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NFP Report Claims Refugee ‘Torture’ on Nauru

18 October 2016 at 9:34 am
Lina Caneva
A new not-for-profit report by aid agency Amnesty International claims the Australian government is responsible for the deliberate and systematic torture of refugees on Nauru and should be held accountable under international law.

Lina Caneva | 18 October 2016 at 9:34 am


NFP Report Claims Refugee ‘Torture’ on Nauru
18 October 2016 at 9:34 am

A new not-for-profit report by aid agency Amnesty International claims the Australian government is responsible for the deliberate and systematic torture of refugees on Nauru and should be held accountable under international law.

The report Island of Despair: Australia’s “processing” of refugees on Nauru said the Turnbull government was choosing to subject women, men and children to an elaborate and cruel system of abuse with a policy that is intentionally designed to harm people.

“The conditions on Nauru – refugees’ severe mental anguish, the intentional nature of the system, and the fact that the goal of offshore processing is to intimidate or coerce people to achieve a specific outcome – amounts to torture,” the report said.

“The devastating effects of trapping people on a remote island, where many in the local population do not want them and the local police do not protect them, in the conditions established by the Government of Australia for refugee processing, were foreseeable.

“Even if they had not been, these negative impacts have been evident to the Government of Australia for years. The inescapable conclusion is that the abuse and anguish that constitutes the daily reality of refugees and asylum-seekers on Nauru is the express intention of the Government of Australia.

“In furtherance of a policy to deter people arriving in Australia by boat, the Government of Australia has made a calculation in which intolerable cruelty and the destruction of the physical and mental integrity of hundreds of children, men and women, have been chosen as a tool of government policy. In so doing the Government of Australia is in breach of international human rights law and international refugee law.”

The Amnesty claims come after an ABC Four Corners report on Monday in which former teachers working with children’s aid agency Save the Children detailed cases of depression and self harm by young refugee children and teenagers on Nauru.

Anna Neistat, Amnesty International’s senior director for research, is said to be one of the few people who has entered Nauru to investigate human rights abuses.

“On Nauru, the Australian Government runs an open-air prison designed to inflict as much suffering as necessary to stop some of the world’s most vulnerable people from trying to find safety in Australia,” Neistat said.

She said, based on months of research, including interviews with more than 100 people in Nauru and Australia, Amnesty International’s report brought together further revelations of abuse to reveal the full scale of Australia’s system of deliberate cruelty.

Self-harm on Nauru. Source: Amnesty


“The distressing and heartbreaking accounts of deteriorating mental health, discrimination and violent attacks, sexual violence, inadequate medical care and harassment that I heard from mothers, fathers, adults and children as young as six, paint a picture of people driven to absolute despair,” Neistat said.

“Behind a fortress of secrecy, the Australian Government is isolating over a thousand people – adults and children – in a remote place which they cannot leave, where many in the local population do not want them, and the local police do not protect them, with the specific goal that these people should suffer. And suffer they have – it has been devastating and, in some cases, irreparable.

“What we are seeing is the Australian Government going to extraordinary lengths to hide the daily despair of the people on Nauru. In doing so, they have misled the Australian public and the world by failing to admit that their border control policy depends on the deliberate and systematic abuse of thousands of people. Abuse is never a solution.”

Amnesty International has called on the Australian Government to immediately close down the Nauru and Manus processing operations.

“People are driven to the absolute brink, largely because they’re trapped on Nauru and are facing debilitating uncertainty about their future,” Neistat said.

“Nearly all of the people whom Amnesty International spoke to – including young children – on Nauru in July 2016 reported mental health issues of some kind. Almost all said that these problems began when they were transferred to Nauru.

Amnesty said people have also been arrested for self-harming.

“Despite the fact that Nauru decriminalised suicide in May 2016, Amnesty International has received credible reports that people are still being jailed for threatening to or actually harming themselves,” Neistat said.

“It’s time for the Australian Government to explore humane alternatives that actually keep people safe. It’s simply a matter of political will.”

Amnesty International has urged the Australian Government to show leadership and adopt a better plan for refugees which could include:

  • Boosting Australia’s aid program to help neighbouring countries better protect and support refugees. When people are legally recognised, have safe accommodation, can send their kids to school, and can work and access health services, they won’t be forced to make dangerous journeys to Australia.
  • Making sure the most vulnerable people are resettled within our region and globally. Pressure on individual countries can be reduced if Australia works closely with New Zealand, Japan, the USA, Canada and others to ensure everyone does their fair share. This includes Australia welcoming a minimum of 30,000 refugees per year through its resettlement program.
  • Including refugees in existing visa programs. In addition to Australia’s core resettlement program, to recognise the valuable skills and qualifications of many refugees by including them when allocating student, work and family reunion visas.
  • Assessing refugee applications within a defined time period. When people know they will be assessed in an efficient and orderly way, they are less likely to make a dangerous boat journey.
  • Undertaking timely search and rescue operations. Instead of hazardous push-backs of boats at sea, Australia can run search and rescue operations that save lives.

In August 2016 more than 2000 leaked incident reports from Australia’s detention camp for asylum seekers on Nauru were made public.

The Nauru files set out reports of the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions experienced by asylum seekers held by the Australian Government, painting a picture of routine dysfunction and cruelty.

The Guardian reported that the immigration department secretary, Mike Pezzullo, told a senate estimates hearing that the majority of reports on Nauru were “minor” or “information” reports and not allegations or evidence of serious criminality.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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