WARNING: Contains graphic imagery
The Australian government is responsible for the ‘deliberate and systematic’ torture of refugees, according to a major new human rights investigation.
Amnesty International has uncovered the ‘secret abuse’ of refugees in Australia and say the government should be held accountable for the atrocities under international law.
Amnesty researchers were given unprecedented access to Nauru, a tiny island country in Micronesia, northeast of Australia. The discoveries made have led Amnesty to dub the country – and their full report – the Island of Despair.
The tiny tropical island, baked in sunshine and awash with white sandy beaches may look like an idyllic paradise, but the report suggests it is more akin to hell on earth for those 1,159 refugees trapped there.
The conditions in Nauru are said to be so horrific, many refugees who have been sent there now suffer from mental illnesses – including self-harm – as a consequence of their poor treatment.
The report stated:
Nearly all of the people whom Amnesty International’s researcher met on Nauru in July 2016 reported mental health issues of some kind: high levels of anxiety, trouble sleeping, and mood swings were frequently mentioned. Almost all said that these problems began when they were transferred to Nauru.
The report documents the harrowing tales of individuals who have reached the point of despair in Nauru, and have thus tried to take their own lives on countless occasions.
Its authors wrote:
One man told Amnesty International that he had tried to kill himself twice in the previous 10 weeks: once in May 2016 when he bought petrol and poured it on himself, and a second time in July 2016 when he drank washing-up liquid and had to be hospitalized.
Another man described how his pregnant wife tried to hang herself – he found her in the bathroom with rope marks on her neck.
These cases of deteriorating mental health are said to be due to the confinement refugees experience on Nauru, and are not limited to adults.
Nauru’s teachers are said to regularly beat refugee children and the island’s child protection framework is reportedly ‘virtually non-existent’.
Although the asylum-seekers are not technically detained, they are in a threatening and violent prison-like environment indefinitely. They are faced with uncertain futures every day.
The refugees are victim to an ungodly amount of abuse from local Nauruans, and are regularly subjected to systematic physical, verbal and sexual abuse, which the report states ‘bear the hallmarks of persecution’.
Furthermore, according to eye-witnesses interviewed, the healthcare provided on Nauru is inadequate considering the regularity with which refugees need treatment for violent crimes. One individual even reported being made to wait months to get an appointment regarding suspected cancer.
According to the Amnesty report, the Australian government conceived of the off-shore processing regime – deliberately sending asylum seekers to an island where they would suffer persecution akin to that of their home countries – as a deterrent to dissuade more refugees from trying to seek safety in Australia.
The report states:
The current policy of the Australian Government is that no person who arrives in the country by boat seeking asylum can ever settle in Australia. Instead, anyone who arrives by boat is forcibly taken by the Government of Australia to offshore “Refugee Processing Centres” on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or the remote Pacific island of Nauru. The Australian Government claims that the policy deters people-smugglers and protects people who might otherwise undertake the hazardous boat crossing to Australia.
The reports claims the torturous environment is orchestrated by the Australian government who use the ill-equipped authorities in Nauru as a scapegoat while pulling the strings from Canberra.
Anna Neistat, Amnesty’s senior director of research who travelled to Nauru, said that Australia should be held accountable for breaching the Convention Against Torture.
When you set up a system that inflicts deliberate harm as a deterrence, it’s really hard to find another name for it other than torture.
We definitely think the Australian government is violating international law. This needs to be stopped. It’s unlawful, it’s harmful, it amounts to torture.
Amnesty interviewed 62 refugees and asylum-seekers on Nauru.
Both Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Department of Immigration and Border Protection secretary Michael Pezzullo previously dismissed the claims as a publicity stunt, according to The Sunday Morning Herald.
While Amnesty’s data mirrors the UN’s indictment of Australia’s Processing Centres last week, the Australian government is set to respond to the allegations when the report is formally released on Monday evening.