On the face of it, the announcements by the Government of Nauru that the detention centre they host will now be open 24 hours a day, and that the remaining refugee applications are to be processed within a week, are welcome movements in the right direction.

Yet, while the gates may be “open”, the evidence suggests that the women, children and men that the Australian Government has sent there, against their will, are by no means free, safe, or living in appropriate conditions. And for this ‘privilege’, the Australian taxpayer continues to pay the Nauruan Government $1000/month per asylum seeker for the cost of their so-called visa while they wait to be processed.

"(W)hile the gates may be 'open', the evidence suggests that the women, children and men that the Australian Government has sent there, against their will, are by no means free, safe, or living in appropriate conditions. And for this ‘privilege’, the Australian taxpayer continues to pay the Nauruan Government $1000/month per asylum seeker for the cost of their so-called visa while they wait to be processed."

So firstly, there is good reason to remain sceptical about the practical effect of these purported changes, and the intentions behind them.

Community advocates are reporting that the movement of people to and from the camp is still highly controlled. Only those “authorised” may leave; the only transport is by minibus (which is limited give there are 653 people currently detained in the camp); and walking into town is at least a two-hour return trip, in a very hot sun. After multiple attacks and facing local hostility, many people are also fearful and so “choose” not to leave the camp.

There are also questions being raised about the timing of these changes, with a High Court challenge to offshore detention commencing this week. The early reports from these proceedings indicate that this change in status has become an important part of the defence for the Australian Government’s lawyers.

If this is the case, the move towards an “open centre” might be viewed less as a move to restoring transparency and human rights, and more as an attempt to maintain this system of exclusion, expulsion, and control.

Secondly, the deeply troubling, underlying issues are by no means resolved.

For various reasons, including some key ones below, the Australian population should continue to insist that Australia’s offshore “gulag” (as Frank Brennan labelled them) be closed.

Nauru remains unsafe with inadequate living conditions

On 31st August, 2015, the Senate Select Committee inquiry into the Nauru detention camp found that conditions were "not adequate, appropriate or safe".

The committee also reported that conditions in the centre remain cramped, hot and unhygienic. Access to water was limited, and people have low-quality clothing and footwear. Nauru has acknowledged that there will be no change in living conditions, regardless of the new “open” policy.

People living outside of the camp do not feel safe. Unaccompanied young people have been threatened, bashed and hospitalised. Women have reported harrowing accounts of assault and rape.

The institutional response to these reports appears to have been, at best, lacklustre and, at worst, a terrible breach of our duty of care to these already traumatised people.

Children are still suffering and should be removed immediately

The committee also revealed that there were at least 45 reported allegations of child abuse and sexual assault recorded by Transfield (the centre operator) since 2012. It reiterated findings from the Moss review, which had previously confirmed the general exploitation, physical and sexual assaults taking place; the under reporting and lack of institutional response to these crimes.

When the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce released it’s Protecting the Lonely Children report, it described the detention conditions as “systemic child abuse".

Little has since changed for the children still held on Nauru. The Senate committee found there was still no suitable child protection regime in place. There are also ongoing questions about the education access and options for the children.

The Churches' Taskforce has repeatedly called on the Australian and Nauru Government’s to act in the best interests of the child; and to immediately remove children from the offshore detention camp and return to them to Australia.

There is no permanent or durable settlement solution for refugees on Nauru

The Nauru Government have only ever committed to settling refugees on Nauru for a period of up to five years (and possibly in some cases ten, pending resettlement in another country).

With the $40 million resettlement agreement with Cambodia looking increasingly like a bizarre and expensive, agreement with an increasingly despotic regime, there are no other practical resettlement options currently on the table.

It begs the question - what will happen then?

And what will this ongoing limbo do to the children? Some of whom will have spent almost their entire childhoods, locked up in Australian and then Nauruan detention.

Regardless of our attempts at burden shifting, Australia has a enduring duty to care for these people, who first looked to us for a fair go and protection from persecution.

"Australia should have compassion for the Nauruan people, and be supporting them to develop their economy and deal with their burgeoning environmental problems, without the imposition of this 'gulag.'"

The ongoing presence of the centre will continue to affect the Nauruan people

Amidst the Australian political argy–bargy, it is also easy to lose sight of plight of the Nauruan people themselves. Nauru is just 21 square kilometres in total. It is a tiny, rocky atoll with a population of only 10,000 people. It is seriously impacted from years of phosphate mining and at great risk from climate change.

Recently there has been a litany of serious allegations about poor governance and corruption, which have implicated both the president and justice minister. It has been described as a ‘crisis in the rule of law’ and effectively a ‘failed State’ and even New Zealand withdrew aid funding for the Nauruan justice system in September, citing concerns about civil rights abuses.

The economy is now dependent on Australian Government payments; we have made Nauru into an unsustainable “prison island” economy.

As Christians, we should be acutely aware of the effects of co-opting Nauru into becoming our detention proxy and guards in the Pacific. There is a great violence inherent in such a system of exile and control, which would equally be impacting on the Nauruans, as we know it has the Australian workers who have been sent there.

Australia should have compassion for the Nauruan people, and be supporting them to develop their economy and deal with their burgeoning environmental problems, without the imposition of this “gulag.”

Misha Coleman is the executive officer of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce.