Australia denies report of 'prison-like' camps for Pacific asylum seekers

Remarks follow critical Amnesty description of detention centers as overcrowded, hot and 'excessively cruel'

In July, workers extinguished a fire after some 125 asylum seekers rioted at an Australian detention center in Nauru.
AP Photo/Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship

The Australian government has denied allegations Friday that conditions in an asylum-seeker camp in Papua New Guinea amounted to torture and insisted the offshore processing regime would stay.

Amnesty International has described conditions at PNG’s Manus Island as “excessively cruel and prison-like,” with a report released this week saying some detainees were surviving in stifling heat on just half a liter of water a day.

It is the second recent report critical of the detention centers. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) last month reported that the Pacific island camps failed to meet international standards of treatment.

Australia has been sending asylum seekers to facilities on Manus and the small Pacific state of Nauru since late 2012, giving them no chance of resettlement in Australia, in a bid to stem the arrival of often overcrowded boats.  

“This system of harsh conditions and humiliating treatment is a deliberate effort to pressure people to return to the desperate situations they have fled from,” said Amnesty International Australia’s Claire Mallinson.

Australia's Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the government would consider Amnesty's recommendations in good faith, but denied that conditions amounted to torture and said there was no restriction on the amount of water people received.

“No, I don’t (agree),” he said, when asked whether conditions were tantamount to torture.

The Amnesty report said some aspects of detention on Manus, where approximately 1,000 people are being held, violated Australia’s obligation to treat all persons in detention humanely.

The report said conditions in compounds were cramped and stifling hot, detainees were being denied sufficient water and medical help, and some had reported finding snakes in their room and flooding when it rained.

Morrison told a weekly briefing in Sydney that the report would be reviewed, and the findings verified and assessed under the broader context of normal operations.

Morrison said while the government would seek improvements where they could be made, there would be no change to its policy of processing those arriving on unauthorized boats at the offshore camps.

“All I am saying is that the key recommendation from both the UNHCR and Amnesty report is that offshore processing should be abolished. We are clearly not going to do that,” he said.

“We’re very happy for official groups to go into these centers and they can provide their reports, and they can make their suggestions and we will take them in good faith and identify the things we can address.”

Agence France Presse

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