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Australia accused of ‘systematic abuse’

Saturday 6 August 2016 | Published in Regional

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NAURU – Australia’s government has rejected a report which found that it is ignoring appalling human rights abuses against people held in detention on Nauru.

The report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Australia’s offshore detention policy had resulted in the abuse of refugees and asylum seekers, and the abuse was being hidden behind a wall of secrecy.

The joint investigation claimed that the Australian government is deliberately ignoring reports of abuse from refugees on Nauru in order to deter further migration.

The researchers found that the 1200 people forcibly transferred to Nauru were being subjected to inhumane treatment, sexual harassment, denial of medical care and crowded conditions.

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

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

“What I found on Nauru is what I can only describe as a deliberate, systematic abuse,” Neistat said.

Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it strongly refuted many of the report’s allegations.

“The Republic of Nauru is a sovereign nation and Australia does not exert control over Nauru’s functions, its law, its judicial system or law enforcement,” the department said in a statement.

“Australia does, however, provide support to the government of Nauru by funding accommodation and support services for all transferees and refugees, including welfare and health services.

“All transferees are made aware of their rights and responsibilities while they are in the regional processing centre when they arrive, including how to make enquiries or complaints through safe and confidential channels.”

The department said the NGOs had not consulted with it in the preparation of their report.

Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson explained the groups’ researchers did not inform Canberra before going to Nauru because, if they had done so, their visas would most probably have been revoked.

She said it was not appropriate for the government to dismiss the allegations on the basis of lack of consultation.

“In the past, we have repeatedly written to the department, we’ve sought meetings – particularly when I got back from Manus Island – which hosts another of Australia’s offshore processing detention centres, when we issued a similar report and we’ve simply, at every turn, been stonewalled,

“There’s been a similar kind of knee-jerk response, saying offshore processing is here to stay, and no matter what issues are raised by human rights groups, that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

“Driving adult and even child refugees to the breaking point with sustained abuse appears to be one of Australia’s aims on Nauru,” said Michael Bochenek, senior counsel on children’s rights at Human Rights Watch.

The immigration department said it welcomed independent scrutiny of regional processing matters, noting that access to the processing centre on Nauru was a matter for the government of Nauru. - PNC sources