The plot thickens: Australia to close Manus Island centre; staff demanding end to offshore detention; Australia doesn’t bother to investigate any of the Nauru files before declaring them bunk

After the PNG supreme court ruled in April that the detention centre was “illegal and unconstitutional”, we have been waiting with bated breath to see what convoluted legal explanation Australia will find in order to keep avoiding their responsibilities under national and international law. This week, after the leak of over  2,000 incident reports detailing systemic physical and sexual abuses, humiliating treatment and harsh conditions, and widespread self-harm and suicide attempts on Nauru, the Australian Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, and the President of Nauru have decided, respectively, that the reports were only “hype” or “cooked up” the reports just to discredit them. Of course, the standard institutional response to allegations of abuse, exploitation, or assault, particularly when perpetrated by one’s own officials, is to claim that the victim is lying and the allegations are baseless. And the fact that the official response notes that, “Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims – they are not statements of proven fact. The Australian government continues to support the Nauruan government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru.” Although advocates dispute the characterization as “unconfirmed allegations,” the government response does highlight one salient point: that there was no effort to investigate or substantiate these allegations. Except when they want to file charges against someone for attempting suicide, like the Iranian asylum-seeker was criminally charged and ordered to pay $165 for attempting suicide (suicide and homosexuality were legalized a month later, in May 2016).

Dutton also accused asylum seekers of committing acts of self-immolation in order to get to Australia. He does not seem to take the point that people prefer to burn to death than to stay in indefinite detention as an indication that the situation is inhumane.

Now, more than 100 former employees from Australia’s offshore detention centres have called for asylum seekers to be brought to the mainland rather than sweeping it all under the rug with yet another inquiry. (see the full list). This, in a context where they might face criminal charges by Australia for speaking up. Their voices join over 1,800 academics and dozens of  human rights, legal, religious and medical groups that have demanded the Australian government put a stop to the suffering of asylum seekers and refugees in its offshore processing regime.

There is some good news:,according to the PNG govenment (later backed up by the Australian government), Australia has agreed to close the controversial asylum seeker detention centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG) declared unconstitutional earlier this year.As described by the Guardian,

The Manus Island detention centre has had a troubled existence since being reopened in 2012. In 2014 three days of unrest and an invasion of the detention centre by PNG police and others saw more than 60 asylum seekers seriously injured. One man was shot, another had his throat slit and 23-year-old Reza Barati was murdered by guards who beat him with a nail studded piece of wood, and kicked and dropped a rock on his head. PNG’s supreme court heard up to 15 expatriate and local guards killed Barati. Two local men were convicted of his murder this year.

The detention centre has also been plagued by consistent allegations of abuse and privation. Rape, physical and sexual assault and drug abuse are common, the centre’s water supply has failed, and detainees are fed expired food. Suicide attempts and acts of self-harm are common, and some men have alleged they have been beaten and tortured in solitary confinement.

Australia still claims that none of them will settle in Australia, and organizations such as Human Rights Watch have highlighted that simply shifting them elsewhere will not work:  “These men should immediately be moved to Australia or a safe third country, not simply shunted down the road to a transit centre or moved to Nauru or Cambodia. Nearly a thousand men on Manus have already lost three or more years of their lives locked up in limbo for no good reason. They’ve endured dirty, cramped conditions, inadequate medical care and violence. Finally, it is time to let them move on with their lives in safety and dignity.” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch claim that 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.

“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.

See our previous posts on Australia:

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