As of yesterday, conditions at Australia's notorious detention camp on the Pacific Island Nation of Nauru have been eased. Hundreds of asylum seekers now have freedom of movement - anywhere on the island, 24 hours a day. Though critics charge, it's not much of an improvement. More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
Nauru's Justice Minister, David Adeang declared the start of detention free processing a landmark day and also said that all outstanding asylum claims - about 600 in all, will be processed before the week is out. Asylum seekers long complained that claims were processed too slowly and lifting strict curfew regulations in the camp was among the reforms demanded in a critical report from an Australian Senate Committee last month.
Australia maintains two offshore detention camps for boat people -one in Nauru, the other on remote Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Those found to qualify as refugees are offered resettlement in Nauru, Papua New Guinea, or Cambodia. None, the government insists -will ever be allowed into Australia. Both camps, critics say, are unsafe and unhealthy.
Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Center in Melbourne welcomed the changes. But he told the New York Times, "It doesn't address the fundamental injustice of warehousing people on a tiny island nation." Senator Sarah Hansen-Young of Australia's Green Party called the camp a hell hole, and told Radio New Zealand that freedom of movement there means little - "It's not safe in the camp for these women, and it's not safe outside the camp."
The decision comes just days before Australia's highest court hears a case that questions whether it's legal for Australia to detain people in third countries.