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The island state of the Republic of Nauru as seen in a 2001 aerial image. (TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
The island state of the Republic of Nauru as seen in a 2001 aerial image. (TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

Pay attention

Tiny island in Pacific Ocean is the site of a huge ongoing human rights crisis

By WITW Staff on November 6, 2018

Immigration is a potent political issue no matter where you are in the world. Much emphasis lately has been placed on a caravan of migrants making its way from Central America to the U.S. border, and immigration issues have been at the center of the political debate in Europe, most significantly in Germany. But on Monday evening at the 5th annual Women in the World Texas salon, a brave woman came to the stage to talk about another immigration crisis on the other side of the world that gets far fewer headlines.

That woman is Viktoria Vibhakar, a courageous whistleblower who has risked everything to shine a light on Australia’s refugee crisis. The location where this is all unfolding is tiny island nation called Nauru that’s just eight square-miles — smaller than the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. For the last five years, Australia has used Nauru as a place to hold refugees fleeing various countries by boat who are seeking asylum. The Australian government frames the move to keep the refugees on the small island as a measure to prevent deaths at sea, but Vibhakar says what’s really happening is that the government is punishing refugees for fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries by not allowing them to claim asylum and detaining them in squalid conditions. Australian law prohibits any refugee who arrives by boat from being granted asylum, and Vibhakar sees this enforcement of the law as a policy of deterrence.

Vibhakar has been on the Women in the World stage before, and she came to Dallas telling stories of heartbreak. Just weeks ago, the United Nations called on Australia to evacuate more than 650 refugees who have been held in detention on Nauru for more than five years under inhumane conditions. But it’s only children who are being moved — no adults — and for Vibhakar, the fight for justice goes on. Above, watch video of the full conversation with journalist Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani. And below, see some key video highlights from the discussion.

What and where is exactly is Nauru?

“Let me tell you a story about … a hero asylum seeker” who has been detained on Nauru for more than five years.

Children are losing hope in Nauru


More from the 2018 Texas salon

With midterm elections looming, a discussion on women of color in the Democratic Party

From political refugee to world-renowned writer: Isabel Allende on her remarkable rise

10 years ago, she had her eureka moment while on an airplane — now she’s a Mother of Invention