Australia: Asylum seekers held in cruel prison-like offshore regime
The Australian government is holding more than 1,000 asylum seekers in shameful conditions in a processing centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, Amnesty International said today as it published a new report.
The report details how asylum seekers are being held in a prison-like regime, in extremely cramped compounds in stifling heat, while being denied sufficient water and medical help. Most have fled horrific situations and risked their lives in their efforts to reach Australia.
Amnesty International Australia National Director Claire Mallinson said:
“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.
“The Australian policy is cruelly ironic. Australia recognises the dangerous situation in countries like Syria and Burma. It knows these people have risked life and limb to escape, but then they are held in prison-like conditions and denied their right to seek asylum.”
Amnesty International’s report This Is Breaking People: Human Rights Violations at Australia’s Asylum Seeker Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea is based on a recent research visit to Manus Island from 11-16 November.
It details the appalling conditions in the centre, where only 55 out of more than 1,000 asylum seekers have been able to start processing a claim for refugee status.
Many of the asylum seekers being held on Manus Island have fled well-known conflict areas including Afghanistan, Darfur, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. Others have fled situations of extreme discrimination and statelessness, including Rohingyas from Burma and Bidun from the Gulf region, and have nowhere to return to.
Some told how they have contemplated suicide because of the harsh and humiliating conditions.
One 43-year old Iraqi said: “I have lived in war zones, with bombs and explosions. I have never experienced what I am experiencing here with the uncertainty we face. If we had died in the ocean that would have been better.”
The inhumane treatment is pressuring potential refugees to choose to return to their country of origin. This is a serious breach of Australia’s obligations under international law, exposing the individuals to the risk of return to places where they will likely be persecuted or potentially tortured.
The Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (RPC) is essentially an Australian-run facility based on Papua New Guinean soil. The Australian authorities are closely involved in every aspect of the arrest, transfer, and detention of asylum seekers. The Australian authorities also contract the security guards, service and health providers, and has overall involvement in the day-to-day running of the facility.
Amnesty has declared the current policy of offshore processing a spectacular failure on all fronts.
Amnesty calls on the Australian government to immediately review the Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea and end offshore processing and the offshore detention of asylum seekers. All asylum seekers held in the Manus Island detention centre must be transferred back to Australian territory and given full access to asylum procedures in Australia.
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 Papua New Guinea 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.