The Only Way Out.

A drawing by a 16-year-old girl from Iran on Nauru. CREDIT: Amnesty International.

A drawing by a 16-year-old girl from Iran on Nauru. CREDIT: Amnesty International.*

Most people will have a passing awareness of what’s been happening to refugees attempting to reach Australia. To say the Australian government has a lot to answer for is one hell of an understatement. This is open, unapologetic torture, and right now, it doesn’t look like anyone much cares that the main effect of this “open air camp” is suicide. When death becomes a preferable option, you get an idea of just how bad things are. These people, already carrying heavy burdens of trauma, are being treated as untouchable, nasty things, and as Esme Weatherwax pointed out, all the ills in the world begin there, with treating people like things. Although reading, it seems to me they are more being treated like inconvenient garbage that someone littered about. This is a terribly ugly story, filled with terribly ugly people, who cannot manage to dredge up the smallest sliver of concern. All around the world, we human beings are failing at being human, in a most spectacular way.

Refugees and asylum seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat are turned away and detained in refugee processing centers on the Pacific island of Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The Australian government has argued that the policy acts as a good deterrence against human smugglers and people who might choose to undertake the journey to its shores. But those who wind up on these offshore detention sites face indefinite and unlawful detention, an ordeal so disastrous that refugees and asylum seekers are turning to self-harm to cope, according to a new human rights organization report released Monday.

The Amnesty International report found that it was not uncommon for detainees to try and kill themselves, based on field and desk research that happened between July and October 2016. One man failed to kill himself twice in a span of ten weeks. Another Iranian refugee who tried to kill herself multiple times every week was eventually put in a medical ward. And a man found his pregnant wife in the bathroom with rope marks on her neck.


Some service-providers at the detention center described practices that made refugees and asylum seekers feel less than human. One guard forcibly took away candy from a girl. Some asylum seekers were taken from showers after two minutes, with shampoo in their hair. Others had to wait weeks or months for basic necessities like underwear and shoes.

In a conversation with a seven-year-old boy from Iran, a service-provider told Amnesty International that the child would keep asking him questions. “He’d say ‘I don’t understand this place. Prisons are for bad people, right? Bad people are the men who hurt my father [in Iran]. Why am I in prison? Does that mean I am a bad person?’”

Nauru’s refugee processing center is described as an “open” center meaning that once people are recognized as refugees, they are moved into accommodation outside the refugee processing center on the same island, roughly one-third the size of Manhattan. But much of the island is uninhabitable, now environmentally ravaged by generations of phosphate mining.

Even refugees and asylees living outside detention grounds face Nauru police who fail to adequately investigate their complaints. One father, who told the police about a man who tried to rape his daughter, was told that the judge was “off duty.” An Iranian refugee who tried to report a robbery got the run-around from police who said that “their computer was broken.” When he offered to give handwritten testimony, he was told that they didn’t have paper.


Many of the abuses that Neistat found are consistent with previous accounts of abuse detailed by other refugees and asylum seekers. In late April, at least two refugees tried setting themselves on fire. One died from the self-immolation, while the other refugee suffered critical injuries. In August, The Guardian reported on 2,000 reports of abuse and neglect, which found that children were “vastly overrepresented in the reports.”

People set themselves on fire. On fire, for fuck’s sake. If this does not break your heart, if this does not make you ask questions, if this does not make you angry, something is very, very wrong.

The Australian government spends $419,425 per person, per year on offshore processing. In comparison, the U.S. government spends about $59,860 per person, per year on detention. Yet as the allegations show, the costs do not reflect the care that refugees and asylum seekers receive.

After clicking all the links, and doing all the reading, I would really like to know just where in the hell all that money is going, because it most certainly is not going into care of and for refugees and asylum seekers. The stench of corruption is wafting about.

* I probably have nothing to worry about here, but if  you’re the type of asshole who thinks it would be pertinent to comment about how your two year old could draw better than that 16 year old, you’ll be banned so fast you’ll end up with whiplash.

The full story is at Think Progress.


  1. says

    The Australian government has argued that the policy acts as a good deterrence against human smugglers and people who might choose to undertake the journey to its shores.

    So do heads on spikes. Yet it is a fundamental principle that you cannot inflict harm on one person to stop another person from doing something “bad” and still remain the good one. It’s the practice pf keeping children hostage to keep populations in line.

    I guess the high suicide rates are another “deterrence”. So is the rampant sexual abuse (care providers and teachers face penalties for reporting abuse and being whistleblowers).

    It breaks my heart. I now work with refugees every day. They are people, FFS. Human beings. They make it through terrible tragedies and just try to get by and live.

  2. says


    They are people, FFS. Human beings. They make it through terrible tragedies and just try to get by and live.

    I know. They are just the same as everyone else, and they want the same things, it’s not as if they are looking for anything out of the ordinary. To be able to live, to work, to care for their families and friends, to have a place, a community. It’s what most everyone looks for and wants, but there is this evil insistence on othering.

  3. rq says

    I have several cousins on FB raising awareness about this issue intermittently. Every time I read about it, I’m not less horrified, since it seems that, no matter how bad things get, nobody (government-wise) is trying to do any better.

  4. blf says

    The concentration camps on Nauru and Manus have been a persistent & continuing story in the Grauniad, especially the Australian & International websites. One of the most recent articles, Australian immigration regime on Nauru an ‘open-air prison’ and akin to torture, says Amnesty:

    Human rights body says healthcare inadequate on island and suicide attempts, including among children, are common”

    Amnesty International has condemned Australia’s offshore detention regime on Nauru as an “open-air prison” and akin to “torture”, where refugees and and asylum seekers are attacked with impunity, healthcare is inadequate or non-existent, and suicide attempts, including among children, are common.

    Amnesty researchers visited the island in July and its new report of conditions has catalogued a series of interviews with 58 asylum seekers and refugees, Nauruan locals and Australian staff who work in the processing centre.

    “The Australian government had been very clear, including in public statements, about the purpose of this system, to deter people from seeking asylum in Australia,” Amnesty International’s senior director for research, Dr Anna Neistat, told the Guardian. “What we see in Nauru essentially amounts to torture — a system set up to cause deliberate harm to people.”

    Of course the government is already denying Amnesty’s report, Malcolm Turnbull says Amnesty criticism of Nauru detention absolutely false: “Prime minister rejects accusation that regime for refugees and asylum seekers is ‘torture’ and says offshore processing is an essential deterrent to stop people trying to get to Australia by boat”.

    Back in August a large cache of documents was leaked to the Grauniad, The Nauru files: cache of 2,000 leaked reports reveal scale of abuse of children in Australian offshore detention: “The largest cache of documents to be leaked from within Australia’s asylum seeker detention regime details assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm”. This leak is perhaps the driving reason for recent world-wider interest in Australia’s concentration camps.

    A continuing problem is the Australian government is completely non-cooperative to people / organizations trying to visit the camps. Also, since all of the camps are in foreign countries, and (as I recall) operated by private companies, when it can’t duck the blame it palms the blame off on the other government (usually?), or company.

  5. blf says

    There’s been a bit of possibly useful movement, Doctors freed to speak about Australia’s detention regime after U-turn:

    Government backdown means health workers are permitted to air concerns about Nauru and Manus centres, although other staff still face threat of jail terms

    Doctors have been released to speak out about conditions and medical treatment in Australia’s immigration detention system, after a backdown from the government on one of the most contentious elements of the Australian Border Force Act.

    The secretary of the immigration department, Michael Pezzullo, signed an amendment on 30 September specifically carving out “health professionals” from the definition of “immigration and border protection workers”. [more on the delay in reporting, below –blf]

    The amendment means the secrecy and disclosure provisions of the Border Force Act no longer apply to a comprehensive list of health professionals, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, midwives, pharmacists and dentists.

    Other professionals working in onshore and offshore immigration detention, including teachers, lawyers, security staff, social workers and other staff, have not been exempted from speaking out. They still face a jail term of up to two years for any “unauthorised disclosure”.


    [Dr Barri Phatarfod, president of Doctors for Refugees, noted] the change only allowed for doctors to publicly advocate on behalf of their patients, “it doesn’t change the appalling lack of care they often seem to receive”.

    “Currently, Doctors for Refugees is advocating for several children denied special needs care as well as women unable to get a breast lump biopsy and other significant deviations from appropriate medical treatment. We have around 160 active cases of concern.”


    Dr Peter Young, formerly the head of mental health for immigration detention healthcare provider IHMS, was one of the earliest whistleblowers on abusive conditions and inadequate care in offshore detention. […] He said the government had quietly made the amendment last month, without broadcasting it, because they wanted the Border Force Act to retain its “chilling affect” on public dissension about detention policies.


    [Dr Young said] “There is nothing stopping them [health care professionals] now, except for their own consciences. It’s their ethical duty to speak out.”

    Earlier this year, traumatologist and psychologist Paul Stevenson, who has spent 40 years working with the victims of trauma, said conditions in offshore were “the worst atrocity I’ve seen”.

    However, the Ozland government is still threatening medical whisleblowers:

    [A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said] The department still expects that health practitioners will maintain their strict ethical, professional and contractual obligations of confidentiality and privacy.

    That is sufficiently vague — plus, it makes clear the professional’s contracts still apply in full — that whilst this can be a useful step forward, the gagging, et al about Australia’s concentration camps and their victims will (very possibly) mostly continue.

  6. blf says

    The New York Times has published a powerful editorial about Australia’s concentration camps, Australia’s Stranded Refugee Prisoners:

    This policy costs Australian taxpayers a staggering $419,000 per detainee a year and has made a nation that has historically welcomed immigrants a violator of international law. Australia’s policy is at odds with its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which forbids transferring refugees to a place where they are likely to face harm and protects the right of people fleeing persecution to seek a safe haven.

    Australia has gone to great lengths to prevent outsiders from seeing what goes on in these offshore prisons. The contractors who work there are subject to criminal prosecution for speaking publicly about conditions at the centers. Nauru, which has profited handsomely from the deal, has made efforts to shield the arrangement from scrutiny. In 2014, it raised the cost of a journalist visa from $178 to $7,126 and it barred a team from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention from visiting.


    While the number of refugees held on Nauru and Manus Island is small compared with refugee numbers in the Middle East and Europe, Australia’s inhumane imprisonment of desperate people is a disgrace. The government should end its offshore processing of refugees and stop treating anyone who approaches its borders without a visa as automatically inadmissible. The United Nations can assist by redoubling efforts to resettle those stranded on the two islands and by putting pressure on Australia to change its policy.

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