The Nauru Dilemma

19 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2016

Date Written: December 12, 2016


The scale and complexity of global forced displacement has created enormous humanitarian, social, economic and political challenges across the globe. The Australian Government responded by putting in place a range of policies designed to deter people from seeking asylum in Australia through irregular maritime migration. A core feature of these policies is the highly contentious practice of offshore or ‘regional’ processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. From August 2013 to October 2015, Save the Children was contracted by the Australian Government to provide welfare, education and recreation services to asylum seekers in Nauru. This paper explores the dilemmas facing organisations engaged in refugee issues using Save the Children’s experience in relation to Nauru as a case study. It argues that without a clearly articulated decision-making framework based on a realistic view about what can be achieved, and underpinned by a pragmatic, but ultimately principled, ethical position, the daunting humanitarian conundrums faced in such circumstances will overwhelm even the best intentioned humanitarian.

Keywords: refugees, Nauru, offshore detention, humanitarianism, NGOs, child rights

JEL Classification: L31 ,F22

Suggested Citation

Ronalds, Paul, The Nauru Dilemma (December 12, 2016). Development Policy Centre Discussion Paper No. 51, Available at SSRN: or

Paul Ronalds (Contact Author)

Save the Children ( email )

501 Kings Highway East
Suite 400
Fairfield, CT 06825
United States

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