HRW: Australia is failing to protect offshore refugees from violence

HRW: Australia is failing to protect offshore refugees from violence

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] has published a report [text] on Wednesday condemning Australia and Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) failure to protect the refugees in their borders from physical violence. According to HRW, approximately 770 refugees in PNG have suffered assaults and robberies and received inadequate health care. In Australia, refugees are being sent to Manus Island, a province of PNG, as part of the country’s mandatory offshore detention policy [official backgrounder].

The Australian and PNG governments are now both proposing to close refugee processing facilities on Manus Island by October 31 and to transfer those on the island elsewhere in PNG. Doing so, HRW argues, will only further endanger the refugees. HRW claims that these actions are emboldening far-right politicians in Europe in their own mistreatment of refugees [Guardian report].

During their most recent visit to Manus Island, HRW noted that the closest guard post to the central refugee camp is a full half-hour away. Observers stated that young, often intoxicated men have been lingering around the camp with weapons, assaulting and robbing the refugees of the few possessions they managed to get onto the island.

According to HRW, the effects of this treatment is compounded by the lack of adequate access to healthcare on Manus Island. HRW states that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] has found that a large majority of the refugees arrived on Manus Island with no pre-existing condition, but, after being on the island and being exposed to violence and prolonged detention, many of the refugees have developed mental health issues.

In order to minimize the mistreatment of the refugees, HRW is now recommending that Australia consider dispatching federal police to train local Manus police and help patrol the camps. Further, HRW urges these governments to ensure that all refugees have access to adequate physical and mental health care.

In recent years, Australia has seen significant amounts of scrutiny over its refugee detention centers in Manus Island and Nauru. In February, a coalition of legal experts filed [JURIST report] a petition against Australia in the International Criminal Court, calling the detention centers a violation of human rights. Amnesty International (AI) accused Australia last year of using the island of Nauru as an “open-air prison” [JURIST report] to prevent immigration of asylum seekers. In August 2016 Australia announced [JURIST report] that Australia and Papua New Guinea intended on closing the controversial Manus Island detention center. That same month AI and Human Rights Watch issued reports [JURIST report] stating that Australia is ignoring inhumane treatment of detainees in Nauru. Papua New Guinea officials claimed in May that refugees are not being detained [JURIST report] on Manus Island, as they are given access to mainland Australia. The statement by officials followed a ruling by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court that the Australian off-shore detention facility was illegal, in direct opposition to a ruling [JURIST report] by the Australian Supreme Court earlier this year that the off-shore detention was legal.