Depressed: Single men on Nauru have threatened suicide to protest their treatment. Photo: Angela WylieRefugees’ mental anguish in Australia’s ‘Guantanamo’
More than 50 refugees resettled by Australia on Nauru say they have been “abandoned to live like animals in the jungle”.
In an interview from the tiny Pacific island, the refugees told Fairfax Media they don’t have enough clean water, food, or work to sustain themselves and that they can’t afford phone calls to their families back home.
“In our country, the Taliban will come and they will slash our throats and finish our lives. It will take 10 minutes to die. But here, they are killing us by pain, taking our soul and our life slowly. In our countries there is physical torture, but here we are being tortured mentally,” one refugee told Fairfax Media.
Already, one refugee has died. He accidentally drowned in June when he was swept into the sea while bathing.
Fifty-one men – 44 Pakistanis, six Afghans and one Iranian – are living at the isolated “Fly Camp” on Nauru. The men are Shi’ite Muslims, most of whom fled Taliban violence or religious persecution in their homelands. Most speak Pashto as a first language, but the majority are university educated and also speak English.
While they are classified as “single men” for their refugee status, almost all have wives and children in their homelands.
Fairfax Media spoke to several men from Fly Camp who said they had told representatives of the Nauru and Australian governments they were planning a peaceful protest outside Nauru’s parliament house.
Several of the men said if their pleas for assistance weren’t heeded, they would kill themselves by immolation in protest to highlight the desperation of their colleagues.
“I am ready for suicide. Other men too. We prepare ourselves for suicide. That is the permanent solution to our problem,” one man said.
Refugee families have been settled within Nauruan communities, but the single men say they have been forced to live, three-men-to-a-container, at the isolated makeshift camp removed from all other people.
Only five of the men have jobs, mainly as labourers, and the $360-a-month allowance refugees are given – about $12 a day – does not cover basic living expenses.
Almost all food is imported, and costly, in Nauru.
“We cannot buy clean water. We have shortage of food. We cannot afford any clothes. We don’t have enough money for soap or toothpaste, our basic needs for life.”
There is no rubbish collection or septic system at the camp, the refugees said. Mosquitoes and flies are constant.
“Australia sends good water for the government workers here but tells us to boil the bad water. This water makes us sick. We have gastro and we have skin problems.”
The men say they are depressed at their treatment. Said one, “I have committed no crime, but I am treated like a criminal. All of us, we are abandoned to live like animals in the jungle.”
Phone calls home were prohibitively expensive, they said, with most only able to speak to their wives and children for a few minutes once or twice a month.
“One man’s mother had a heart attack. He needed some money to call his family. Tears were in our eyes at his terrible state, but we could not give him money to call his family. We gave what we had but it was not enough for him to call to see how his mother was.”
Beyond living conditions, the men’s most fundamental complaint was the lack of opportunities to work to remit money home and the absence of any prospect of being reunited with their families.
“I fled my country for my life so I could have a future. But now I have no future.,” one said.
Refugee advocates have previously raised concerns about impoverished Nauru’s suitability as a resettlement country for refugees under Australia’s care.
Former chief justice Geoffrey Eames said the rule of law was in “a very parlous state” in Nauru after the President unilaterally dismissed him and the chief magistrate. External media attention is limited. The country charges $8000 for a single media visa.
There is little indigenous economy – the unemployment rate is about 90 per cent – and the country is almost wholly dependent on Australian aid for its survival.
Representatives from the Nauru government were not available to comment on Sunday. The Australian government did not respond to questions.
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