- By Thomas StackpoleThomas Stackpole is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. A native of Martha's Vineyard, MA, he received his bachelors degree in Political Theory from Bates College, and studied at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco. Previously, he covered climate and energy for Mother Jones and politics for the New Republic and MSN News, and once sailed from Maine to the Panama Canal, where he spent at least one afternoon playing coconut bocce on a desert island.
To the cynic, it might look like the island nation of Nauru doesn’t want journalists snooping around anymore. The tiny Pacific island nation, which has become a focal point in Australia’s increasingly ugly attempt to deal with asylum-seekers routed through Indonesia, has increased its fee for a journalist visa from $180 to about $7,000 — a roughly 4,000 percent hike.
"I understand the fee is for revenue purposes," government spokeswoman Joanna Olsson told Reuters, though Nauru reportedly issued no more than four journalist visas last year. The fee is non-refundable if the application is rejected.
The sudden aversion to the press on Nauru is most likely tied to the part it plays in Australia’s so-called "Pacific Solution" — a policy that entails shipping asylum-seekers intercepted at sea to "offshore processing" sites on Pacific islands. There, would-be refugees are held in detention camps while their claims are processed. The plan was initially introduced in 2001 and operated on Manus Island until 2004 and on Nauru until 2008, when the facilities were closed amidst criticism of insufficient medical care, poor conditions, and years-long waits for processing. Both were reopened in 2012.
The criticisms that dogged the first iteration have followed the new facilities. Many of the seekers come from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and journey to Indonesia in order to attempt the passage to Australia. A journalist who visited Nauru in 2005 detailed the psychological toll that weighed on detainees, many of whom displayed "a history of suicide attempts and incidents of self-harm" during their time there.
More recently, the United Nations Refugee Agency noted in November of last year "a sharp deterioration, during the course of the year, in the overall quality of protection and support available to asylum-seekers and refugees who come to Australia by boat." The "arbitrary detention and harsh physical conditions" suffered by "survivors of torture and trauma and unaccompanied children," it said, failed to meet international standards. According to a December report from Amnesty International, only 55 of the roughly 1,000 people at the camp on Nauru had been given refugee status.
In July, detainees rioted, setting fire to accommodation buildings, medical facilities, and offices, causing some $55 million in damages and leading to 125 arrests. The protests began as a demonstration against the slow processing times but escalated, ultimately destroying 80 percent of the facility.
Nauru’s population of 10,000 survives largely through Australian aid, which is slotted at $26.6 million for the coming year, roughly a third of which is directly tied to the detention facilities.
The hike was discovered by Australia’s Global Mail, when a staff photographer seeking a visa was informed of the new price. The previous fee of $180 is still listed on the government’s website, but the new rate is supposed to go into effect sometime this week.