Last refugee children leave Pacific camp: Advocates

A 12-year-old Iranian refugee girl rests at refugee Camp Five on the Pacific island of Nauru.
A 12-year-old Iranian refugee girl rests at refugee Camp Five on the Pacific island of Nauru.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - The last remaining refugee children held in an Australian-funded camp on the remote Pacific island of Nauru departed on Wednesday (Feb 27) on a flight bound for the United States, asylum-seeker advocates said.

The Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) said 19 refugees, including four children, were aboard the flight.

They had been detained under a hardline policy designed to deter would-be asylum-seekers from reaching Australia by boat.

The policy bans all boat arrivals from ever settling in Australia and sends them for processing to Pacific camps, where hundreds have languished for years.

The children's departure from Nauru came after Canberra was put under growing domestic and international pressure to resolve the issue as many refugees suffered physical and mental health problems waiting for their paperwork to go through.

"Despite claims by (Australian Prime Minister) Scott Morrison... that all refugee children were off Nauru, it is only after the flight to the US today that the claim can be truthfully made," RAC spokesman Ian Rintoul said.

He said another flight of 22 refugees stranded on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island left for the United States on Tuesday.

The US agreed to take up to 1,250 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island under a deal reached between Canberra and then-president Barack Obama's administration in early 2017.

President Donald Trump has since denounced that deal, but Washington has still taken a smaller number of the refugees.

 
 

Mr Rintoul said 531 had departed so far - 189 from Manus and 342, including 27 children, from Nauru.

Canberra says its policy discourages asylum-seekers from embarking on dangerous sea voyages, and has managed to halt the flood of boat arrivals that characterised previous governments.

But the camps have come under fierce criticism, with reports of abuse, suicide and despondency.

Eyewitnesses - including AFP journalists - have reported a dire situation on Nauru, with families living under constant fear of loved ones killing themselves.

Mr Morrison's conservative government has been reluctant to soften its stance, arguing any concessions will encourage people-smugglers to resume their dangerous trade.

It recently lost a parliamentary vote on legislation requiring the temporary transfer from Nauru or Manus of anyone assessed as needing medical treatment.

However, Mr Rintoul said the government was still "dragging its feet" on enacting the legislation.