“Prisons are for bad people, right? Bad people are the men who hurt my father [in Iran]. Why am I in prison? Does that mean I am a bad person?” a 7-year-old boy from Iran keeps asking a service provider at the Nauru detention camp. The man has no answer for the little boy.
Amnesty International's latest report on the Australian island of Nauru is full of harrowing statistics.
It is not uncommon for desperate detainees to try and kill themselves. The document is full of traumatic tales of people trying to take their lives; an Iranian refugee, who tried to kill herself multiple times every week, had to eventually be put in a medical ward and a man found his pregnant wife in the bathroom with rope marks on her neck.
Life on the island is miserable, made more so by the authorities. The stories include asylum seekers being taken from showers with shampoo still in their hair and that of others having to wait weeks and even months to get basic necessities like underwear and shoes.
"The Australian government is subjecting refugees and asylum seekers to an elaborate and cruel system of abuse — brazenly flouting international law — just to keep them away from its shores," says the report.
“On Nauru, the Australian government runs an open-air prison designed to inflict as much suffering as necessary to stop some of the world’s most vulnerable people from trying to find safety in Australia,” says Anna Neistat, Amnesty International’s senior director for research.
“The government of Australia has isolated vulnerable women, men and children in a remote place which they cannot leave, with the specific intention that these people should suffer. And suffer they have — it has been devastating and in some cases, irreparable,” she went on to elaborate.
Australia is notorious for its “boat turnback” policy that forces asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores to return or seek refugee somewhere else, mainly in detention camps like Nauru or the Manus Island in Papua New Guinea for “offshore processing” — a misleading term that means nothing more than indefinite detention under appalling conditions.
Most of the island is uninhabitable and environmentally ravaged by generations of phosphate mining.
Add human rights violations to the equation and the situation becomes unbearable.
Earlier this year, Tracey Donehue, a teacher recounted the horrors she had witnessed at Nauru refugee camp.
“I witnessed death threats made to my students by local guards. I witnessed a very large guard lift and throw a student with force into the ground and a metal rail,” she said. “I witnessed the daily verbal abuse and taunts that my students endured. I witnessed the appalling treatment of rape victims.”
Despite documentation and condemnation by various countries as well as international organizations like the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, there really isn't much pressure on the Australian government to improve either the conditions or the process of "vetting the refuge seekers."
In fact, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull holds that Amnesty International's claims are "absolutely false."
"I reject that claim totally. It is absolutely false," said Malcolm Turnbull.
"The Australian government's commitment is compassionate and strong," he added.
Queensland's senator Ian Macdonald feels the same:
But the facts speak otherwise.
Well, that didn't take long. I have been blocked by the "Government" of Nauru. A truly cruel and humiliating blow...— Mike Carlton (@MikeCarlton01) October 18, 2016
The only way to end the suffering of innocent children on Nauru is to get them off the island prison. Leaving them there is torture.— Sarah Hanson-Young (@sarahinthesen8) October 17, 2016
Amnesty International holds strong that the detention island is in fact a "systematic regime of neglect and cruelty."
"The conditions on Nauru — refugees' severe mental anguish, the intentional nature of the system, and the fact that the goal of offshore processing is to intimidate or coerce people to achieve a specific outcome — amounts to torture," the report says.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, David Gray