Attacks on refugees are occurring “on a daily basis” on Nauru, according to human rights researchers who secretly went to Nauru to investigate Australia’s offshore immigration detention centre.
The report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented daily abuses against detainees and widespread trauma, as well as the culture of secrecy and complicitness by Australian authorities.
Anna Neistat, senior director of research at Amnesty, legally entered the island nation with Michael Bochenek, senior counsel on children’s rights at Human Rights Watch, to secretly examine the offshore immigration system for 12 days last month, and she was shocked by the scale of violence and ill health.
The access gained by the duo goes far beyond what the Australian and Nauruan governments have attempted to permit or encourage. Most requests by journalists to visit are rejected, service providers face criminal charges for disclosing information, Facebook has been banned, and human rights observers have been denied access or strictly limited in their visit.
Neistat and Bochenek spoke with about 60 people, including four service providers, and Neistat told the Guardian she was unprepared for what she found on Nauru.
“I’ve been doing this work for 15 years, covering mainly warzones and closed countries and I think I’ve seen my fair share of human rights abuses and injustice,” she said.
“But the level of secrecy and the fact that these abuses are perpetrated not in the context of a war zone, not in context of an inherently oppressive government cracking down on its citizens, but that these abuses are perpetrated or condoned by Australia, and against the most vulnerable people, some of whom fled the most oppressive conflict areas in the world.”
Neistat also found that the death of Omid Masoumali earlier this year has had a devastating effect on the 1,200 detainees, triggering rapid declines in mental health and prompting some acts of self harm.
She said people were keen to speak to her, but she was shocked that many reported their families didn’t know where they were or if they did, what it was like there.
“They are so desperate, so appalled that the world at large does know what’s going on, and that people in Australia perhaps do know and don’t do anything about it,” Neistat said.
Neistat’s report found the physical safety of refugees and asylum seekers, including children, was of “serious concern”, and healthcare was poor.
The investigators reported cases of Nauruans assaulting and robbing refugees and asylum seekers, at all hours and sometimes at knifepoint. The report said more than 20 of the 58 interviewed had been attacked by locals.
“It’s been hard to imagine the scale of attacks on refugees,” Neistat said. “They do happen on a daily basis, I’m not exaggerating. Especially on the weekend when people get drunk.”
Refugees and asylum seekers were too afraid to leave their accommodation at night, and women reported feeling intimidated and being subject to daily harassment, as well as sexual harassment and assaults.
The report described one woman who said she caught a lift with two Nauruan men who then tried to drive her to the jungle “clearly intending to rape her”.
One woman said she had to quit her job after employees kept touching her, and another said she married for protection after being released into the community: “After I left the camp, I felt very unsafe, I could not go out. I decided to marry a man who is 15 years older, just to have protection,” she said in the report.
“If you are alone, everything is a struggle. At least he could go shopping or accompany me. Now he is in the hospital and I have to rely on my case manager if I need to go out of the house.”
Neistat said that just like the violence, the scale of medical issues was “mindboggling” and said people were routinely denied medical records or had their transfers to Australia for treatment delayed by sometimes months.
“Everyone had medical issues, and rapidly deteriorating because adequate medical care was not available,” she said.
The report noted one case:
A young man with diabetes said that after he lost 27 kilograms (60 pounds), he went to the IHMS manager. The manager told him that such weight loss is “normal” and that he only would be “moderately worried” if the weight loss continued. The family recorded the conversation on a mobile phone and provided a copy to researchers.
Neistat said almost everyone she spoke with mentioned 23-year-old Omid Massoumali, who died of injuries when he set himself on fire earlier this year.
“Almost everyone witnessed it,” she said, either the initial act or when he was in hospital immediately after.
She said people were shocked that he died, because he had been conscious and walking in the hospital, crying out in pain.
Neistat spoke to one refugee who said Massoumali had burns to less than half his body and she believed that if Nauru had adequate medical care he would have survived.
Niestat also said a number of people pointed to his death as a triggering event which contributed to their own acts of self harm or attempts at suicide.
The researchers noted the secrecy of Australian and Nauruan governments and their attempts to prevent any information about the conditions inside the centre becoming public.
They called for the Australian government to immediately resettle people in Australia, and close the centre.
Neistat said she hoped the rest of the world would pay more attention to what was happening under Australian government policy.
“I think given how much attention there has been on the refugee crisis in Europe it’s stunning that this part of the refugee crisis has not received much attention,” she said.
“It’s true there has been reports and I do feel that those who do not know just chose to not know, but particularly I hope a joint investigation by two large human rights organisations will bring additional focus on the issue.”
Source: The Guardian