26 September 2023

Island detention found inappropriate

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An inquiry by the Australian Human Rights Commission into the practice of sending asylum seeking families with young children to Nauru found the regional processing centre there to be “not appropriate”.

President of the Commission, Rosalind Croucher said the report made for disturbing reading.

“The conditions in which families were detained on Nauru posed grave risks to their physical and mental health,” Professor Croucher said.

She said the report found that the accommodation of families in vinyl marquees on the phosphate plateau of central Nauru failed to provide them with sufficient protection from heat, rain and exposed them to the risk of serious disease, including dengue fever. It found some families had been transferred to Nauru during a dengue fever epidemic.

Professor Croucher said that while the focus of the inquiry was on the families compound at the regional processing centre, single adult women were also transferred to Nauru and faced similar conditions.

“As Australia had effective control over the day-to-day operation of the centre, the conditions in the centre were the responsibility of the Australian Government,” she said.

“The Government should not have transferred people to Nauru while it knew that these risks existed.

“The report also found serious breaches of the human rights of a pregnant woman who needed a medical transfer to Australia due to a complicated pregnancy. Her transfer was delayed until she was almost 35 weeks pregnant, contrary to Departmental policy and the advice of treating doctors.”

Professor Croucher said that while the regional processing centre on Nauru had now been decommissioned, the report provided a stark warning should similar regional processing arrangements be contemplated in the future.

Author of the report, Richard Lancaster SC expressed concern at the time taken by the Department of Home Affairs to respond to the complaints it raised, which he said caused significant delays to the inquiry process.

The Commission’s 222-page report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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