Australia's Horrifying Migrant Camps Condemned
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Australia’s hard-line policy toward boat-bound migration has all but stopped the flow of refugees and migrants arriving on its shores in recent years. But Australia’s migrant crisis hasn’t gone away, it has simply shifted locations.
The horrific conditions of offshore migrant detention centres have led to an epidemic of self-harm. Two refugees have set themselves on fire, one died, while another remains in critical condition.
The Australian military intercepts most migrant boats and sends them back to where they came from, typically Indonesia.
Migrants who do reach Australian territory by sea are barred from ever settling in the country. Instead, they are sent to Australian-run detention camps on the Pacific island of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island while their asylum claims are reviewed, a process that takes a year on average.
If they are deemed genuine refugees, and around 90 percent are, they are given refugee status on the islands, or in a few cases, Cambodia. Australian leaders say the country’s tough approach deters dangerous sea crossings and thus ends up saving lives.
But the U.N.’s refugee agency says the prolonged detention of some 2,000 refugees in the secretive camps is ‘completely untenable.’
The camps have long been plagued by high levels of self-harm. Australian immigration authorities recorded 188 incidents of self-harm by detainees in Nauru during the first half of 2015. Attempting suicide is a criminal offense in Nauru, and last month an Iranian refugee was convicted of trying to take his life on the island.
‘The consensus among medical experts is that conditions of detention and offshore processing do immense damage to physical and mental health,’ the Australian office for the U.N.’s refugee agency said, adding that refugees should be moved to humane conditions. The camps are largely off-limits to reporters, and camp employees are banned from discussing them.
However, undercover journalists and whistle-blowers depict unsanitary and dangerous conditions, which the U.N. says could breach conventions prohibiting torture. Detainees have been involved in deadly riots and hunger strikes, and have even stitched their lips together in protest. Undercover footage from one camp showed mouldy tents and graffiti reading: ‘Kill us.’
Last week, Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled the Manus detention centre unconstitutional and ordered it closed. Australia has vowed not to change its policy on offshore detention, which the High Court of Australian upheld in February, but has not yet said where it will send the hundreds of detainees currently at Manus, adding to the uncertainty and distress of refugees at the camp.
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