Danish MPs cancel visit to Nauru detention centre after visas denied

Danish lawmakers have been forced to cancel a planned visit to the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru after three of the group were denied visas to the Pacific Island nation, they said Wednesday.

Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen said the government of Nauru had told them that three lawmakers, including herself, who were part of a six-strong delegation from Denmark's parliamentary immigration committee, "were no longer welcome" on the 48-hour trip.

The leftwing lawmaker said the Danish Foreign Ministry had taken up the matter, but that Nauruan authorities had said their decision was final.

"The Danish delegation as a whole then cancelled their visit to Nauru," Schmidt-Nielsen said on her Facebook page.

"The government of another country should not be able to pick out members of a Danish parliamentary delegation. Such an action is deeply undemocratic."

The visit by the cross-party delegation had been in preparation for a while.

The Danish politicians arrived in Australia on Saturday and met immigration officials there. They were scheduled to go to Nauru on Tuesday.

The government of Nauru did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, leaked internal reports from the detention centre on Nauru revealed widespread abuse and sexual assaults - including of many children - and the trauma of asylum seekers being held there.

The Nauru and Australian governments have accused refugees and asylum seekers of fabricating abuse claims to gain entry to Australia.

Schmidt-Nielsen, a progressive politician from the red-green alliance (Enhedslisten), and Jacob Mark of the Socialist People's Party, who were denied visas, have been openly critical about Australia's handling of asylum-seekers.

The third politician denied a visa was the Syrian-born conservative lawmaker Naser Khader, who has not commented publicly on Australian policies.

Australia intercepts all asylum seekers travelling to the country by sea and either turns their boats back or processes their claims offshore in Papua New Guinea or Nauru.

An estimated 1,300 asylum seekers are currently held by Australia in two detention centres.

Schmidt-Nielsen said critics being denied access to Nauru was "totally unacceptable, antidemocratic and very telling of the situation."

"Nauru is a very closed island. Only twice in recent years Australian media have been granted access. In both cases the journalists were friendly to the Australian government," Schmidt-Nielsen said.

Australia cannot defend "having camps on an island where conditions are being massively criticized by the UN, Amnesty International, Save the Children, Human Rights Watch and many others and where journalists and elected officials are not welcome," she said.

In recent months, right-wing European politicians, including in Germany and Denmark, have urged their countries to adopt a similar offshore arrangement to tackle the massive influx of asylum seekers.

Earlier this month, PNG and Australia agreed to close down the detention centre in Manus Island after it was deemed "illegal" by PNG's Supreme Court. But the future of the 854 asylum seekers currently being held there remains uncertain.

Refugee advocates and political parties have asked the Australian government to bring the asylum seekers from PNG and Nauru to Australia.

Last update: Wed, 31/08/2016 - 09:19
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