Back in October 2005, Australia confronted a looming humanitarian emergency not too different from the one the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, says is unfolding on Manus Island now. A group of asylum seekers had been held for roughly the same four-year-plus period on Nauru as those now on Manus, and the Coalition government was being implored to act.
Back then, the number of remaining asylum seekers on Nauru was just twenty-seven, far fewer than the almost 800 on Manus today. Over time, more than 700 had been resettled in Australia, notwithstanding the Howard government’s pledge that they would never be given permanent residency here. The last twenty-seven were in such a bad way that the psychiatrist employed by the International Organization for Migration, which managed the centre, warned that she would not be responsible if any of them resorted to suicide.