The horrors on Nauru are the consequence of treating asylum seekers as criminals

The UK should learn from Australia's failures


This week the world was shocked by the release of over 2,000 reports revealing the extent of abuse and trauma in Australia’s Nauru detention centre.

The files, over half of which concern children, detail sexual abuse, self-harm and assault on a horrifying scale.

These revelations shame Australia. But they should also speak to all those across Europe who have called for an Australian-style ‘send the boats back’ approach to our own refugee crisis.

For we know now—if we didn’t before—the human cost of a policy of ‘deterring’ those who have nowhere left to go. Parts of the Middle East and Africa are being torn apart by war. Millions have lost their homes; many cannot stay in their home countries without risking torture, imprisonment or death.

These people cannot simply be turned away from our shores – whether in Australia or in Europe. And yet, as David Marr writes, the horrors of Nauru are allowed to exist because ‘both sides of politics tell us that only by detaining refugees out there will the boats stop coming here.’

And Australia is not alone in treating seeking asylum as a crime, with deplorable consequences. Theresa May entered office under the cloud of a bleak trail of stories about the conditions faced by women at Yarl’s Wood detention centre under her watch as Home Secretary.

In June, the Home Office refused to reveal whether any women detained there had been raped or sexually assaulted by guards. Last year, the chief prison officer called the centre a ‘place of national concern’ after a report revealed that half of detainees felt unsafe.

Pregnant women are routinely held there—99 in 2015—and self-harm is commonplace.

Yarl’s Wood is just one of ten ‘Immigration Removal Centres’ in the UK, which detain a total of 30,000 people every year. Some people are held for just a few days but others are detained for years – often with no idea how long they will be there.

In 2014, 99 children were held, despite the government’s claim to have abolished child detention in 2011.

The state-sanctioned abuse carried out both at Nauru and Yarl’s Wood are the result of a political climate in which politicians compete to take the toughest line on migration; in which refugees and asylum seekers are seen first and foremost as scroungers and scammers; and in which those fleeing conflict and persecution are reduced to ‘swarms’, ‘floods’ and ‘marauders.’

This hostile and suspicious culture gives a tacit endorsement to our governments treating people as if they are not people. And it is incumbent on all of us to challenge it.

Shahrar Ali is deputy leader and home affairs spokesperson for the Green Party. He is currently running for a second term as deputy leader.

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