In the lead-up to the 49th Pacific Islands Forum, host-nation Nauru’s treatment of asylum seekers detained on the island dominated the news.
A Refugee Council of Australia report revealed how children, some as young as seven, are making repeated suicide attempts, dousing themselves in petrol and becoming catatonic. The council has also heard of children and adults swallowing razor blades and stones and attempting to overdose, causing serious injuries that cannot be treated in Nauru’s “inadequate” hospital. The report details sexual assault experienced by children and women, often perpetrated by guards and detention centre officials. The horrific “torture-like” treatment has been described by refugees as “hell” and they are losing hope it will ever end.
But with the influx of experts, journalists and politicians flooding the small island republic, the nature of coverage has changed. One refugee advocate told Radio New Zealand the forum was masking human rights abuses, and urged journalists to look at the bigger picture. When TVNZ reporter Barbara Dreaver attempted that by talking to asylum seekers she was detained for three hours and had her accreditation revoked.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters further ensured those issues would remain in the background, when he put in jeopardy Labour’s pledge to increase New Zealand’s refugee quota to 1500, saying the coalition government “never made a commitment to double the refugee quota". The Government had previously committed $13.8 million for two new accomodation blocks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in anticipation of the raised quota. Ardern told Newshub that Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway had "expressed a personal commitment to increasing the refugee quota, and that's something that was a Labour policy—but we're in a coalition government."
The resulting coverage has focused on how “the Prime Minister appears to have caved to Winston Peters” and is “throwing her immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway under the bus”.
Ardern's decision to fly solo to Nauru so she could spend more time with her baby also sucked up media attention. Ardern, who arrived on Nauru yesterday, was treated to a song by Nauru President Baron Waqa, penned especially for her and her 11-week-old daughter.