NAURU – The Australian government is cruelly and intentionally destructing the physical and mental integrity of hundreds of men, women and children, an Amnesty International report has found.
Over several months of investigation researchers were given access to Nauru’s asylum seeker processing centre and undertook hundreds of interviews with people living on the island.
Their findings, released in a report earlier this week, accused Australia’s offshore processing policies as a direct violation of international law and a deliberate act of torture of “some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Amnesty’s Senior Director of Research, Anna Neistat, says the government is pursuing a model that minimises protection and maximises harm, warning that Australia is facing a “dangerous plunge to the bottom of refugee protection.”
“The government of Australia has isolated vulnerable women, men and children in a remote place which they cannot leave, with the specific intention that these people should suffer. And suffer they have – it has been devastating and in some cases, irreparable.”
The report found Nauru is not equipped to receive any refugees but currently it holds the third highest proportion of refugees per capita in the world. Asylum seekers make up 1,159 of the total 10,000 inhabitants on the island.
Hopelessness, debilitating uncertainty over their future and a sense of being trapped were listed as key reasons for why nearly everyone interviewed in July this year reported mental health issues including anxiety, sleeplessness and mood swings.
The report also detailed dozens of stories of severe despair leading to attempted suicides, including a man who had tried to kill himself twice in ten weeks and another Iranian refugee who had tried to kill herself several times a week.
There were also numerous instances of children suffering from severe depression after being abused, with examples of vomiting, bed wetting, constant screaming and even ‘autism-like’ symptoms detailed.
Asylum seekers on Nauru are also experiencing abuse outside of the processing centre itself. Verbal, physical and sexual assaults of men, women and children are commonplace, although no Nauruans have ever been held responsible for any attacks.
A Bangladeshi refugee living outside the centre said he was attacked earlier this year in May by a group of men who threw a rock at him and kicked him off his motorbike.
“They beat me unconscious and stole my motorbike. I am still in pain from the injuries,” he said.
Asylum seeker children have also been denied access to education because of physical and verbal abuse of teachers and local children.
The report says they are “subjected to countless daily humiliations that have cumulatively served to dehumanise them and violate their dignity.”
The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection responded to the report and said many of its claims were repeated and had already been refuted.
“In many cases the report references unsubstantiated claims made by individuals or advocacy groups as fact in the absence of evidence.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also responded saying the accusations of torture were “absolutely false” and called the government’s commitment “compassionate and strong.”
“There are 1200 people..from whom we can never hear because they drowned at sea,” he also said.
The Australian government is spending billions on the current off-shore processing system. The National Audit Office estimated that operations on Nauru and Manus Island cost $573,000 per person per year.
Dr Neistat who undertook the majority of the research said she was unprepared for what she saw and heard in the centre and likened it to her 15 years of crisis work in Syria, Yemen and Chechnya.
She said questions needed to be asked because the suffering was unnecessary and hidden by “shocking” secrecy.
“The Australian authorities should come to the same conclusion, shut down the “processing” centre on the island, and make a better use of taxpayers’ money by recognising that every asylum-seeker and refugee on Nauru has the right to come to Australia immediately. These people cannot wait a moment longer for a humane solution.”
– Viki Gerova, Correspondent (Oceania)