An Amnesty refugee research team went to Nauru to find out what life is really like for asylum seekers.
What we found was shocking. The conditions were far worse than anything we’d seen in our tour of Australia’s detention centres earlier this year.
On Nauru there is a toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions that are creating an increasingly volatile situation, with the Australian Government failing spectacularly in its duty of care to asylum seekers.
Human rights have been completely sidelined. The dire circumstances facing asylum seekers on Nauru further highlights why a developed country with a functioning refugee processing system should never send asylum seekers to a country without existing capacity to care for, process and protect them.
Our key findings
"The standard of life under rough tents (leaky and hot) is even not suitable for cattle. The wild and phosphoric atmosphere of Nauru causes several diseases."
The Nauruan government is currently unable to properly care for asylum seekers
We are very concerned about Nauru’s capacity to adequately care for vulnerable asylum seekers, particularly regarding:
Lack of progress on refugee processing: the Nauruan Government is responsible for processing the 387 asylum seekers on the island but very little progress has been made. Nauru has no experience or expertise with refugee processing and it’s clear it could be many more months before this starts.
Lack of legal representation for asylum seekers: there are currently no lawyers in Nauru (aside from those employed by the government).
Lack of essential health services: there are currently 56 beds in the Nauruan hospital, and it relies heavily on specialists that fly in several times a year.
The physical conditions are harsh and repressive; the accommodation is completely inappropriate
"This place is like an oven. An oven for our bodies and an oven for our minds."
The conditions faced by asylum seekers in detention in Nauru are far worse than in detention in Australia:
Asylum seekers are staying in army tents. These tents offer absolutely no privacy, and barely have any room between the stretcher beds.
When it rains, the camp quickly floods. Every single tent observed had at least one leak, with bedding and clothing was soaked.
In the camp temperature reaches over 40 degrees in the compound and 80 percent humidity. The heat means people can’t stay in their tents during the day.
Rodents and insects problems in tents are common.
Most find it hard to sleep in the tents - either because of the extreme heat, the dampness, or because of men crying during the night. This all exacerbates the deterioration of their mental health.
We are concerned accommodation may breach the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
The mental health situation is dire
"I think the suicide attempts will increase in the future. More and more of my friends are thinking about it and taking it into their plans."
The extreme conditions on Nauru - coupled with a lack of information about their future - are exacerbating the deterioration of asylum seekers’ mental health.
Many of the reasons for the evident mental anguish are implicit in the set up of the Nauru facility, and will be difficult to mitigate.
Nine men are confirmed to be on hunger strike; many more claim to be.
Many of the men stated that they felt their only option was a hunger strike, or to attempt self-harm or suicide.
During the visit one man tried to hang himself from a tent pole.
Our recommendations to the Australian Government
"If there is no processing, if there is no release, then what is the point of my life? I prefer to die from my hands and not the hands of the Iranian Government."
The centre on Nauru should be closed and all asylum seekers returned to Australia, as Amnesty can see no purpose in holding asylum seekers on Nauru other than penalising them for seeking asylum.
If the centre does stay open, it is imperative that no more asylum seekers are sent there until processing begins and appropriate accommodation has been built.
The people who are currently on Nauru must have their level of vulnerability properly reassessed, and there must be thorough ongoing assessments.
If asylum seekers continue to be sent to Nauru, more stringent assessment of their physical and mental health must be completed to ensure that particularly vulnerable people are not sent there.
Steps must be taken so that rainfall does not lead to flooding in the compound, and particularly to water coming into the tents via leaks or from water flowing in from the walk ways.
Permanent structures must be constructed as soon as possible. However, given that the construction will take place in the existing compound mere metres away from where people are living in tents, it is crucial that steps are taken to mitigate the space, dust and noise the effects of construction.
All staff involved in the compound must be given appropriate cultural awareness training, working with vulnerable people training and human rights training.
Our recommendations to the Nauruan Government
Expedite asylum seeker legislation and ensure that processing begins as soon as possible, with adequate resources and expertise.
Adjust the visa conditions of the asylum seekers so that they are not confined to the camp for the duration of their stay.
For Government officials to regularly visit the centre and provide updates on progress.