatches refugees to Nauru for first time since 2008

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 September, 2012, 3:21am

The first planeload of asylum seekers sent to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru arrived yesterday as part of Canberra's tough new stance on tackling a record influx of boatpeople.

A group of 30 Sri Lankan men arrived on the remote outpost after being flown from the Australian territory of Christmas Island, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said, adding that the transfer went "smoothly and without incident".

They are the first asylum-seeker boat arrivals to undergo offshore processing since the Rudd Labor government closed the Nauru facility in 2008 and will initially be forced to live in tents.

"We know that there have been people smugglers out there in the region over recent weeks peddling lies and untruths, saying that this wouldn't happen," said Bowen.

"That somehow the Nauru processing centre wouldn't be established or that they could provide guarantees that people wouldn't be transferred there. This tells the lie to the people smugglers' message of the last few weeks. "The message is very clear. If you arrive in Australia by boat you can be taken from Australia by aeroplane and processed in another country."

Canberra last month said it would transfer asylum seekers who arrived by boat to Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island as a way of deterring refugees from paying people smugglers to bring them to Australia.

It follows a flood of boatpeople this year, with some 10,000 arriving so far, many of them Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians who have paid people smugglers to ferry them to Australia from Indonesia.

The government has been frantically working to improve facilities on Nauru and until permanent accommodation is ready, the boatpeople will live under canvas, five to a tent.

Women and children will be housed elsewhere on the island.

Bowen refused to say how long they will spend in Nauru, although the conservative opposition Liberal Party has reportedly claimed they could face up to five years on the island waiting to be resettled in Australia, should their applications for asylum prove successful.