October 25, 2016

Australia government denies asylum seeker abuse claims

A photo taken by Amnesty International shows the inside of a tent housing asylum seekers in Nauru

Australia’s government has “strongly” refuted claims it deliberately ignores abuse of asylum seekers.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released a report criticising conditions at a detention centre on the island of Nauru.

The report concluded that Australia must intentionally allow abuse of detainees to deter asylum seekers.

A statement from the Immigration Department criticised Amnesty for not consulting the government.

“There was no consultation with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection from Amnesty International in preparation of this report,” the statement said.

“We strongly refute many of the allegations in the report and would encourage Amnesty International to contact the Department before airing allegations of this kind.”

The statement said Australia did not exert control over the laws of Nauru, a sovereign country. It said the Australian government welcomed independent scrutiny of its facilities.

An aerial photograph of Nauru: The world's smallest republicNauru, the world’s smallest republic, holds one of Australia’s migrant camps

Australia transports asylum seekers who arrive by boat to off-shore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Grey line

Australia and asylum

  • The number of asylum seekers travelling to Australia by boat rose sharply in 2012 and early 2013. Scores of people have died making the journey.
  • To stop the influx, the government adopted tough measures intended as a deterrent.
  • Everyone who arrives is detained. Under the policy, asylum seekers are processed offshore at centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
  • The government has also adopted a policy of tow-backs, or turning boats around.

The Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report was written after an incognito visit to Nauru last month. The organisations said Australia’s actions seemed designed to discourage other migrants from attempting to get to Australia.

No documentary evidence was provided in the report to support the claim.

But interviews with 84 refugees and asylum seekers unearthed claims of rape and assault at the hand of Nauruan locals, inadequate medical care and cramped, uncomfortable living conditions.

The detention centre at Nauru is run by a company called Broadspectrum and medical services are provided by International Health and Medical Services. Both companies have a contract with the Australian government.

One woman quoted in the report said she had married a man 15 years her senior in order to feel safe on the island. Another said Nauruan men had driven her into the jungle with the intent of raping her.

Although most held on the island have been identified as genuine refugees and released into the community, many felt afraid to leave their accommodations, particularly at night, the report said.

The report also alleged that Nauruan police tended to downplay or ignore asylum seekers’ reports of abuse.

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