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Amnesty slams Australia over asylum camps

Rights group says conditions at Pacific island of Nauru brings country "in breach of international obligations".
Last Modified: 23 Nov 2012 12:17

Rights group Amnesty has said that Australia is "serious breach of its international obligations" after visiting a camp for asylum-seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru. 

The camp set up by Australia to house asylum-seekers was "appalling" and likely in breach of its obligations to refugees, rights group Amnesty said on Friday.

"These are appalling conditions and they are completely unacceptable for vulnerable people, many of who have suffered torture and trauma"

- Amnesty Australia's Graham Thom

Australia began sending asylum-seekers to Nauru in September as part of a new policy of processing boat people offshore to deter others from making the risky sea journey Down Under which has claimed hundreds of lives.

The government says all refugees are treated humanely but Amnesty Australia's Graham Thom, who visited Nauru this week, said the 386 men held on the island were in "extremely harsh" conditions.

He said they slept in tents crowded with some 15 other men which leaked when it rained.

"I think it is fair to say that Australia is again in serious breach of its international obligations," Thom told AFP news agency as Amnesty released a report Friday on the Nauru camp.

"These are appalling conditions and they are completely unacceptable for vulnerable people, many of who have suffered torture and trauma."

Suicide risk 

Amnesty, which wants Canberra to close the Nauru centre, described the situation on the rocky island as a toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions.

It said the island camp failed to give the men appropriate accommodation, freedom of movement, or any sort of process to address their claims for asylum, and could result in serious mental trauma or even death.

"What we've seen with this sort of detention in the past is that it does break people and people ultimately do kill themselves or seriously hurt themselves," Thom added, saying the mental anguish it caused could last years.

Several asylum-seekers are on hunger strike, with Thom saying one man had shed 19kg after refusing food for more than 40 days.

"And he says, 'I just can't be here. I prefer death than being here because this is so horrible'," Thom said.

Others claim to have been tortured and detained in their home countries, and being held on Nauru was reopening the trauma.

"We met a couple of men who were blinded by shrapnel and one of the men still has shrapnel in his face. He says when it gets really hot, the pain is just unbearable," Thom said.

Thom added that frustrations were building among the asylum-seekers due to a lack of sleep and privacy and the seeming injustice that they were being processed on Nauru while others were being dealt with in Australia.

He added that during the day there was nowhere for the men to go, with the tents too hot to be occupied until late when it often rained, resulting in water lapping into them and dripping onto bedding.

"They just can't get away from being watched," he said of the detainees, about half of whom are from Sri Lanka, with others from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

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Source:
Agencies
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