The field in Nauru where tents to house as many as 500 asylum seekers will be built by the end of September.SIXTY male asylum seekers being held in Darwin have been told they will be the first group to be sent to Nauru for processing under Labor’s new Pacific Solution to boat arrivals, as Defence continues to prepare the badly dilapidated site on the Pacific island for habitation.
In the first access to the site since the Australian military arrived six days ago, The Age found most of the scrap removed and the field which is to provide accommodation for asylum seekers — 500 by the end of September according to the immigration minister, Chris Bowen — cleared.
The group of about 80 soldiers from an Australian Army construction squadron continue to work at establishing their own facilities, ahead of a plans to start erecting asylum seeker accommodation from Friday, by which time their number will have swelled to about 150.
The Australian Army Major in charge of the squadron, James Dugdell, showed The Age a neatly stacked pile of wooden boxes which he said contained the tents the first group of asylum seekers would stay in.
They were similar to the large green canvas tents that already provide shelter for his squadron, he said.
When asked if he would be able to provide accommodation for 500 asylum seekers by the end of September, he said: “The Minister said 500 by the end of [September], so that’s what my boss has told me to do.”
He would not be drawn on the problems facing the camp — Nauru has chronic water shortages, regular power shortages and very little fresh food — saying that was a matter for the Immigration Department.
The asylum seekers will have only the most basic facilities when they arrive, including the tents, an army cot made of canvas and steel poles and access to the local power grid, which experiences long outages several times a week.
The site, called Topside and located across the road from a rock quarry and several hundred metres from the country’s only rubbish tip, is also one of the hottest sites on the island and is virtually windless. It is also home to large rats.
When asylum seekers from the Tampa were brought to Nauru in 2001 aboard the HMAS Manoora, many refused to disembark, and a tense stand-off lasted a ortnight.
Pamela Curr, the coordinator of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, has been in contact with the 60 men being held at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin headed for Nauru.
She said she is particularly concerned that as yet Mr Bowen has not made clear whether unaccompanied minors and pregnant women — both are among the group currently destined for Nauru and Manus Island — will be exempted.
She also said there was a 20-year-old man who had been tortured in his homeland — she did not want to name him or his country for fear of jeopardising his family’s safety — among the group of 60 men who will be the first sent to Nauru.
The brothers are from a country that has a history of persecuting their minority, and the young man has significant scars on his head and burns to his hand, Ms Curr said.
“If they send him to Nauru that will be a clear indication that no one, whether tortured, whether injured, whether unaccompanied, whether pregnant, will be exempt from being punished by being sent to Nauru.”
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