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Australia: Denial of access to Nauru offshore asylum detention centre is latest attempt to avoid public scrutiny

Nauru’s refusal to grant Amnesty International access to its Australian-run asylum seeker detention centre appears to be the latest attempt to avoid public scrutiny of the treatment of asylum seekers there.

The Nauru government has declined Amnesty’s request to visit the detention centre, based on "the current circumstances and incredibly busy time," despite the organisation’s suggestion of alternative dates.

This latest obstruction follows Nauru reneging earlier this month on allowing a team of UN human rights observers to access the centre, citing "practical difficulties."

In February the cost of visas for journalists visiting Nauru was increased dramatically from AUD $200 to $8,000 (the equivalent of increasing the charge from around £100 to around £4,000).

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director, said:

"Nauru’s refusals to allow an independent review of the conditions in the detention centre are another damning development in Australia’s offshore asylum processing system.

“Instead of blocking independent oversight, Australia and Nauru should do everything they can to facilitate visits from the UN and others aimed at helping to improve the situation.

"Australia must halt transfers of asylum seekers to Nauru and elsewhere, end offshore processing and offshore detention of asylum seekers, and in the meantime immediately process the requests of those now held on the island and provide safe, stable and prompt resettlement options."

Since July last year, when Australia began transferring the current population of refugees to Nauru, not a single asylum seeker has received a refugee status decision and there is still no clarity about where or when they will be resettled.

They continue to live in legal limbo, which adds to the already enormous psychological strain of being an asylum seeker.

There have been recent news reports about the discovery of an unexploded artillery shell in an area of the detention centre that houses children and families, as well as allegations that guards at the centre have assaulted children, raising further concerns about the safety of asylum seekers there.

An Amnesty International report in November 2012 found that asylum seekers in the Nauru detention centre were living in cramped conditions and routinely suffered from physical and mental problems.

Similarly, in November, Amnesty visited the Australian-run detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and reported that the deliberately harsh, humiliating conditions at the facility were designed to pressure asylum seekers to return to their country of origin, regardless of whether or not they were refugees.

Recent news reports suggest that Australia may now be pursuing an agreement with Cambodia to resettle asylum seekers there.

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