Five Years In Detention For Manus, Nauru Refugees
"Such deliberate and sustained cruelty to innocent human beings is fundamentally wrong."
What could you do in five years?
You could finish almost your entire secondary school career, or you could learn and master a new skill. It would take five years to complete a few degrees at university. Within five years you could meet the love of your life, get married, settle down, have a child or two; five years could let you travel the world, climb the corporate ladder at work, or maybe even save up a deposit for a house.
Five years is how long some refugees have been languishing on Manus Island and Nauru, the victims of Australia's much-maligned, cruel policy of mandatory detention and offshore processing for unauthorised boat arrivals.
"Australia has gone from being a country that once welcomed immigrants to a world leader in treating refugees with brazen cruelty," said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch.
July 19 is a sombre anniversary, marking five years since then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made his famous declaration that those arriving by boat would have "no chance of being settled in Australia", restarting the country's Pacific detention of asylum seekers. Detention centres were reopened on Manus and Nauru; Human Rights Watch said 3172 people have since been transferred there at a cost of more than $5 billion.
In new video released by HRW to mark the anniversary, refugees have told of their pain and frustration at their years-long limbo.
"The current situation on Manus Island is just like hell. Since we have been forcibly removed from the former detention center, until now nothing has changed," said Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Adam.
"Things are just getting worse and worse, day after day. We have lost so many guys… due to negligence and lack of proper health care. We have multiple numbers of refugees who are suffering severely from mental health issues.”
A Burmese refugee said "it's been more than four years. I still don't know what will happen. I still have no clue about my future."
Since the Pacific camps were reopened, Australia has been constantly excoriated by international human rights bodies including the United Nations, Amnesty and the Red Cross; refugees have reported squalid conditions, a lack of quality food, water and healthcare; reports of violence, sickness and sexual assault have been constant; and at least 12 people have died, including several by suicide.
Men on Manus were forcibly moved from their former camp into new facilities last year, after food, water, power and medical care were removed from the centre.
Countless reports from international agencies warn many refugees on both Manus and Nauru -- for refugees most of them are, with even Australian government figures showing more than 75 percent of people on both islands being found to be genuine refugees -- suffer from severe mental and physical health conditions, with scarce specialist medical care available.
Several hundred have moved to the United States as part of a controversial deal inked in the dying days of the Obama presidency, but latest figures suggest around 750 men still remain on Manus Island, with around 850 people -- including more than 100 children -- on Nauru.
Some have lived their entire lives on Nauru, born after their parents were moved there.
"Five years is absolutely huge in the life of a child. These kids should be free and full of curiosity and hope. Instead, they are growing up surrounded by suffering and despair," said Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.
"Children as young as 10 are trying to kill themselves."
Marking five years since the Pacific camps were restarted, refugee advocates nationwide plan to hold vigils, protests and demonstrations this week. Around 50 events will be held across the country, organised by groups including the Australian Refugee Action Network.
“It’s been five long, painful years," Webb said.
"Twelve people have died. Such deliberate and sustained cruelty to innocent human beings is fundamentally wrong."