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Amnesty’s Position on Nauru as at 6 January 2004

Amnesty’s Position on Nauru as at 6 January 2004

Conditions in the camps on Nauru are dire. First hand reports have been received by Amnesty International from Nauru detainees that there is fresh water for only two hours a day, limited access to health care, children have been denied access to educational facilities, and there are insufficient activities for people to pass the time1. Some people have been living in these conditions for over two years, without any prospect of release. Ongoing detention without any access to judicial review is considered by Amnesty International to be arbitrary and contrary to international law.

As a general proposition, Amnesty International maintains that the detention of asylum seekers on Nauru is unacceptable2. All detainees (284, including 93 children) on Nauru should immediately be granted an appropriate visa to entitle them to live in Australia until it is determined they are either refugees, in need of complementary protection or it is safe for them to return home.

Amnesty International's position is that when a country intercepts asylum seekers its international obligation are engaged, and continue to be engaged even when those people are transferred to another country on the basis of a bilateral agreement. That is, Australia remains responsible for the protection and wellbeing of Australian asylum seekers on Nauru.


1 Despite IOM and DIMIA assurances that conditions in the camps on Nauru are satisfactory, Amnesty International has repeatedly reported on the negative impacts of detention on the wellbeing of detainees in Australia, and is concerned that these impacts are exacerbated due to the conditions on, and isolation of Nauru.
2See Amnesty International report Offending Human Dignity- the Pacific Solution, AI INDEX: ASA 12/009/2002


1) Ending the hunger strike

The current hunger strike is Amnesty International's most immediate concern. It is understood that 35 detainees are on the hunger strike and have been refusing food and water since 10 December 2003. Four of the hunger strikers have stitched their lips together and threatened to sew their eyelids together if no resolution is sought by 10 January 2004. Five detainees, at the time of writing, are currently in hospital. A further six detainees pulled out of the hunger strike on 5 January 2004, joining four others to make a total of ten detainees who have ended their involvement in the hunger strike.

First hand reports from detainees, refugee groups and the Dominion Post newspaper in New Zealand (who visited Nauru over the weekend), indicate the physical and mental health situation of the hunger strikers is significantly deteriorating, as they enter their fourth week on strike. Detainees are reportedly suffering varied health problems, including severe kidney, stomach and back pain, with one detainee suffering 'rotten' leg sores. Many of the hunger strikers are reportedly no longer able to move or talk. Once hospitalised and rehydrated they are often confused and mentally affected by their weakened condition.

Amnesty International is concerned about reports of inadequate medical staff and facilities on Nauru provided to meet the demand generated by the detention centre and hunger strikers. Amnesty International reiterates calls made by the Australian Medical Association's (AMA) president, Bill Glasson that as Australia established the detention centre on Nauru, it has a responsibility for ensuring the medical system associated with the detention centre is coping. Amnesty International also supports the AMA's calls for the Federal Government to urgently send an independent medical team to assess the situation in Nauru.

Amnesty International recognises that a hunger strike can be a form of non-violent protest against an abuse of human rights. It comes as no surprise that these people, who are under extreme pressure and stress, are taking such measures.

Amnesty International does not encourage or dissuade hunger strikers in their protest. Amnesty International neither opposes nor recommends the feeding of prisoners without their consent3. The organisation's interest is in seeing that the human rights concerns which caused the protest are addressed.

Amnesty International calls on the Australian government to urgently:

publicly release the completed report made by the Immigration Minister's delegation, comprising John Hodges and Gholam Aboss, sent to Nauru to ascertain the situation on Nauru;

confirm the government's intention to re-assess the claims of asylum seekers in light of new information received by UNHCR;

extend any review of asylum claims to Iraqi asylum seekers, and ensure that Iraqis do not remain in detention on Nauru whilst there is a 'freeze' on their processing;

ensure that the reprocessing be done in Australia and that detainees have access to a full and fair determination process including access to proper translation and review of determination decisions; and

ensure all those who are undertaking hunger strikes are afforded appropriate ongoing medical attention.


3 The World Medical Association opposes forcible feeding where a competent person has expressed a decision to voluntarily refuse food.


2) Enabling independent monitoring and access

Until such time as the detainees are released from Nauru, both Nauru and Australia must ensure that there is independent monitoring of the conditions in the camps. Amnesty International maintains its call for broad access by independent NGOs, lawyers, medical professionals and the media to ensure that there is transparency in terms of the conditions and practices on the island. Situations like this may have been avoided if detainees circumstances were overseen by independent organisations.

Detainees on Nauru must be granted access to information and to lawyers so they are able to make informed decisions about whether they should consider returning to their countries of origin.

Amnesty International calls on the Australian government to:

permit an autonomous delegation of medical, legal and human rights experts to visit Nauru in order to compile an independent report and provide recommendations regarding the camps and detainees; and

ensure that detainees have access to appropriate translation services, legal advice and all relevant country information, before they make any decision to 'voluntarily' return to their country of origin, including consideration of new information from UNHCR and Amnesty International as per Minister Vanstone's statements.

3) Immediately releasing children and their families:

Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia and Nauru are required to ensure that in all actions concerning children their best interests shall be the primary consideration. Detention should only be used as a last resort, and for the shortest appropriate period of time. The 93 children who are on Nauru should not be subject to detention arbitrarily, or to the violence that is inherent in the long term detention of asylum seekers. The right to a family unit is a fundamental human right and must be respected.

Amnesty International calls on the Australian government to urgently:

grant 'derivative status' to those women and children detained on Nauru so that they may be reunited with TPV holding husbands in Australia; and

resettle the remaining 90 children together with their families in Australia on an appropriate visa, as per their determined status.

4) Halting returns to unsafe countries

Many of those on a hunger strike maintain they will face persecution, and even death, if they return to Afghanistan. Amnesty International firmly believes that Afghanis should not be forcibly returned to Afghanistan given the current situation in the country. Amnesty International is not satisfied that there has been a fundamental, stable and durable change warranting the return of Afghani asylum-seekers. Further, Amnesty International does not believe that Afghanistan is conducive to the promotion of voluntary repatriation or to invoking the prerequisite of 'ceased circumstances' for refugee status to be terminated.

The UNHCR closed its offices in Ghazni and has suspended operations in the area, as a result of increased insecurity and the murder of a French staffperson. The UNHCR also reiterated its request to governments to refrain from deporting Afghans to places of origin other than to Kabul, and commented on the difficulty in guaranteeing safety of returnees.

The UNHCR regional representative Michel Gabaudan has said this week that some of the 22 asylum seekers it was reassessing would be recognised as refugees. Gabaudan stated that for some 'returning [them to Afghanistan] is not appropriate' as Afghanistan has become more dangerous.

Amnesty International calls upon the Australian government to ensure:

no detainee is returned to their country of origin without making a free, informed and voluntary decision based on relevant country information and access to legal advice; and

all detainees on Nauru should be brought to Australia on an appropriate visa so that they may integrate into the community until they have been granted refugee status or it is safe for them to return home. Amnesty International does not object to the proposal for resettlement of detainees to New Zealand, provided Australia complies with its international obligations in the processing and resettlement of asylum seekers.

Cries of help from detainees on Nauru

"They do not want to die, they want to live. A hunger strike is something you do when you have no other option. Believe me, we had no other option. If the world didn't know we were alive before, they can at least know there are some tragic events on Nauru after the asylum seekers' deaths."
Afghan male detainee, 04/01/04

"We are human. We don't suicide. But due to our problem to be solved we selected gradual death. We are those four persons who have sewn their lips together and we understood well that we are going to be died, because we cannot walk a few metres. Again we inform you if you don't feel our consideration about us until 10th January 2004 we will sew our eyes." Afghan male hunger strikers, 01/01/04

"I'm here envy the animals because they have freedom, they eat as they like and go as they like and dream as they like. Please give me animal refuge. I'm very miserable… I thought to kill myself to get rid of this punishment. I lost my life and future. I feel I'm nothing in this hell."
Iraqi male detainee, 08/12/03

"The situation in the camp is very bad. I cannot enjoy because there is no freedom. I don't want to waste my time. I am studying hard. Sometimes I think why Australia didn't accept us. What is my sin. Am I not like your child that Australia has put me in a cage. What am I going to be in my future?
Afghan 10-year-old child, 24/09/03

"When we were in our own country we were persecuted in different ways by atrocious rulers and governments, but now when we are in the Australian made detention centers we don't think that we've been treated better than what Taliban Militias and other cruel governments did with us."
Afghan male detainee, 13/12/03

"We are about 3 years here, it's enough, we are human, we are not animal to keep in the zoo: people of this detention centre are really under pressure, everybody are feeling mental problems, people have sleep producing pills until can sleep at night, it's enough to keep people in this jail."
Female detainee, 10/12/03

"We wonder if the time comes to put an end to our great tragedy after a life of dispossession and oppressive detention which destroyed the childhood life of our poor children for 2 years."
3 Iraqi detainees, 28/09/03

"We are compelled to do hunger strike in here to all the world hear our voice for asylum seekers"
Male detainee on hunger strike, 15/12/03

"By my death I will terminate this crisis, record it in history of human beings and introduce the real face of those who claim and pretend themselves as protector of democracy, freedom and human rights."
Afghan male hunger striker, 17/12/03

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