Nauru: 'terrible spiral' of despair revealed

21 Nov, 2012 05:21 AM
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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL has implored the Gillard government to begin processing the 387 asylum seekers on Nauru and to rethink its strategy for curbing boat arrivals after describing conditions at the island's camp as ''completely unacceptable''.

A delegation from the human rights body expressed shock at the conditions at the camp after being given access on Tuesday, saying they were tougher than at any mainland detention centre and responsible for a ''terrible spiral'' of self-harm, hunger strikes and suicide attempts.

''Processing has to start straight away, or at least tell people when it's going to start and what the time frame is going to be,'' Amnesty's Graham Thom said after meeting more than 100 detainees.

Dr Thom spoke of cramped conditions in which up to 14 men were living in a single tent.

''In summer, in the heat, it gets to over 40 degrees during the day in those tents and it was certainly very hot and humid when we were in there. When it's raining, as it is now, the tents are leaking and their bedding gets wet at night,'' he said.

Several of those who met the delegation complained of skin conditions that were a consequence of the humidity and wet bedding, a problem that was likely to worsen during the monsoon, Dr Thom said.

The scathing criticism of the centre was dismissed by a spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, who said: ''Conditions in Nauru at times may not be pleasant, but they are the same conditions immigration staff and service providers are working under.''

He said it was not unusual for the processing of claims to take several months to begin.

''It should not come as a surprise that Amnesty does not agree with the regional processing centre on Nauru,'' he said.

Dr Thom urged the government to have a ''close, hard look'' at what it was trying to achieve on Nauru, saying the most poignant moments of the visit were meeting people who had self-harmed or been on hunger strikes. One of those interviewed was distressed because his brother had been killed on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan last week.

''All they think is that they've been brought here to be driven crazy so they'll volunteer to go home. That's what they are telling us - and without being able to tell them anything about the processing, how do you dispel those rumours?'' he said.

''In the front of their minds is the fact that they are not being processed and the uncertainty is clearly having an impact on their mental health. We saw people who showed us scars where they have cut themselves. They highlighted a pole where somebody had tried to hang themselves.''

Mr Bowen's spokesman dismissed the criticism, saying food and water were available at all times, as was access to medical care and mental health professionals. Recreational activities included sports, English and other classes and excursions.

Meanwhile, Nauruan police intend to pursue wilful damage and riot charges against two asylum seekers who returned to Iran before facing court over a disturbance at the processing centre in September. The Police Commissioner, Richard Britten, said ''crimes have been committed and you don't get away with it''.

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COMMENTS

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Power play obviously didn't do to well with your accounting course. Diesel fuel rebates for a
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"incorruptibility", what is he smoking?, doesn't he watch the nightly news?
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Better still Colin, what hope does the levy payer have without identification, a democratic say