Leave it the Department of Immigration to provide a Kafkaesque grace note to the new report by two of the world’s most respected human rights bodies, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, on the conditions in which asylum seekers are kept on Nauru.

In response to the report, which had to be researched incognito by the agencies because of the refusal of the Nauruan government to allow any external scrutiny of how it treats Australia’s asylum seeker detainees, the Immigration Department refused to comment to the ABC, on the basis it hadn’t been consulted. Given the Immigration Department collaborates closely with the Nauruan government in attempting to prevent any external scrutiny of the treatment of asylum seekers occurring, it provides a perfect justification for never responding to any evidence of abuse.

But then the Immigration bureaucrats went further and said that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch should have checked with the department before “airing” any claims in the report. That is, Immigration wants a right of veto over any report about what’s being done to, or not being done for, asylum seeker detainees.

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That a client state of Australia — in effect a banana republic that has abandoned the rule of law by sacking judges and attacking MPs — resists even the most basic scrutiny of its human rights abuses by respected independent agencies is bad enough; that Canberra bureaucrats are collaborating in this despite evidence of widespread, and possibly systemic, human rights breaches is the stuff of royal commissions and future parliamentary apologies, by which time the bureaucrats responsible will have long since moved on or taken their generous public service superannuation.

The report, however, provides much worse — extensive details of the mistreatment and abuse of detainees (despite the rushed “release” of most detainees from detention in response to litigation in Australia, they of course remain unable to leave the island). Let’s just concentrate on two of the many concerns raised in the report, health services and the ability of asylum seekers to “settle” into the community on Nauru.

[Nauru is your fault. It’s time to stop pretending it’s not happening]

The provision of health services, and especially mental health services, to asylum seekers has been known for many years to be crucially important in offshore processing, and has been the subject of parliamentary committee reports and recommendations by the Houston-Aristotle-L’Estrange panel report to the Gillard government, as well as efforts by the Immigration Department to gag medical professionals from revealing the appalling state of healthcare on Nauru. The Amnesty/HRW report confirms that the poor or non-provision of health services continues. Asylum seeker patients don’t have complaints taken seriously, they are given painkillers rather than treatment; obstetric and neonatal quality of care is abysmal and provided in septic conditions; detainee medical services provider IHMS is accused of failing to provide any treatment for more complex or chronic medical problems; and asylum seekers are unable to, or must spend months waiting for, travel to PNG or Australia for treatment that is not available on Nauru. A victim of female genital mutilation was given no treatment; mental health patients accuse IHMS of relying heavily on sedatives and anti-psychotics.

IHMS rejects the claims made about the poor quality of its treatment — but of course due to Immigration’s and the Nauruan government’s policy of preventing external scrutiny, no verification or refutation is possible.

As Crikey noted in 2014, there is no way for Immigration to be unaware of long-running, verifiable claims of lack of health services for detainees. The persistence of significant problems in health services provision can only be the result of a policy of wilful neglect by the Immigration Department.

[‘Nauru is hell on Earth’: kids beg not to be sent back]

The Amnesty/HRW report also illustrates the extent to which the idea that asylum seekers who are found to be genuine refugees can “resettle” on Nauru is a bloody-minded fiction. The report gives example after example of how refugees are kept out of the Nauruan community, with every refugee interviewed giving accounts of being attacked, intimidated or harassed by Nauruans. Female refugees are terrified to travel outside the detention camp unless in groups or with male companions, given repeated rapes and attempted rapes by locals; one woman reported marrying another refugee merely for protection, another that, having secured a job on the island (presumably exactly the kind of integration that the Australian and Nauruan governments would like to see), she had to immediately quit after sustained physical harassment by colleagues. Male refugees are also attacked and robbed. Complaints to Nauruan police about assaults, including sexual assaults, are often disregarded, or police actively discourage refugees from making complaints, with these claims verified by service providers. The children of refugees are bullied so badly at school they stop going, with 85% of asylum seeker and refugee children not in school. Quite what either the Australian or Nauruan governments expect to do with uneducated children in the years ahead isn’t clear.

As with the lack of health care services, the unwillingness of the Australian and Nauruan governments to facilitate integration and “resettlement” doesn’t even make sense within the strict confines of the policy of offshore processing. Failing to provide basic healthcare means refugees’ health deteriorates, problems become more complex and more chronic and require more specialist, more expensive treatment not available on Nauru or, often, even PNG. Failing to enable refugees to even begin “resettling” within the Nauruan community defies the government’s argument that they will be “resettled” elsewhere than Australia; they are not being resettled even in the country that ostensibly has taken them in, in exchange for a massive bribe from Canberra.

The only meaningful conclusion to be drawn from the report about Australian policy is that we no longer have offshore processing, we simply have offshore dumping, with the department of Immigration, and the bureaucrats running it, adopting a policy of deliberate, malicious neglect of people in our care.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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