Nauru withdraws Jesuit activist’s visa
Nauru has cancelled a visa for Catholic human rights activist Fr Frank Brennan to visit the island nation to inspect the circumstances of asylum seekers.
Nauru’s Acting Chief Secretary cancelled the visa 24 hours after it was given and one day before the Jesuit lawyer was due to fly to Nauru at the invitation of the local parish priest, Fr Joseph Kanimea.
Fr Brennan said the granting of the visa in the first place was “somewhat unusual” since the standard practice was for all application for visas from Australians wanting to inspect the refugee camps to be met with “outright refusal”.
“The suspicion is that there is a prior agreement or understanding that the Nauru Government acts in accordance with the wishes of the Australian Government regarding who is excluded from the island,” he said.
The reason given for the cancellation was that Fr Brennan’s request to enter Nauru was “not conductive of parish or pastoral work with the Catholic mission”.
The purpose of his visit, as stated in a letter to Fr Kanimea, was to “to get some understanding of the local situation in Nauru with the asylum seekers who have been sent to Nauru for processing from Australia”.
Fr Brennan said that he was particularly interested in meeting Nauruan citizens and Church members who would like to talk to him about these issues and also to gain understanding about the Church and social issues in Nauru.
Fr Kanimea had guaranteed authorities that Fr Brennan was to be his guest and that he would be responsible for him during his visit.
Fr Brennan compared his intended visit to Nauru with a previous visit to East Timor.
“In 1992, I was denied access to East Timor by the Indonesian authorities until they received a letter from the local Church authorities attesting that I was their guest and that they would be responsible for me during my visit,” he said.
“On production of such a letter, I was allowed entrance to East Timor one year after the Santa Cruz massacre.
“In stark contrast, the production of such a letter is not adequate to permit entrance to Nauru.
“If Mr Ruddock (Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock) or other officers of the Australian government are not in a position to assist with requests for reasonable access to Nauru in the future, Australian citizens like myself will be left with the justified perception that we are denied access because the Nauruan Government is anxious to implement the will of the Australian Government that Australian citizens not be granted ready access to Nauru while there are asylum seekers being kept there in detention.
“Denying a visa to a priest anxious to meet with Church members on the grounds that the visit was ‘not conductive of parish or pastoral work’ is a breach of the Nauruan constitution”.