World Bulletin / News Desk
Amnesty International says Australia has turned conditions on the tiny Pacific Ocean island of Nauru -- where it detains a total of 410 refugees and asylum seekers who attempted to reach the nation by boat -- into an “open-air prison”.
It adds that the government subjects refugees "to an elaborate and cruel system of abuse with a policy that is intentionally designed to harm people".
On Monday -- as the report was released -- Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Research Anna Neistat underlined to Anadolu Agency that the government was not even trying to hide that its policy deliberately creates suffering.
"The government has openly said that it’s created a system of deterrence. It will only work as a deterrent if people are suffering. It’s a system that relies on suffering,” she said in a phone interview.
Neistat -- one of only a handful of people who has managed to enter the remote island to probe violations of human rights -- says that after Amnesty had been refused access six times in two years, she finally entered Nauru in a personal capacity in July.
“I haven’t seen that level of mental trauma in any war zone I’ve worked in,” she declared listing more than 60 conflict areas she’s been in, including Syria, Afghanistan, China, Yemen and Sri Lanka.
“The reason is because in any war zone there is at least some logic to the violence and suffering. In Nauru there is absolutely no reason for the suffering to which they [refugees] are being subjected," she said.
"They fled to find safety and reach a society where they believed their rights would be respected. Instead they’re in an open air prison and subjected to humiliation and abuse and their minds are not coping with that.”
She added that Amnesty had found that the conditions to which refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru are subjected “amounts to torture”.
“We have not said this before but after legal analysis there is no other conclusion we can come to."
The Amnesty report claims that given the refugees’ severe mental anguish, the intentional nature of the system and the fact that the goal of offshore processing is to intimidate or coerce other refugees and asylum-seekers to achieve a specific outcome, it qualifies Australia’s offshore processing regime to fit the definition of torture under international law.
“The Australian Government’s policy is the exact opposite of what countries should be pursuing. It is a model that minimizes protection and maximizes harm. The only direction in which Australia is leading the world on refugees is in a dangerous plunge to the bottom,” she said.
A nationwide poll conducted in November revealed that 54 per cent of the population agreed with the government's policy of sending asylum seekers to detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
On Monday, Anadolu Agency requested a response to the allegations from the office of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, but by 8 p.m. local time (0800GMT) had received no reply.