United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants François Crépeau has reported on his visit to Australia last November, saying Australia’s strong human rights record was tarnished by an abusive offshore detention system that “cannot be salvaged,” the Guardian reported.
Crépeau said the regime of offshore detention – on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the Pacific state of Nauru – was unjustifiably punitive and unlawful “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.
He said Australia knew the dangerous and helpless situations on Manus and Nauru were damaging those held there.
“Mental health issues are rife, with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression being the most common ailments,” Crépeau wrote. “Many refugees and asylum seekers are on a constant diet of sleeping tablets and antidepressants. Children also show signs of mental distress … many adolescents are themselves already on antidepressants.”
Crépeau found that refugees and asylum seekers do not feel safe on Nauru.
Australia has consistently maintained that conditions in offshore detention centers are the responsibility of the governments on whose territory the centers are housed. Crépeau said full responsibility for the centers lies with Australia, which pays for, manages and has ultimate authority over the centers.
Crépeau found the fact and nature of Australia’s offshore detention regime was illegal under international law.
In his 21-page report, the special rapporteur also condemned the Australian government’s use of the term “illegal” to describe a person who sought asylum. He said the characterization of people as illegal, when they had not committed a crime, was used to justify indefinite detention.
The special rapporteur was complimentary about Australia’s “exemplary” formal refugee resettlement program, singling out the country’s additional intake of 12,000 refugees from the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts as a valuable and positive contribution to the global issue of forced displacement.
The Australian government, in a formal response, rejected Crépeau’s report, saying the special rapporteur had made errors in his findings.
Government officials told Crépeau that Australia’s strong border protection policies enabled it to make a “generous contribution to global humanitarian resettlement efforts”.
Australia said health services in offshore detention were provided by private contractors to the Australian government and had been improved.