Last refugee children leave Australian offshore camps
February 3, 2019
The last children detained on Nauru Island have departed to begin new lives in the United States, where they are being resettled. Some 500 adults are said to remain on the tiny Pacific island.
The government of Australia announced on Sunday the departure of the last four child refugees that were being held on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.
The children and their families will be sent to the US for resettlement as a part of a deal forged by former US president Barack Obama in the last months of his tenure. In total, the US agreed to accept up to 1,250 refugees from Australia's detention islands.
"Every asylum-seeker child has now been removed from Nauru or has had their claim processed and has a clear path off the island," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.
Since 2013, some 220 children had been languishing in the processing camps on Nauru in the South Pacific since 2013. This was a result of Australia's strict immigration policies, which dictate that asylum-seekers intercepted at sea must be sent to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
The asylum-seekers are not eligible for resettlement in Australia and are detained until they are accepted by another nation or agree to return home.
Public outcry and a massive protest campaign put pressure on the conservative government to follow through with the evacuations. Critics decried the physical and psychiatric suffering the children were said to have been exposed to during confinement.
Last December, the international organization Doctors Without Borders said the majority of those on Nauru were suffering from "inhumane" levels of mental health issues and that approximately a third of its patients had attempted suicide, including children as young as nine years old.
Australia's government has not provided an exact count of how many refugees and asylum seekers are still on Nauru and Manus Island camps. But according to estimates, more than 1,000 may remain on the islands.
It is estimated that more than 500 men and women still reside in each island, down from approximately 2,500 at the peak in mid-2014, refugee advocates say.
Canberra has long argued that the controversial policy discourages asylum-seekers from embarking on dangerous sea voyages.
Public opinion polls have shown the policy to be popular among Morrison's right-wing base, but that most Australians back the transfer of children and their families out of Nauru.