Photo: Australian Refugee Council’s 2016 calendar.
Australia: Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru (Human Rights Watch / Amnesty)
About 1,200 men, women, and children who sought refuge in Australia and were forcibly transferred to the remote Pacific island nation of Nauru suffer severe abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. 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.
Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, most of whom have been held there for three years, 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. They endure unnecessary delays and at times denial of medical care, even for life-threatening conditions. Many have dire mental health problems and suffer overwhelming despair – self-harm and suicide attempts are frequent. All face prolonged uncertainty about their future.
“Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel in the extreme,” said Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty International, who conducted the investigation on the island for the organization. “Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom.”
By forcibly transferring refugees and people seeking asylum to Nauru, detaining them for prolonged periods in inhuman conditions, denying them appropriate medical care, and in other ways structuring its operations so that many experience a serious degradation of their mental health, the Australian government has violated the rights to be free from torture and other ill-treatment, and from arbitrary detention, as well as other fundamental protections, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.
‘We are dead souls in living bodies’: Australia accused of abusing refugees (CNN)
Australia Allows Abuse of Refugees to Deter Others, Rights Groups Say (NYT)
“The Australian government is commissioning the abuse of these people,” Anna Neistat, a senior director for research at Amnesty International who spent five days on Nauru in July, said by telephone from Paris on Wednesday. “It pays for the companies that detain the refugees, it pays for the guards, and it fails to provide adequate medical care. Australian taxpayers are funding it. And the world does not know this place exists.”
See also: Australia deliberately ignores refugee abuse: report (Al Jazeera)
It should be noted that while Australia’s policies might be among the more egregious, few Western countries have clean hands when it comes to treatment of migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees.
The United Nations has found that Australia’s immigration detention regime breaches international law, amounting to arbitrary and indefinite detention, and that men, women and children are held in violent and dangerous conditions.
It’s not just in Greece that refugees are stranded (IRIN)
Indonesia had long been a transit country for thousands of asylum seekers trying to reach Australian shores. But Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013, policing its waters and turning back boats with such efficiency that it has all but blocked off the route. Several hundred new asylum seekers, however, are still arriving in Indonesia every month. An ever-increasing number are now spending years in limbo in a country that neither recognises them as refugees nor offers any possibility of local integration. Resettlement to a third country is the only option for most of the nearly 14,000 asylum seekers and refugees now stranded in Indonesia (up from 10,000 two years ago). Australia used to be the country that accepted the majority of refugees in Indonesia for resettlement, but now it only takes those who registered there before July 2014. Other countries with resettlement programmes, many of them preoccupied with the refugee exodus from Syria, have done little to help. With no right to work and little support available from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, many new arrivals simply hand themselves over to the Indonesian authorities knowing that at least they’ll be fed and sheltered while they’re detained.
Australia ordered to resettle nearly 900 asylum seekers held on Manus Island detention centre after PNG ruled the centre illegal (Trust.org)
The asylum seekers come from across the Middle East and Asia predominately, with Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan accounting for the bulk. Some have been held in detention for several years. Lawyers for the 898 Manus island detainees have asked the Supreme Court for compensation of 1,500 kina ($462.75) for every day they were held illegally. The Supreme Court said it would call on Australia to provide a representative on Thursday to provide details on a resettlement plan.
See also: The cost of Australia’s asylum policy
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 Australia (US State Department)
The main human rights problems were domestic violence against women and children, particularly in indigenous communities; indigenous disadvantage; and policies affecting asylum seekers, including detention and detention center conditions for some attempting to reach the country by sea.
Other links of interest:
Fact sheet – Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian programme
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in respect of its inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2015, 3 December 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/56669e5e4.html