ANOTHER planeload of Tamil asylum seekers touched down on the Pacific island of Nauru early this morning, the second since Labor restarted the Howard-era "Pacific Solution", and after a short breakfast were being shown to the tents that will be their homes for the months until permanent accommodation is built.
Ushered one by one off the white immigration Airbus jet by Australian Federal Police officers and into two waiting minivans, the 36 Tamils — each wearing a white immigration department identification tag at their neck — were driven up the hill to the Topside OffShore Processing Centre, where they are expected to spend up to several years while their refugee claims are examined.
All came from the Christmas Island detention centre, which has already passed its regular capacity due to a surge in boats this year. All are claiming refugee status due to ongoing allegations of extrajudicial killings and disappearances in Sri Lanka.
Most of the Tamils sat quietly, looking out the window of their bus as they were driven through the gates of the camp, though one man covered his face with his hands.
The minibuses were preceded by immigration officials and followed by a group of private security guards in a people mover.
With the Australian Army almost finished building the tent city, today’s arrivals will soon be followed by more. A boat carrying 10 people was detected off West Australia’s coast last night.
Another planeload of several dozen Tamils is expected later this week, and the first group of Afghan Hazaras early next week. By then the camp will house more than 150 asylum seekers.
Some of those 150 may also turn out to be women, children or whole families, as Immigration Minister Chris Bowen last week told a press conference that "you can expect to see a broad cross-section of people transferred to Nauru next week and in coming weeks".
Despite promises by Mr Bowen that Labor’s system on Nauru would involve a processing centre, not a detention camp, the site’s inhabitants are forbidden from leaving.
A Nauruan government spokesman, Rod Henshaw, said on ABC radio that the situation was a "period of settling in".
"I know the Nauru government is anxious to have them settled and, over a period of time, to give them the privileges of wandering around."
He said he hoped the asylum seekers would be free to leave the camp in weeks or a month. ‘‘I couldn’t put a time on it ... but that is the objective, [to give the asylum seekers] the freedom of the island to some degree.’’
Questions also continue to be asked about the decision to process the refugee claims under Nauruan law. Last week the regional head of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, Rick Towle, said that Australia was handing over legal responsibility for people seeking asylum in that country.
Some have expressed concern that Australia may disagree with a refugee approval made under Nauruan law and refuse to take the person, meaning they can’t be returned to their country or resettled in Australia.
The media remained barred from the site.