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A very lonely refugee

Mohammed Sagar is one lonely dude. An Iraqi refugee, who fled Baathist persecution in Sadaam’s Iraq, he was captured while trying to enter Australia by boat, seeking asylum. Under an Australian government program dubbed “The Pacific Solution”, he was sent to Nauru, a tiny island to the east of Australia, where he was held in a camp with hundreds of other asylum seekers.

Those other refugees have either been deported or given asylum status in Australia or other Pacific nations. But Sagar is considered a security risk, so the Australian government won’t admit him… but he’s also considered a legitimate refugee, so Australia won’t send him back to Iraq.

Until recently, he shared his unhappy state with Mohammad Faisal, another Iraqi refugee. But Faisal became suicidal and was evacuated to Brisbane. Sagar is also deeply depressed, but is using the Internet to
talk to the wider world. His website, Left on Nauru, urges visitors to send him letters of support and tries to document life in the now-nearly-empty detention camps on the island. Some of the photos are especially poignant – the caption on one reads: ” Here, where the Iraqis used to gather and pass the time watching TV and talking about the future… All have gone.”

Fortunately, the people of Nauru have been good to Sagar, letting him roam the island freely. He’s worked part time as a computer technician at the local college, and has earned the sympathy of many Nauruans, who wonder why Sagar has been held for four years and whether the Australian government expects him to live his life out on Nauru.

The situation parallels a situation at the Guantanamo prison in Cuba, where fifteen Chinese Uighirs were held for over two years after the US government determined they were not a security threat. The US was not willing to give them asylum, nor were over twenty other countries. Sending them home would have guaranteed their arrest and persecution, as Uighirs are often subject to persecution in China, and the detention of the men at Guantanamo was likely to make them a target of Chinese security services. Five of the detainees were eventually accepted by Albaniathe others may still be in custody.

Sagar’s situation has called attention to Nauru, one of the stranger corners of our wide world. In the 1970s, Nauru had the second richest people in the world, based on phosphate exports. Nauru is a favorite bathroom stop for migrating Pacific birds, and the nation, on achieving independence from Australian trusteeship, pursued a catastrophic path towards development by mining out their phosphate deposits within two years. The nation began making money through money laundering in the 1990s, as documented in Jack Hitt’s excellent article, The Billion Dollar Shack. In other words, “The Pacific Solution” is only the most recent episode in the long and strange history of the microstate. For more on Nauru, here’s an earlier post on my blog, and an excellent radio story from This American Life.

Let’s hope Sagar makes it off Nauru soon, and not through the same way his friend Mohammed Faisal was released.

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