Rights groups slam alleged Aussie abuse of asylum-seekers

SYDNEY • Australia is deliberately failing to combat the abuse of asylum-seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru to deter others from arriving by boat, two global human rights groups have said.

The report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday is a scathing criticism of Canberra's immigration policy under which asylum- seekers trying to reach Australia by boat are taken to Papua New Guinea or Nauru.

Amnesty and HRW said asylum- seekers and refugees on Nauru suffered "severe abuse, inhumane treatment and neglect".

The government's "failure to address serious abuses appears to be a deliberate policy to deter further asylum-seekers from arriving in the country by boat", it added.

"Driving adult and even child refugees to the breaking point with sustained abuse appears to be one of Australia's aims on Nauru," said HRW's Mr Michael Bochenek, one of the two researchers who went to Nauru last month to interview 84 asylum-seekers and refugees.

Those interviewed told the rights groups they had developed severe anxiety, an inability to sleep, mood swings, prolonged depression and short-term memory loss, while describing conditions as "prison-like".

"People here don't have a real life. We are just surviving. We are dead souls in living bodies. We are just husks. We don't have any hope or motivation," one woman said.

The researchers also said conditions outside the centre were "abhorrent", with reports that asylum- seekers were beaten, robbed and harassed by some locals.

The Australian government said yesterday that it rejects the report's allegations. Canberra said Amnesty did not consult the immigration department on the investigation, with a spokesman adding that the "department strongly refutes many of the allegations in the report".

Some 442 asylum-seekers are being held on Nauru, and another 854 on Manus Island, according to immigration department data ending on June 30.

Papaua New Guinea has said that its camp on Manus will close after its Supreme Court found that detaining people at the centre was unconstitutional and illegal. The court has now ordered Canberra to present a resettlement plan for asylum-seekers held on Manus Island by today, said Mr Ben Lomai, a lawyer for the detainees.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'Rights groups slam alleged Aussie abuse of asylum-seekers'. Print Edition | Subscribe