A new Amnesty International report issued Tuesday revealed widespread abuses against asylum seekers being detained in Australia's notorious offshore facility at Nauru.
Refugees attempting to reach Australia by boat to apply for asylum were taken by Australian authorities to Nauru and other offshore camps while their asylum claims were processed. However, most of them have now been there for years, with no progress on their asylum applications, are unable to leave, and face denial of health care, physical, and sexual abuse.
"The Australian government’s failure to address serious abuses appears to be a deliberate policy to deter further asylum seekers from arriving in the country by boat," the Amnesty report read. "Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, most of whom have been held there for three years, routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans."
Self-harm and suicides have become routine as the situation in Nauru grows more dire. In April, an Iranian man died after he self-immolated. Less than a week later, a 19-year-old Somali woman also set herself on fire to protest treatment in the camp.
At the time, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton responded by saying that refugee advocates were "encouraging some of these people to behave in a certain way."
Specialized medical equipment and staff are not available on the island, and refugees and asylum seekers report long delays in receiving appropriate treatment for serious conditions. (Amnesty International)
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, however, blamed the tough offshore detention policies.
"The consensus among medical experts is that conditions of detention and offshore processing do immense damage to physical and mental health," the UNHCR office said in a statement.
“Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom," said Anna Neistat, Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International.
Nauru, which lies some 1,800 miles northeast of Australia, was already impoverished, devastated by years of phosphate mining with few job opportunities available. Basic services for health and education are inadequate, compounding the suffering for the families transferred there.
Australia's immigration policy has drawn international and domestic criticism, but so far the government has defended the policy, saying it has served to deter more people from making a dangerous boat journey.
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