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Human Rights Groups Claim Australia Is Ignoring Nauru Abuse

3 August 2016 at 3:44 pm
Wendy Williams
Australia is deliberately ignoring the inhumane treatment of refugees held on Nauru in a bid to deter further asylum seekers from arriving in the country by boat, according to two peak human rights groups.

Wendy Williams | 3 August 2016 at 3:44 pm


Human Rights Groups Claim Australia Is Ignoring Nauru Abuse
3 August 2016 at 3:44 pm

Australia is deliberately ignoring the inhumane treatment of refugees held on Nauru in a bid to deter further asylum seekers from arriving in the country by boat, according to two peak human rights groups.

No Nauru Painting

Photo: paintings /

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said 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”.

They claimed that about 1,200 men, women and children, who sought refuge in Australia and were forcibly transferred to Nauru, are suffering severe abuse, inhumane treatment and neglect.

It comes after researchers from the organisations spent 12 days in July incognito on Nauru, interviewing 84 refugees and asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Kuwait and Afghanistan, including stateless Kurds who had been living in Iran or Iraq.

Amnesty International’s senior director for research Anna Neistat, who conducted the investigation, said Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat was “cruel in the extreme”.

“It is essentially like an open-air prison for these refugees and people seeking asylum,” Neistat said.

“Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom.”

Neistat said the extent of the “secrecy” relating to the Australian Government’s operations on Nauru was “one of the most shocking features”.

“In 15 years I have never encountered this level of government cover up,” she said.

“The contractual gagging of service providers was unprecedented. It without doubt enables – and encourages an abusive situation.”

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, 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.

They also endure unnecessary delays and at times denial of medical care, even for life-threatening conditions, and many have dire mental health problems and suffer overwhelming despair—with self harm and suicide attempts both frequent.

The organisations claim 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.

In a joint statement Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said: “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 senior counsel on children’s rights Michael Bochenek, who also conducted the investigation on the island, said the treatment of refugees was taking its toll.

“Australia’s atrocious treatment of the refugees on Nauru over the past three years has taken an enormous toll on their well-being,” Bochenek said.

“Driving adult and even child refugees to the breaking point with sustained abuse appears to be one of Australia’s aims on Nauru.”

Australia shares responsibility with Nauru for human rights violations committed against the refugees and asylum seekers.

The organisations called on the Australian Government to “immediately resettle” the refugees in Australia and close the Nauru offshore processing centre.

They said while refugees and asylum seekers remained on Nauru, Australia should ensure they receive quality medical and mental health care, and Nauru should allow independent human rights monitors and journalists access to the island, and Australia should do likewise for its “processing centres” for asylum seekers.

In the financial year ending 30 April 2015, the Australian Government spent $415 million its Nauru operations nearly $350,000 for each person held on the island in that year alone.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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