POLITICS

Nauru Abuse 'Allowed' To Occur In Strategy To Deter Asylum Seekers: Amnesty And HRW Claim

Australia's policies "cruel in the extreme" and "deliberately inflict suffering".

03/08/2016 8:14 AM AEST | Updated 03/08/2016 1:45 PM AEST
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Fairfax Media
Conditions on Nauru are once again under the spotlight

A damning report by human rights activists claims Australia is turning a blind eye to abuses of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and has thus "condoned" such incidents by ignoring reports from its own human rights organisations and international bodies about the conditions on the island nation.

The Amnesty and Human Rights Watch report also claims Australia has a "deliberate policy" of not addressing issues on Nauru as a strategy to "deter" further boat arrivals, as well as that asylum seekers are suffering immensely from inadequate medical care.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have released a report into conditions on Nauru, one of the island nations where Australia sends asylum seekers who arrive by boat for offshore processing and possible resettlement. Amnesty and HRW staff spent 12 days on the island in July, interviewing 84 refugees and asylum seekers. An Amnesty researcher claims the conditions were "some of the worst I've ever seen".

The joint investigation, titled 'Australia: Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru', alleges that refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru are routinely unable to access basic medical care, are often beaten and abused by Nauruan locals because of their heritage and circumstances, that "nearly all" the asylum seekers they interviewed had some form of mental health condition, that suicide and self harm are rife, and sexual violence is common. The report also claims the Australian government is engaged in a deliberate effort to conceal the issues, "going to great lengths" to block the flow of information from the island.

"The Australian government's failure to address serious abuses appears to be a deliberate policy to deter further asylum seekers from arriving in the country by boat," the report claims.

"Service providers and others who work on the island face criminal charges and civil penalties under Australian law if they disclose information about conditions for asylum seekers and refugees held offshore. Nauru has banned Facebook on the island and has enacted vaguely worded laws against threats to public order that legal experts fear could be used to criminalize protests by refugees and asylum seekers."

The report also claims Australia is essentially ignoring the conditions, despite multiple investigations by domestic and international experts:

"Australian authorities are well aware of the abuses on Nauru. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Senate Select Committee, and a government-appointed independent expert have each highlighted many of these practices, and called on the government to change them. The Australian government's persistent failure to address abuses committed under its authority on Nauru strongly suggests that they are adopted or condoned as a matter of policy."

"Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom," said Amnesty International's senior director for research Anna Neistat, who went to Nauru to conduct the investigation.

In its latest update to Operation Sovereign Borders, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection reported the the "Current transferee populations and refugee populations" on Nauru as of June 30 is 442 people; 338 men, 55 women and 49 children.

In a response to The Huffington Post Australia, the department claimed there was "no consultation" between them and the report's authors, and said they would " strongly encourage Amnesty International to contact the Department before airing allegations of this kind."

The Amnesty and HRW report claims refugees and asylum seekers "routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans." Amnesty and HRW wrote that every person they interviewed had reported intimidation, harassment, or violence by Nauruan people, including being spat on, almost run over by vehicles, beatings, robberies, damage to their homes, and women reporting being groped, sexually harassed or experiencing attempted rapes. Children are also regularly bullied at the local school.

"A service provider confirmed that such assaults happen 'several times a week, especially over the weekend'," the report claims.

The report also goes into the conditions inside the Regional Processing Centre itself.

They live in crowded tents where the heat is unbearable, even after some basic fans were installed. With humidity between 75 and 90 percent, mold grows quickly on tent walls and ceilings, and skin rashes and other infections spread rapidly. Sudden, torrential rains flood roads and pool on the tent floors. On several occasions, rains have also uncovered unexploded World War II ordnance on the detention center grounds.

The Huffington Post Australia has contacted the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for comment.

To read the full report, click here.

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