Australia

Australia condones asylum seeker abuse, say rights groups

An aerial photograph of Nauru: The world's smallest republic Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nauru, the world's smallest republic, holds one of Australia's migrant camps

Two leading international campaign groups claim the Australian government has a deliberate policy of ignoring abuse of asylum seekers.

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

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International conducted extensive interviews on Nauru and said Australia had condoned severe abuse there.

Australia's government said it was not given a chance to address the claims.

In a report 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.

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.

'Matter of policy'

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.

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

It said prolonged detention in poor living conditions was causing both adults and children to experience severe anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

"The Australian government's persistent failure to address abuses committed under its authority on Nauru strongly suggests that they are adopted or condoned as a matter of policy," it said.

No documentary evidence backing up the assertion of a deliberate government policy was provided in the report.

The rights groups said Nauru had colluded in the abuse because Australia paid it large sums to house the camp.

A spokesperson for Australia's Immigration Department said it had not been shown the claims in advance and encouraged the report's authors to speak to the government before airing such allegations.

Nauru's government has been contacted for comment.

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