Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers amounts to torture under international law, according to a new report by the human rights group, Amnesty International. About 1,200 asylum seekers have been forcibly transferred to what Australia calls an offshore processing center on the Pacific island of Nauru. Amnesty interviewed refugees and whistleblowers from companies contracted to run the asylum centers.
In strikingly direct terms, Amnesty International accuses Australia of deliberately inflicting suffering on refugees.
“Essentially they have chosen to treat women, men and children with unspeakable cruelty on Nauru as a way to implement a policy designed to prevent boats arriving in Australia,” said Audrey Gaughran, head of global issues at Amnesty International.
'An open prison'
The group says many refugees have mental health problems, adding it has documented cases of self-harm and suicide.
“It is an open prison and they can not leave. We have documented cases of physical assault, cases of sexual assault, cases of people who are ill but cannot appear to get the right kinds of treatment. Very harrowing cases where you see parents watching their children suffer and they cannot do anything about it,” said Gaughran.
Even refugees who have successfully applied for asylum in Australia are being forced to stay on Nauru. Among them is Eli, an Iranian human rights activist who says via Skype she has been given refugee status.
“After three years that my case got a positive result [for my asylum application], and I am a refugee now, but I am still in Nauru. No third country, no Australia, no way, no way... I am still in the jail,” she said.
PM defends immigration policies
Australia says its tough policies are vital to halt people smuggling. Speaking last month at the U.N. General Assembly, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called his country the ultimate "immigration nation."
“Porous borders drain away public support for multiculturalism, for immigration, for aid to refugees," he said. "Most importantly, the only way to stop the scourge of people smuggling is to deprive the people smugglers of their product, and secure borders do just that.”
Amnesty describes that position as untenable — and is calling on Australia to shut down its offshore processing centers and allow legitimate refugees to enter Australia.