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01/14/2014

Pacific island state of Nauru to foreign journalists: pay up or stay home

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After decades of reckless phosphate mining, Nauru has few economic resources left, apart from an Australian offshore migrant detention centre.(Photo credit: ds-lands.com.)

 

 

 

 

The minute Pacific island-state of Nauru has decided to impose a fee of $8,000 U.S. on any foreign journalist seeking a visa to visit the place.

That is up from the $200 levy it currently charges, a 4,000 per cent increase.

What’s more, the new visa fee must be paid up-front and is not refundable. In other words, if Nauran authorities decide to reject the visa application, they still keep the $8,000.

Why on earth would anyone do this?

That’s easy. Nauru officialdom does no want foreign journalists to visit, or not anymore – not since they turned their once very rich and now very poor domain into an offshore detention centre for illegal migrants trying to reach Australia.

Nauru has been criticized by outside organizations, including the UN High Commission for Refugees, for its harsh treatment of the detainees, and it seems the island’s government has decided the best way to deal with the problem is not to provide the detainees with better conditions but to keep outsiders out, especially nosy journalists.

The watchdog agency, Reporters Without Borders, holds Australia responsible as well.

“This measure can only have one aim, to dissuade journalists from applying, because the $8,000 will not be reimbursed if the visa is refused,” says the organization. “What media is going to risk such a sum? It is clear that the Australian government’s refugee detention centre is behind this decision.”

Reporters Without Borders says the new visa fee violates both the constitution of Nauru and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights. Nauru is a signatory to that agreement.

With a population of about 10,000, Nauru is the world’s smallest republic. Its natural environment has been devastated by years of pell-mell phosphate extraction that have transformed the island’s interior – known as Topside to residents – into what is invariably described as a lunar landscape.

The demise of the phosphate industry, combined with the questionable disbursement of government funds, has left the island in severe economic disrepair, no doubt a powerful incentive for accepting the presence of the Australian detention centre and for heeding Canberra’s demands.

In recent years, the Australian government has imposed unusually severe controls on the entrance of would-be asylum seekers.

Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.

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