Amnesty International yesterday joined 80 other non-governmental organizations in urging Pacific leaders to demand the closure of an Australian-funded immigration detention camp on Nauru when they meet in the tiny island nation next week.
The 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum is to hold its annual summit in Nauru from Monday to Thursday, with delegates meeting just a few kilometers from the camp dubbed “Australia’s Guantanamo.”
The camp houses asylum seekers who have tried to reach Australia by boat and are processed in remote facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea under Canberra’s hardline immigration policies.
Australia has said offshore processing is necessary to deter illegal boat arrivals and prevent deaths at sea on the treacherous journey.
Amnesty, along with the 80 other groups, released an open letter calling on regional leaders to act and end “a stain on the region.”
“Pacific island leaders cannot ignore this issue any longer and need to ensure that it is at the very top of the forum’s agenda,” Amnesty’s Pacific researcher Roshika Deo said.
“This is a desperate situation that requires urgent action. Regional leaders must show that they will not stand by while the Australian government’s abusive policies continue to risk more lives,” Deo said.
The rights groups said asylum seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island have been subjected to “cruel and degrading treatment” that must stop.
“[There are] widespread reports of violence against refugees in Papua New Guinea, and violence and sexual harassment of women and children on Nauru,” the groups said in the letter.
There are more than 200 people in the Nauru facility, including dozens of children, the Refugee Council of Australia said.
Human rights advocates have said that asylum seekers are suffering mental health issues under the strain of indefinite detention, citing reports of despondent children harming themselves.
However, the Canberra-funded facility has been an economic lifeline for Nauru, which has an area of only 21km2 and has depleted its only natural resource, phosphate.
The Nauruan government has imposed strict conditions on media covering the regional summit, threatening to revoke journalists’ visas if they capture images of the camps or asylum seekers.
It has also limited the number of reporters attending and has barred Australia’s public broadcaster, Australian Broadcasting Corp, after taking exception to its coverage.