Nauru abuse reports should mark an opportunity for compassion, not more dehumanisation

Since The Guardian Australia released more than 2,000 leaked reports of abuse in the Nauru detention centre, there have been

Since The Guardian Australia released more than 2,000 leaked reports of abuse in the Nauru detention centre, there have been calls to do something — from a royal commission to public protests.

But what we need most is a call for immediate change to Government policy. This call can only come from the Australian people.

The problem is, Australians have been so convinced by the strategic dehumanisation of asylum seekers the Government and the media have undertaken over the past 15 years that, according to polls conducted during the 2016 federal election, 42 per cent of voters agree with the continued offshore processing of asylum seekers.

Words and phrases such as “illegal maritime arrivals”, “boat people”, “terrorists”, “detainees”, “people smugglers” and “illegals” have filled discussions about people who attempt to seek asylum in Australia.

This language has enabled their dehumanisation to a point where almost half of the Australian population supported spending more than A$1 billion in a year to lock up roughly 1,500 people who committed no crime.

Political response suggests no change

The response of immigration minister Peter Dutton to the release of the Nauru abuse reports exemplifies the continued attempts to dehumanise asylum seekers.

Dutton suggested those held in detention in Nauru have:

… gone to the extent of self-harming, and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia.

By turning the blame back on those who are detained, describing them as willing to set themselves on fire in an attempt to get to Australia, Dutton is again positioning asylum seekers in a way that makes them unrelatable to Australians.

Rather than acknowledging the self-immolation and self-harm as a symptom of the desperation and hopelessness and a result of the significant mental trauma that has been inflicted on those held in detention, Dutton once again managed to dehumanise those held on Nauru in an attempt to ameliorate the compassion that is leading to the demand for changes to offshore processing.

Nauru is home to one of Australia’s offshore processing centres. People who have risked everything to attempt to travel to Australia to seek asylum from war or political and other forms of persecution are locked up and warehoused in indefinite detention with no hope for resettlement in Australia, and little hope for the future.

This is despite approximately 77 per cent of those whose asylum claims have been processed having been recognised as legitimate refugees.

For many years, research has repeatedly demonstrated the long-term impacts of detention on people seeking asylum. There is compelling evidence from across the world that demonstrates the detrimental impact of detention on the mental and physical health of children and adults.

But despite the documented impact of detention, it continues as Australia’s policy and practice toward asylum seekers.

Lifting the veil of secrecy

Perhaps one of the most concerning aspects of Australia’s offshore processing facilities is the secrecy that surrounds them.

Journalists are virtually forbidden entry to Nauru; media visas cost A$8,000 per application.

The Australian Border Force Act enables the prosecution and possible imprisonment of any offshore detention staff member who speaks out about conditions in the centres on Nauru and Manus Island. This is one of the reasons why the Nauru abuse reports’ release has caused such a stir.

This leak has suddenly given Australians access to reports, notes and documents that illustrate the extent of the abuses the Australian Government is enabling and perpetuating.

As a country, as taxpaying citizens, are we okay with a system that has resulted in seven reports of sexual assault of children, 59 reports of assault on children, 30 incidences of self-harm involving children, and 159 reports of threatened self-harm involving children — all in 26 months?

The reports provide hard evidence of something Australia and the world has known about for a long time. But they also provide startling proof of the scale and staggering incidence rates of the self-harm, assault and abuse that is being experienced.

The data is there, the evidence is there, and the outcomes have been proven with decades of research. Can the Australian people read of young detainees who sew the shape of a heart into their own hand using a needle and thread, or grab bottles of cleaning fluid in their classrooms and desperately drink it and not be affected?

What the reports may enable, through the detailing of the documented horrendous experiences of asylum seekers, is compassion from the Australian public, and through compassion it may be possible to overcome the decades of considered dehumanisation that have enabled the detention regime to continue.

What is your opinion on what this author has to say? Share your thoughts.

The Conversation

Melanie Baak, Convener, Refugee and Migration Research Network, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  1. Tony  

    I read that an asylum seeker claimed that they can’t leave Nauru but that is untrue Australia has offered to pay for there flight’s back to there home country and with some money to start a new life,

    As there are many of the asylum seekers say the reason they wanted to reach Australia to be better off, and have a better life well that to me that it sounds like these people are cherry picking hoping from one country to another till they find one with what they want.

    This blow’s their claim for asylum out of the water because they have travelled through many were they claim asylum and under international law they must seek asylum in the first country which is safe so all these people really are not seeking asylum they are looking for countries with the best welfare.

    • Back to what Tony? Torture, rape murder? What if you and your family was in that situation, would you risk going back to that? What about the man they have locked up that aided the Australian and US soldiers in Iraq as an interpreter and whose family was murdered because of that help given? Does he deserve to be locked up on Nauru or Manus indefinitely? Thanks for helping our military, now you can die?
      Under international law they can seek asylum in the first country they arrive in who is a signatory to the Convention of the Refugee, Australia!
      As for them ‘being able to leave’, both NZ and Canada have offered to take these refugees but our abhorrent and amoral government will not allow them to go to these countries, because then they will have no unfortunate people to dehumanize and torture, with the excuse that this will dissuade from trying to get to Australia. They don’t need to carry on torturing these people, who almost all have been found to be genuine refugees, because according to them, they’ve ‘stopped the boats’!
      If you think that hitting a two year old baby across the back of the head so hard that they are lifted off the ground to slam down into it is acceptable behaviour then humanity has serious issues. If that happened in Australia the perpetrator would go to jail, a guard on Nauru does this and continues to oversee babies, toddlers and children? He should be brought back to this country to face a jail sentence. NEVER is child abuse an acceptable act!

  2. Pamela  

    They can leave if they request it.

    A refugee on Millionaire Hot Seat said she would have a holiday in the country she fled from if she won some money.

    Why is she still allowed in Australia?

  3. tony  

    I am really getting sick and tired of all these people bagging Australia’s stance on Asylum seekers,
    one important note that all these critics have not mentioned is that Australia had out rid off Polio Tuberculosis and many other diseases and now they are back in Australia due to these boat people so forgive me if I really don’t care at all what happens to these people they have brought third would diseases to a first would country, so to all you critics up yours.

    • Tony, These diseases are coming back to this country because there is an element of Australians who are against vaccinating their children against these diseases, NOT because of asylum seekers. It is vaccinations that have rid the country of these diseases!

  4. Most of those in detention came from the safe Moslem haven of Indonesia and are therefore not genuine refugees. They are free to leave at any time and the Govt has offered $20k per head to return home.
    While I believe anyone in custody should be treated with dignity and decency I expect much of the issues arise from intersect hatred between Shia and Sunni Islamists and the Moslem males disrespect for females and children generally, An inquiry would help sort the truth from rumour and fiction. Hopefully they will be telling their cohorts not to come.

    • Firstly, Indonesia IS NOT a safe haven, for anyone. They are not signatories to the Convention on Refugees, as Australia is. Australia is quickly becoming a pariah in the rest of the world, for their treatment of refugees and particularly their treatment of the babies, toddlers and children. In whose world is child abuse acceptable? Certainly not mine! If these refugees were so bad, then all the ones arriving by plane would also be sent to Nauru, but no, it’s only those who arrive by boat. Apparently if you have enough money to fly here by plane you have no problem entering the country. This torture and abuse is reserved for those arriving by boat only. I have lost faith in the humanity of this country and am ashamed of this far right wing government, who can just as easily turn their hatred of people against their own citizens, as heppened in Germany. Don’t think it could never happen here, because it could!

  5. Susan  

    This author is a left wing refugee advocate who again offers nothing but blatant lies and quotes something she has read and researched. Yes all written by people like herself. Lying scheming and unfounded facts as usual. Everyone on Naruru arrived after 19th July 2014 I think it was. AFTER our borders were closed. They all knew this but came anyway cause they heard Australians were soft and would probably let them in any way. Pregnant woman all came to Australia to give birth for decent care and to date none of them returned due to do gooder bleeding hearts like this author. They are well cared for. No abuse against any child. Those reports she writes about never happened.. Humanitarian lawyers at their best and Red Cross workers make up dreadful accusations about staff and I can assure you you can’t put a foot out of place that isn’t investigated by the Government or the Immigration Dept. Asylum seekers know they have the right to complain and they do on a regular basis because they can. Cameras everywhere. It’s all BS and don’t believe a word of it. Maybe this author would be better writing articles about fairies and Goblins as they would be more believable than this nonsense. It’s an insult to the hard working staff. There is a reason journalists and Red Cross workers are not welcome. The asylum seekers tell so many lies and then journos like this one print them stating them as fact. Good on Dutton for standing up to these people as he has investigated and there is no proof about all these abuse allegations. How about an investigation start about the Mother who burnt her child with hot water to come to Australia. Plenty of incidence sh did that even though leftards were protesting at the Mothers innocence. I read once that staff only gave babies 3 nappies and day and women could only get sanitary pads one at a time. What a joke. Stop believing all this crap. They get given packets and packets of brand name products. Babies get the best clothes and are given $600 prams. Does this sound like abuse is going on ..No. Parents in these camps neglect their own children and expect staff to ba y sit while they lounge around slip or in their rooms making more babies. Send them all home.

    • Yes Susan, our borders are closed, but only to those who are so desperate they will get on a leaky boat to save themselves and their children, others who happen to be able to arrive by plane do not get the same treatment. I really don’t know where you get your information from, because it’s not valid. There was no investigation into the mother whose baby was scalded, except a disparaging comment from no other than Peter Dutton, who couldn’t lie straight in bed if he tried. The question I have is, how do you know all this? Have you somehow been miraculously allowed to visit Nauru to report back to the Australian people, because if so no-one else has, except for an extreme right wing ‘journalist’, who intimidated a refugee woman and went on to spout LNP rubbish. If there was nothing to hide on Nauru, there would be independent overseers of the Australian run camps, since there is not, there is obviously a lot more than is being exposed that the LNP do not want the world to know about. If you think their lives are so good on Nauru, go over and visit and spend a month living in the conditions these people are living in, then come back and tell us these conditions are wonderful. You obviously don’t believe all the medical staff, doctors and nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and the numerous NGO’s who have worked with the refugees, when they tell you, under penalty of jail, just what the conditions are like over there. I think it’s very sad that there are so many ignorant and selfish people in a country that was settled on the back of abuse, torture, murder and annihilation of the first peoples, who still have not recovered from this treatment, which to a great extent is ongoing to this day, DonDale is testament to that! Child abuse, under any circumstances, IS NOT ACCEPTABLE, and should not be accepted by any first world country!

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