Amnesty International has lambasted Australia’s deliberate systematic neglect and cruelty inflicted upon refugees kept on the “open-air prison” of Nauru island in the Pacific Ocean.
The London-based rights organization has released a detailed and shocking report titled “Island of Despair” about the refugees’ desperate conditions on the island after months of research.
It said Australian authorities have subjected asylum seekers to an elaborate and cruel system of abuse, which blatantly violates international law.
“On Nauru, the Australian government runs an open-air prison designed to inflict as much suffering as necessary to stop some of the world’s most vulnerable people from trying to find safety in Australia,” Amnesty's Anna Neistat said.
The report said the system under which asylum seekers and refugees are treated amounts to “torture.”
According to Australia’s tough immigration policy, those who venture to reach the country by boat in an attempt to seek asylum are intercepted and sent for processing at remote camps.
Those camps are based in the tiny Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where refugees are forced to serve an indefinite mandatory detention without any chance of resettlement in Australia.
"The government of Australia has isolated vulnerable women, men and children in a remote place which they cannot leave, with the specific intention that these people should suffer," Amnesty's report said.
"And suffer they have – it has been devastating and in some cases, irreparable,” the report added.
Back in early August, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch said Canberra intentionally followed an inhumane policy of mistreating asylum seekers in a bid to deter others from attempting to sail to the country.
“The Australian government’s policy is the exact opposite of what countries should be pursuing. It is a model that minimizes protection and maximizes harm," Neistat said on Monday.
"The only direction in which Australia is leading the world on refugees is in a dangerous plunge to the bottom,” she added.
The report catalogued an “epidemic of self-harm” among some 1,200 detainees and violent crimes, including sexual assaults, inside and outside the camps on Nauru.
It said deterioration of mental health was observed among a growing number of the detainees, particularly children, presumably due to prolonged periods of indefinite detention.
“This policy of legitimizing systematic abuse is not only a dead end for refugees – it is also a dead end for Australia," Neistat said.
"It has earned Australia unique notoriety as a country that will do everything it can to make sure refugees don’t reach its shores and to punish people who dared to try,” she added.
PM Turnbull defiant
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday flatly rejected the report as “absolutely false,” denying the country's refugee policy amounts to torture.
He claimed that the offshore processing was a vital deterrent to discourage potential asylum seekers from coming by boats to Australia.
"The Australian government's commitment is compassionate and it's strong. As far as Nauru is concerned... there is a very substantial investment there, to improve the circumstances of the people that are there,” he said.
Some 1,200 asylum seekers and refugees are currently kept in dire conditions among some 10,000 local residents of the island country, which rests some 4,000 kilometers from Australia.