The escalating health crisis for refugee children on Nauru and the Australian Government’s shameful refugee policy must be at the top of the agenda when regional heads of government meet at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) next week, said Amnesty International, in an open letter co-signed by a coalition of 84 influential civil society organisations.
The letter urges PIF leaders to call for an immediate end to Australia’s cruel and abusive refugee policy, which has seen more than 2000 women, men and children warehoused on Nauru and Manus Island in cruel and degrading conditions over the past five years.
“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,” said Roshika Deo, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher.
“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. It is a stain on the region.”
“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. It is a stain on the region” – Roshika Deo, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher
Earlier this week three medical professionals warned that refugee children on Nauru are facing an unprecedented health crisis and are at real risk of death. Documents leaked to media in Australia reveal horrific incidences of self-harm, including a 14-year-old child who “had poured petrol over herself and had a lighter”, and another 10-year-old refugee who “attempted to self-harm by ingesting some sharp metal objects”.
“The system is clearly broken if children are even considering self-harm,” said Roshika Deo.
The release of this disturbing information came only a week after a critically ill 12-year-old boy was finally flown to Australia for medical treatment, following repeated delays by the Australian Government in transferring him, despite medical advice that he was at imminent risk of dying.
These shocking revelations come at a time when the Australian Government has begun winding back health services and other support to refugees, including the removal of access to psycho-social support and translators in the past year.
Amnesty International is calling on the Australian Government to end offshore processing and immediately transfer refugees and asylum seekers in Manus and Nauru to Australia or to another safe third country. Pacific Island Forum leaders must ensure the human rights of refugees in their territories are protected.
The Pacific Islands Forum, an intergovernmental organisation that aims to promote cooperation between the countries of the Pacific, will take place in Nauru from 3-6 September.
On 19 July 2013, Australia enacted a policy that meant anyone who arrived by boat anywhere in Australia – including the mainland – would be barred from seeking asylum in the country. Instead, any persons arriving by boat would be transferred to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, and even those recognised as refugees would never be allowed to settle in Australia.
More than 1600 people remain on Manus Island and Nauru, with the majority being assessed as refugees. Under a bilateral agreement, whereby the United States Government agreed to settle up to 1250 refugees, nearly 400 refugees have been sent to the US in the past year. However, hundreds of people are likely to remain on Manus Island and Nauru in abysmal conditions indefinitely, with no clear plans for their future.
In Papua New Guinea, refugees and people seeking asylum have been violently attacked by locals, contractors and the authorities. In Nauru, there have been widespread reports of physical and sexual abuse, including against women and children.
Nauru and Papua New Guinea are unable to provide protection for refugees and asylum seekers and the Australian Government refuses to accept responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers who remain under its effective control in these territories.
The full list of signatories to the open letter can be found below.
JOINT OPEN LETTER:
TO THE PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM LEADERS AND OBSERVERS IN THE CONTEXT OF AUSTRALIA’S ABUSIVE OFFSHORE REFUGEE PROCESSING POLICY
We are writing to urge that Australia’s cruel treatment of refugees in the Pacific countries of Papua New Guinea and Nauru is considered at the top of the agenda at the 49th Pacific Islands Forum Meeting.
While it is hard to call out close neighbours and allies, the Pacific Islands Forum is the correct space for this urgent discussion. It is important that Pacific Island countries hold Australia and each other accountable to human rights obligations for all refugees and people seeking asylum.
Pacific Islanders remain the most vulnerable and impacted by climate change, and also are global leaders on climate and disaster response. As worsening ecological conditions continue to escalate a global refugee crisis, a global human rights benchmark needs to be established, with Pacific leaders at the forefront of this change.
As you will be aware, since 2013, the Australian Government has been unlawfully sending asylum seekers arriving in its territory by boat to the Pacific Island nations of Papua New Guinea (to the remote province of Manus) and to Nauru.
These refugees and people seeking asylum have been subject to cruel and degrading conditions over the past five years, with widespread reports of violence against refugees in Papua New Guinea and violence and sexual harassment of women and children on Nauru. The worsening plight of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru has been well documented by the UN Refugee agency UNHCR and by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights Law Centre; by refugee support agencies and faith-based justice groups globally, and in national, regional and global media.
Papua New Guinea and Nauru cannot and will not be able to provide just, safe or durable solutions for the protection of this group of refugees, and the Australian Government continues to shirk its responsibility for the over 2000 people it has forcibly sent there. This is while Australia has just successfully lobbied for UN membership of the Human Rights Council from 2018.
The UNHCR has condemned Australia’s cruel policies, and noted that these refugees and asylum seekers have amongst the highest rates of mental illness for any refugee population worldwide. It is amid this climate that the Australian Government has begun winding back health and other support to refugees, including removal of psycho-social support and access to translators in the last year.
In late 2016, the Australian and USA governments announced an arrangement for the USA to take up to 1250 refugees from Manus and Nauru. This agreement has resulted in a total of 493 refugees going through a US assessment process, with 372 refugees accepted for relocation, most of whom have been transferred to the US already. However, a further 121 people including some with refugee status, have been rejected by the US with a large portion being of Iranian nationality. Around 1650 people currently remain in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Even if the US accepts the 1250 refugees it has agreed to settle, between 600 and 800 people will remain indefinitely on Manus and Nauru, with no solution in sight. This number is likely to be more if Iranians continue to be largely excluded or rejected from the US/Australia agreement. The Australian Government has not made clear plans for these people, but has repeatedly stated they will never be brought to Australia. Growing civil society and people’s movements in Australia continue to advocate to ‘Bring them here’ as general living and medical conditions deteriorate and self-harm, suicide and deaths increase.
The Australian Government has blocked an offer by the Aotearoa/New Zealand Government to settle up to 150 refugees from Manus and Nauru per year.
We call on the Australian Government to immediately end offshore processing. We further call on Australia to immediately transfer people it sent to Manus and Nauru back to Australia or to another safe third country, where they will enjoy the full legal rights and protection of that country.
We sincerely urge Pacific Island Forum leaders to make these same calls, in consideration of the human rights and justice for the people on Manus and Nauru. We sincerely urge Pacific Island Forum leaders to also ensure the human rights of refugees in their territories are protected.
- Amnesty International
- Amnesty International Australia
- Amnesty International New Zealand
- Diverse Voices and Action for Equality (DIVA)
- The Pacific Conference of Churches
- Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition
- Oxfam in the Pacific
- Fiji NGO Coalition on Human Rights (NGOCHR)
- Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre
- The Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission
- Voice for Change, Jiwaka Province, PNG
- Bune United Sister from Tombil Village, Minj, Jiwaka Province, PNG
- Mubalu Sisters of Hope Federation of Western Highlands Province, PNG
- The Catholic Women Federation of Jiwaka Province, PNG
- Solomon Islands Young Women’s Parliamentary Group
- The Solomon Islands Women’s Rights Action Movement (WRAM)
- Forum Solomon Islands International (FSII)
- Oceania Pride, Fiji
- Palau Chamber of Commerce
- 350 Pacific and the Pacific Climate Warriors
- Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF), Fiji
- Strumphet Alliance Network, Fiji
- Vanuatu Young Women For Change (VYW4C)
- Vatu Mauri Consortium
- Anne’s Christian Community Health School and Nursing Services
- The Secretariat of the Alliance for Future Generations (AFG), Fiji
- Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS)
- Aspire Network, Fiji
- Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM)
- Survival Advocacy Network (SAN)
- Rainbow Pride Foundation (RPF), Fiji
- Tonga Leitis Association (TLA)
- Haus of Khameleon, Fiji
- Pacific Sexual and Gender Diversity Network (PSGDN)
- Pacific Partnerships on Gender, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (PPGCCSD)
- Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women
- Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) Pacific Regional Secretariat
- World Vision New Zealand
- World Vision Australia
- Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA)
- Australian Council for International Development (ACFID)
- Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN)
- Women’s Major Group (WMG) on Sustainable Development, Pacific Small Island Developing (PSIDS)
- Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod
- Communify Qld, Australia
- Asylum Circle, Australia
- Oxfam Australia
- ActionStation Aotearoa
- The Weaving House, New Zealand
- First Home Project, Perth, West Australia
- Cornerstone Church, Perth, West Australia
- Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN)
- ActionAid Australia
- Love Makes a Way, Australia
- Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), Australia
- International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), Australia
- Teacher for Refugees and People Seeking Asylum (TRAPSA), QLD
- Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
- International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW)
- Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights Asia and Pacific (UAF A&P)
- Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)
- We Rise Coalition
- Loreto Sisters Australia & South East Asia
- Reacción Climática (RC), Bolivia
- Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (Chirapaq), Peru
- Fundación Arcoiris, México
- Red De Educacion Popular entre Mujeres de América Latina y el Caribe (REPEM)
- Cornerstone Church Joondalup, Western Australia
- Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF), Europe
- Childolescent and Family Survival Organization Women’s Rights Action Group (CAFSO-WRAG), Nigeria
- Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development (CSCSD), Nigeria
- Civil Society Coalition on Migration and Diaspora, Nigeria
- Women and Media Collective (WMC), Sri Lanka
- Africa Development Interchange Network (ADIN), Cameroon
- Commonwealth Civil Society Advisory Committee (CSAC), Cameroon
- Global Social Economy Group (GSEG), Cameroon
- Mexican Foundation for Family Planning (MEXFAM), Mexico
- Réseau Genre et Droits de la Femme (GEDROFE), Democratic Republic of Congo
- Passionists International, USA
- Association For Promotion of Sustainable Development (APSD HISAR), India
- Feminist Task Force (FTF), USA
- Equality Bahamas
- Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURJ), Global