Australia has rejected allegations that asylum seekers at a processing camp in Papaua New Guinea were treated inhumanely in violation of international law, insisting that the off-shore processing regime would remain in place.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Friday responded to an Amnesty International report that described PNG’s Manus Island camp as “excessively cruel and prison-like”.
Morrison said the government would consider recommendations in good faith, but denied that conditions amounted to torture and said there was no restriction on the amount of water people received.
“No, I don’t (agree),” he said, when asked whether conditions were tantamount to torture.
The report highlighted the conditions of Oscar compound, the largest on the island, in which the 500 men detained there are given access to the equivalent of 500ml of water a day. “An amount that is clearly insufficient, especially given the heat and humidity,” the report states.
It said conditions in compounds were cramped and stifling hot, detainees were being denied sufficient water and medical help, and some had reported finding snakes in their room and flooding when it rained.
“Aspects of detention on Manus Island violate the obligation to treat all persons in detention humanely,” it said.
“The combined effect of the conditions of detention on Manus Island, the open-ended nature of that detention, and the uncertainty about their fates to which detainees are subjected amounts to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment.
“Moreover, some conditions of detention, particularly the housing of detainees in P Dorm, on their own violate the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment.”
The report also outlines the crowded conditions in the World War II-era hangars where more than 100 men sleep in close quarters. There were also some unaccompanied boys at the camp, according to the report.
None of the asylum seekers held on Manus Island in the 13 months since it opened have received Refugee Status Determination, leaving the men in a state of anxiousness.
“Australia is responsible for these violations because it has effective power and control over the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island,” said the report.
No policy change
Amnesty also outlined the poor treatment of men being transferred to the camp.
“Security guards wake them up in the middle of the night or early in the morning and then make them wait for hours,” it said.
“Asylum seekers are pressured to sign statements that they are undertaking the journey to Papua New Guinea voluntarily, although this is patently not the case.”
Morrison said while the government would seek improvements where they could be made, there would be no change to its policy of processing those arriving on unauthorised boats at the offshore camps.
“All I am saying is that the key recommendation from both the UNHCR and Amnesty report is that offshore processing should be abolished. We are clearly not going to do that,” he said.
“We’re very happy for official groups to go into these centres and they can provide their reports, and they can make their suggestions and we will take them in good faith and identify the things we can address.”
Australia has been sending asylum-seekers to facilities on Manus and the small Pacific state of Nauru since late 2012, giving them no chance of resettlement in Australia, in a bid to stem the flow of unauthorised boats.