Amnesty: Aus­tralia refugee camp ‘amounts to tor­ture’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Aus­tralia’s de­ten­tion of asy­lum­seek­ers on a re­mote Pa­cific is­land “amounts to tor­ture” un­der in­ter­na­tional law, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said yes­ter­day in a re­port that al­leged wide­spread abuse and an “epi­demic of self-harm”. Can­berra sends asy­lum-seek­ers who try to reach the is­land con­ti­nent by boat to the Pa­cific is­lands of Nauru and Pa­pua New Guinea’s Manus, where they are blocked from be­ing re­set­tled in Aus­tralia even if found to be refugees. The Nauru fa­cil­ity-which holds just over 400 men, women and chil­dren-has been un­der scru­tiny after al­le­ga­tions of thou­sands of in­ci­dents of abuse and self-harm were leaked to the Guardian Aus­tralia in Au­gust.

Amnesty’s se­nior di­rec­tor for re­search Anna Nei­s­tat said in­ter­views she con­ducted with more than 100 peo­ple, in­clud­ing asy­lum-seek­ers, refugees, and cur­rent or for­mer de­ten­tion cen­tre staff, be­tween July and Oc­to­ber “paint a pic­ture of peo­ple driven to ab­so­lute de­spair”. The rights group’s re­port said there was an “epi­demic of self-harm” among those held on Nauru, with nearly all the asy­lum-seek­ers in­ter­viewed reporting men­tal health is­sues that many said started after be­ing trans­ferred to the camp.

Con­tribut­ing to their feel­ings of de­spair were in­ad­e­quate med­i­cal care, ex­po­sure of chil­dren to abuse, and at­tacks and threats by some Nau­ru­ans out­side the cen­tre, it said. Asy­lum-seek­ers on Nauru have been free to roam around the tiny na­tion since last year, no longer forced to re­main locked up, but the re­port al­leged that some who ven­tured out­side the camp were at­tacked and raped. “Aus­tralia’s off­shore pro­cess­ing regime fits the def­i­ni­tion of tor­ture un­der in­ter­na­tional law,” Amnesty said in a state­ment, point­ing to the refugees’ “se­vere men­tal anguish” and the use of off­shore pro­cess­ing as a de­ter­rent.

Amnesty also ac­cused Aus­tralia of op­er­at­ing the camp “be­hind a fortress of se­crecy”. Only a hand­ful of jour­nal­ists and refugee ad­vo­cates, in­clud­ing Nei­s­tat, have gained ac­cess to Nauru in re­cent years. Some of those in­ter­viewed by Amnesty said their time on Nauru was more dif­fi­cult than the con­flicts they had fled in Iraq and Syria. “I can­not go back. But here I am dy­ing a thou­sand times,” said an Iraqi man, iden­ti­fied only as Edris. “In Iraq, you get just one bul­let or a bomb, and it’s over, and here I am slowly dy­ing from the pain.”

Another, 19-year-old Ali Kharsa, who was held on Nauru for three years, said: “We fled Syria, but Nauru was the hard­est thing I ever had.” The Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment. But Can­berra has strongly de­fended its tough poli­cies to­wards “boat­peo­ple” in the past, say­ing it has pre­vented deaths at sea and se­cured the na­tion’s bor­ders. Nauru’s gov­ern­ment in Au­gust dis­missed the leaked in­ci­dent re­ports that asy­lum-seek­ers faced vi­o­lence, abuse and hu­mil­i­at­ing treat­ment as “fab­ri­cated”. Just over 800 asy­lum-seeker men are held in the Manus camp, with Aus­tralia in Au­gust agree­ing to close it fol­low­ing a Pa­pua New Guinea Supreme Court rul­ing declar­ing that hold­ing peo­ple there was un­con­sti­tu­tional and il­le­gal.

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