Australia holds asylum seekers in 'cruel, prison-like' regime

By staff writers
December 12, 2013

The Australian government is holding more than 1,000 asylum seekers in shameful conditions in a processing centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, says Amnesty International.

A report published on 11 December 2013 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.

“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,” said Amnesty International Australia’s National Director Claire Mallinson.

“The policy of shipping asylum seekers, many of whom have suffered terribly in their home countries, to offshore facilities has to end.”

Amnesty'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 11-16 November research visit to Manus Island.

It details the appalling conditions in the centre, where only 55 out of more than 1,000 asylum seekers have been able to start a claim for refugee status.

“The Australian policy is cruelly ironic. Australia recognises the dangerous situation in countries like Syria and Myanmar. 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,” said Claire Mallinson.

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 Myanmar 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. Australian authorities are closely involved in every aspect of the arrest, transfer, and detention of asylum seekers. It also contracts the security guards, service and health providers, and has overall involvement in the day-to-day running of the facility.


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