Nauru is the smallest republic in the world, home to approximately 10,000 people and around 1000 foreign refugees. Most of these refugees are held in the harsh centre of the island within three Australian detention centres.
An Iranian refugee looks out to sea outside Ijuw camp. Refugees on Nauru feel an acute sense of being stuck in limbo. Those accepted as refugees were released into the community on a 6 month visa, which have long expired and despite frequent queries to immigration, have not been told what will come next. Others whose claims are still being processed continue to be held in detention almost two years after arriving on Nauru.
Refugees are forbidden to talk to journalists, so refugees had to be secretly met and interviewed in an abandoned phosphate mine site. It is darkly joked on Nauru that the refugees are the new phosphate, meaning the industry is very important to the economic survival of the country.
The single Somali women have forged close bonds, as they have no one else to rely on in such a foreign place. They told me they sleep wearing jeans because it will make it harder to be raped. In 2016, one of the Somalis set herself on fire in a horrific act of despair.
Amineh (name changed) and her family fled Iran in 2013. They were picked up by the Australian navy from a struggling boat and taken to Christmas Island, where they arrived just days after then PM Kevin Rudd made the declaration that ensured no-one arriving in Australia by boat would be settled on Australian shores. During her incarceration in Nauru, Amineh developed severe depression leading to an admission to a psychiatric ward in Brisbane, and on top of that was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite her psychiatrist warning of significant chance of relapse and harm to herself and/or her family if she was returned to Nauru, she was sent back against the doctor’s orders and lives in perpetual misery.
At sunset in South Tarawa, a boy looks across at a palm tree killed by the sea. In a few days, the moon will be full, bringing the highest tide in three months and the chance of another inundation by the sea. Flooding directly impacts the islands' meagre supply of fresh water making it undrinkable, and causes crops and other vegetation to die.
A young girl crosses the heavily polluted lagoon at high tide to get some water for her family, who live on a thin strip of sand that gets cut off from the main island every high tide.
A boy swims in the lagoon next to his house in Temwaiku that is heavily polluted with rubbish brought in by the tide each day. Pollution is of course not caused by climate change, but the rising seas means less land and less money to deal with the basics.
A boat washed ashore on Red Beach during a storm in 2013 now serves as play equipment for the local Betio kids. Betio is the most crowded and densely populated slum area in South Tarawa, with serious pollution and fresh water problems.
As the tide comes in and the sun sets, a young boy gets in one final jump from a bridge in Tarawa. With global temperatures still increasing and sea level rise continuing to accelerate, the future of these atolls hangs in the balance.