Australia’s offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru are set up primarily as a deterrent to would be asylum seekers.
The majority of asylum seekers inside Nauru RPC are Sri Lankan, while the other major groups are Iranian, Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani. Recently, groups of Palestinians, Lebanese, Sudanese and Vietnamese have also been transferred there. Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladeshi’s also constitute significant numbers of asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia.
In order to be deterred from taking a boat journey to Australia, the logic goes that the experience one is likely to go through in Australia, should be less favourable to the alternatives.
Alternatives in the countries many asylum seekers originate from include a slow burning ethnic cleansing (Sri Lanka), the Taliban (Afghanistan & Pakistan), the IDF (Occupied Palestine), a military junta (Myanmar) and head of states or governments regarded at best as ‘authoritarian,’ if not criminal, in Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Sudan. Furthermore, asylum seekers who reach Malaysia or Indonesia face arrest, torture, indefinite imprisonment or deportation.
Those inside Nauru RPC and Manus Island are subjected to deterrence in the form of international isolation, sub standard living conditions, inadequate medical and recreational services and indefinite detention. The latter is the most damaging to the physical and mental health of asylum seekers and combined with the others produces startling results. A recent visit to Nauru RPC by the BBC is online here, though is a largely uncontroversial piece. One of the key ingredients missing from the BBC story is a voice from the inside, with one of the conditions of the visit being that the reporter was unable to talk to anyone detained there.
If those inside were to tell of what they had seen or experienced, it would have made for a far more interesting story.
Internal reports read like those one would expect to find inside a mental health hospital or prison. Instead, this is what the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) drives asylum seekers to do, under the guise of ‘no advantage’ and deterrence. Fathers, husbands, brothers and sons who have committed no crime, yet are undergoing cruel and unusual punishment, simply for taking a boat journey to escape the military regimes and religious fanaticism of those in their home countries.