UN demands Australia to close ‘dire’ offshore detention centres
Australia must close its “dire and untenable” offshore immigration detention centres, the United Nations has again told the country, following the release of the Nauru files by The Guardian, which has exposed widespread and systemic abuse on the island.
Guardian Australia this week published more than 2,000 leaked incident reports – running to more than 8,000 pages – which revealed a regime of routine dysfunction and cruelty, showing widespread sexual and physical abuse of men, women and children, massive rates of self-harm and suicide attempts among those detained, and harsh living conditions in indefinite detention.
Speaking in Geneva, a spokeswoman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said : “We are extremely concerned about the serious allegations of violence, sexual assault, degrading treatment and self-harm contained in more than 1,000 incident reports from offshore processing centres on Nauru, many of which reportedly involved children.
“We have conducted regular visits to Nauru in recent years and many of the allegations contained in the documents are, sadly, consistent with the findings from these visits. We have regularly and persistently brought these to the attention of the governments of Nauru and of Australia.”
Of the asylum seekers who have had their claims assessed on Nauru, 77 per cent have been found to be refugees, that is, they have fled a “well-founded fear of persecution” and are legally owed protection. The majority on Nauru have been held for more than three years.
Shamdasani said asylum seekers and refugees held in Australian-run offshore detention were growing sicker and more distressed the longer they were held.
This is supported by the Australian government’s own internal documents, which show that the mental health of people in detention, but most acutely children, deteriorates dramatically the longer they are held without prospect of release.
“Teams from our office have witnessed many of the migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, including children, in Nauru suffering from severe mental health problems as a result of their detention and lack of certainty,” Shamdasani said.
“Their situation has become increasingly dire and untenable, exacerbated by the indefinite nature of their time in Nauru, or for that matter in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.”
Several arms of the UN have repeatedly condemned Australia’s offshore regime, including the UN high commissioner for human rights, the UN committee against torture, the UN special rapporteur on torture, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and the UN high commissioner for refugees.
Shamdasani repeated the UN’s position that Australia must end offshore processing.
“We have consistently called on the authorities in Nauru and Australia to put an end to the model of processing and keeping migrants offshore,” she said.
“We call on Australia and Nauru to expeditiously end the immigration detention of children, and urge the authorities to institute human rights-compliant alternatives.”
Meanwhile, the former prime minister Tony Abbott, who was elected to office on a policy platform of “stopping the boats” – the arrival by sea of asylum seekers to Australia – has said he laments blocking the previous Labour government’s “Malaysia Solution”, which would have led to 800 boat arrivals to Australia being sent to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 UNHCR-registered refugees in that country to be brought to Australia.
The rationale for the policy was to deter people from taking dangerous boat journeys to Australia, but the policy was vociferously opposed by the Abbott-led opposition and ultimately defeated in the high court because Malaysia is not a state party to the UN refugees convention.
In a speech to the Samuel Griffith Society on Friday night, Abbott said he wondered about the wisdom of opposing, and ultimately defeating, the policy, even if he did not support it.
“The 800 boatpeople that could have been sent to Malaysia was less than a month’s intake, even then. I doubt it would have worked.
“Still, letting it stand would have been an acknowledgment of the government-of-the-day’s mandate to do the best it could, by its own lights, to meet our nation’s challenges. It would have been a step back from the hyper-partisanship that now poisons our public life.”
The executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser, said the Australian government had established a system that “inflicts tremendous harm on innocent people, including children”.
“No policy challenges justify inflicting this harm on innocent people. We are responsible for the harm. We can’t turn a blind eye. We have to end this now by brining these people here to safety.”