The federal government has promised Nauru it won’t cut and run, amid speculation the immigration detention centre may close and as progress inches towards sending refugees on the island to the US.
Nauru President Baron Waqa met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney on Thursday as part of a four-day visit to Australia.
Nauru hosts an Australian government-funded asylum seeker immigration detention centre opened in 2012, which in late January was housing 286 men, 49 women and 45 children.
The poverty-stricken Pacific island’s economy and employment rates have become heavily dependent on the centre.
The United States has agreed to take an unspecified number of processed and security-checked refugees in limbo on the island.
“The Australian government has made commitments to make sure that we do not suffer a quick change in situation with the (detention centre) because that is definitely going to affect us economically,” Mr Waqa told Sky News.
He flagged the detention centre may be repurposed once it’s closed or other countries might be interested in sending asylum seekers for processing on Nauru in the future.
“The way we look after asylum seekers and refugees is best practice in the world,” Mr Waqa said.
He confirmed US Homeland Security officials were on Nauru and in Australia working on arrangements to resettle refugees in America.
Mr Waqa said he had not sought assurances from the Trump administration that the deal will go ahead.
“If the United States were serious about it, they would have pulled the plug a long time ago,” he said.
He could not provide a date on when refugees will leave the island.
Mr Waqa hinted he thought that those left behind might pose a risk to locals on the island.
But he played down allegations refugees and asylum seekers had been raped or physically assaulted on the island, saying the stories are often made up.
“I do not concern myself with police matters,” he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Turnbull said Nauru’s efforts were greatly appreciated.
“I want to thank you for the great co-operation that Nauru shows in working together with us to combat this scourge of people smuggling,” he told the president.
The two leaders also discussed Nauru’s economic development and environmental challenges.
Mr Waqa and his wife Louisa will visit Brisbane and Canberra after Sydney.
He will also meet with officials from the Asian Development Bank, opposition MPs and Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey.
In Canberra on Friday, he’ll tour the Mount Majura Solar Farm and lay a wreath at the War Memorial.