SYDNEY - Australia has rejected allegations by human rights campaigners that conditions on a small South Pacific Island where migrants are kept "amount to torture." A new Amnesty International report claims that many asylum-seekers held at the Australian-run camp on Nauru have attempted suicide to escape indefinite detention.
Amnesty International said the incarceration of asylum-seekers on the tiny South Pacific Island of Nauru was a "systematic regime of neglect and cruelty."
Its report, "Island of Despair," also accuses Australia of failing to provide a safe environment for young migrants, preventing many from attending school and seriously violating children's rights.
More than 750 former detainees, including large numbers from Iran and Afghanistan who have been granted refugee status, are now living in the Nauruan community alongside 10,000 islanders.
Amnesty alleges the refugees, despite having their claims for asylum approved, continue to endure poor conditions with little access to medical care.
Anna Neistat, who wrote the Amnesty International report, says conditions on Nauru are intolerable.
"I do not think I have seen such levels of mental distress. There is no reason for this suffering," she said. "They are not in a war zone. They have fled the kind of war zones that we are talking about and now they are stuck there [at the Nauru camp] with no future and subjected to this daily humiliation and abuse."
Torture allegations denied
Amnesty alleges the mistreatment amounts to torture, a claim strongly denied by Australian authorities.
At a parliamentary committee hearing in Canberra, the head of Australia’s immigration department, Mike Pezzullo, denied Amnesty’s claims.
"I do not accept that characterization," he said. "... It is not the Australian government’s position nor the position of this department that we flout any laws, international or otherwise."
Under Australia's strict immigration policy, asylum-seekers intercepted trying to reach the country by sea are sent for processing to camps in Nauru or to Manus Island in Papua, New Guinea, and are not eligible for resettlement in Australia. The government in Canberra insists the policy saves lives by discouraging asylum-seekers from making the hazardous sea crossing from places such as Indonesia.
Critics argue the policy is inhumane and demonizes those fleeing war and persecution. Earlier this year, judges in Papua, New Guinea, ruled the facility on Manus Island to be unconstitutional. It is expected to close in the coming months.