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Australia’s national shame

“All I was coming here for was to have a country. I thought if I went to Australia, I would find a country with respect for human rights. I was thinking to leave darkness for light, but what I find is that I have left darkness for even more darkness” H.A., a Bidun interviewed by Amnesty International on Manus Island on 15 November 2013

Amnesty International on 11th December 2013 released the report:  This Is Breaking People: Human Rights Violations at Australia’s Asylum Seeker Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. The report is based on a research visit to Manus Island from 11-16 November 2013. It details the appalling conditions in the centre, where only 55 out of more than 1,000 asylum seekers have been able to start a claim for refugee status since it opened over 12 months ago. The report damns the Australian government for its excessively cruel and costly prison-like regime on Manus Island. Amnesty International heard testimonies of humiliating treatment from the moment the men are transferred. Detainees are mainly referred to by their boat ID numbers, and many cite cases of verbal and physical abuse by staff, including being kicked, punched and shoved. The dining facilities are too small for all detainees to sit at once; they queue for their meals, sometimes for hours, in the blistering sun and the frequent downpours, with no protection from the elements.

The Amnesty International report states:

Fleeing war, chilling acts of torture, threats of death, or profound discrimination, many asylum seekers make the desperate decision to undertake a perilous ocean voyage from to Australia. In response, Australia agreed with Papua New Guinea to reopen an offshore processing facility on Manus, a remote island located 800 kilometres to the north of the capital, Port Moresby. In November 2012, it began sending asylum seekers from Christmas Island, an Australian territory south of the Indonesian island of Java, to the Manus Island facility, over 4,800 kilometres away.

But for its relative proximity to Australia, Papua New Guinea is not an obvious choice for refugee processing or resettlement. It is an impoverished country with high rates of unemployment, serious problems with violence—particularly against women—and a general intolerance for outsiders. Police abuse is rampant. It has a poor track record of protecting the limited numbers of refugees it has received to date. The prospects of successfully integrating larger numbers of refugees from a greater variety of cultures and faiths are dim.

Nearly five months into the new policy, it is clear that the Regional Resettlement Arrangement has resulted in a host of human rights violations:

  • The combination of detention practices, the many unknowns about the Refugee Status Determination process and timetable, and the lack of real options for meaningful integration into Papua New Guinea society combine to create a serious risk of refoulement, the return of individuals to places where their lives or freedom is likely to be threatened or where they are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
  • Aspects of detention on Manus Island violate the obligation to treat all persons in detention humanely. The combined effect of the conditions of detention on Manus Island, the open-ended nature of that detention, and the uncertainty about their fates to which detainees are subjected amounts to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. Moreover, some conditions of detention, particularly the housing of detainees in P Dorm, on their own violate the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment

Amnesty International Australia’s National Director Claire Mallinson stated:

This system of harsh conditions and humiliating treatment is a deliberate effort to pressure people to return to the desperate situations they have fled from. Australia is directly responsible for this deplorable and unlawful combination of arbitrary detention and inhumane conditions

The policy of shipping asylum seekers, many of whom have suffered terribly in their home countries, to offshore facilities has to end

Amnesty International spokesman Graeme McGregor spoke of living conditions that violate the UN convention against torture:

Asylum seekers reported finding snakes in the room and flooding when it rained

(P Dorm) has a corrugated roof, no windows and only two small working fans to be shared between 112 men in overcrowded conditions

Alarmingly Amnesty International interviewed three asylum seekers who claim they’re aged between 15 and 17 and are being housed with adults in conditions that are “traumatising for people their age”

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young spoke out against the government:

There are very serious breaches of human rights going on at the Manus Island detention centre and the government needs to face up to it and fix it

Organisations like Amnesty International … don’t make those types of claim lightly

and Greens leader Christine Milne called for the government to allow media access to Manus Island:

If they (the government) say that the detention centre on Manus Island is fine and these practices are not going on, then let the media in to see that that is the case

The Amnesty International report recommends:

Until the Manus Island detention centre is closed and all asylum seekers held there are transferred to Australian territory, the Australian government must take immediate steps to improve conditions on the facility so that they meet international standards. Among them, putting an end to abusive treatment, no longer using P Dorm as housing, providing adequate medical services and making sure individuals are not pressured to return to a country where they are at risk of persecution or other ill-treatment.

Both the Australian and PNG governments need to urgently ensure a fair and effective system of processing is in place, and they must work with other governments in the region towards a genuine regional solution that protects the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in accordance with international human rights and refugee law.

Appallingly, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison rejected that conditions amount to torture and vowed to maintain the inhumane treatment of refugees in off-shore processing centres:

All I am saying is that the key recommendation from both the UNHCR and Amnesty report is that offshore processing should be abolished. We are clearly not going to do that

We’re very happy for official groups to go into these centres and they can provide their reports, and they can make their suggestions and we will take them in good faith and identify the things we can address

Similarly, on 11th December PNG foreign minister Rimbink Pato rejected the allegations of the UNHCR that Australia’s offshore detention centre on Manus Island is substandard, saying instead that it’s a pretty good facillity.


3 comments on “Australia’s national shame

  1. Pingback: UNHCR damns Australia for imprisoning asylum-seeker children on Nauru | strivetoengage

  2. Pingback: UNHCR damns Australia for conditions on Manus island | strivetoengage

  3. Pingback: How do we change Australia’s attitude towards refugees? | strivetoengage

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This entry was posted on December 15, 2013 by in Giving and tagged , , , , , , .
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