“Intolerable Cruelty” And “Torture”: Amnesty International Condemns Australia’s Refugee Policies

One expert said conditions on Nauru are worse than they are in Syria and Chechnya.

Nauru offshore detention

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Global humanitarian group Amnesty International has escalated its criticisms of Australia’s offshore detention regime, calling Nauru an “open-air prison” and saying conditions on the island “amount to torture.” Released on Monday evening, a report titled Island of Despair is based on interviews with over 50 refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, along with current and former contract workers, and accuses the Australian government of running “a deliberate policy to inflict harm on refugees.”

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“In furtherance of a policy to deter people arriving by boat, the Government of Australia has made a calculation in which the intolerable cruelty and the destruction of the physical and mental integrity of hundreds of children, men and women, has been chosen as a tool of government policy,” reads the report. “In so doing the Government of Australia is in breach of international human rights law and international refugee law.”

The report details numerous horrors, including the physical abuse of children by centre guards, negligent medical practices, and suicide attempts by pregnant women and children.

According to Amnesty, a failure to ensure a safe environment on Nauru meant that refugees who had been released into the community often felt more at risk than they did in detention. “No matter how horrible the detention was — and the conditions in detention were — quite a few families and children themselves told me that now that they’re in the community, they feel less safe because they’re subjected to attacks from the local population,” Amnesty senior research director Anna Neistat told the ABC.

“[Children] simply cannot go to school because there as well they are subjected to attacks and there’s absolutely nothing being done about this by the authorities,” she continued.

Neistat told the public broadcaster that conditions on Nauru are worse, in her experience, than they are in Syria and Chechnya. She also told The Sydney Morning Herald that the UN Committee Against Torture should investigate, saying that “we definitely think the Australian government is violating international law.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dismissed the report on ABC radio this morning, calling accusations of torture “absolutely false.”

Feature image via Amnesty International.