By the Socialist Alternative. Originally published at

Internal Department of Immigration reports have confirmed what refugee activists and advocates have been saying for months: Nauru is a torturous hell hole that is destroying the lives of the refugees sent there.

The reports and incident logs, obtained by Farifax Media under freedom of information laws, cover the first three months of Nauru’s operation. They paint a damning picture. Repeated hunger strikes, self-harm and attempted suicide – things Socialist Alternativehas reported again and again – are all too common.

In fact, reports of protests and self-harm have been frequently issued by the detainees themselves, but largely ignored by the big capitalist media. Mahdi Vakili, who is imprisoned on Nauru, wrote just last week: “One of asylum seekers who is living in my room, he sewed his lips … Also I saw some of asylum seekers who have been on hunger strike.”

Another report, issued from the asylum seekers’ facebook page on the same day, noted [Slightly edited for clarity]:

“On the 18th of February 2013 about 10 asylum seekers tried to escape form Nauru Regional processing centre in hope of finding freedom and relieving the mental stress of being in detention. After a short time they were arrested and they were returned to the centre. They said that they were threatened and intimidated by security guards.

“More than 13 asylum seekers went on a hunger strike and 4 of them decided not to take any water and foods. There was blood in one of the asylum seekers urine and the guards refused to send him to the medical services.

“On the 19th of February about 70 asylum seekers led a peaceful demonstration they yelled ‘Don’t kill refugees close Nauru! Where is justice, Where is freedom? On shore not offshore! Where are my rights? Death to racism! Death to discrimination! Down with racism! We want freedom! Aussie Aussie Aussie, stop killing refugees! Long live freedom! Long live justice! Long live humanity! Long live equality! Long live refugees! Protection not detention!’

“Today [20 February] one of the asylum seekers climbed on the top of the partially completed accommodation building and tried to jump off. One the officers grabbed his legs and pulled him back from the edge. Then the Wilsons guards lay the man down and put pressure on his neck also punched him.”

The conditions on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, where another of Australia’s “offshore” detention centres is located, are no better. Detainees wrote last month:

“[W]e live in a very very bad situation here. We had 5 try to suicide here, in last two days, which no one has seen one of them, but the guard says they’re alive. We have women and children here. They shouldn’t see this kind of living. We all were a healthy people, but now all got sick, because of very hot weather, lack of medical facility, and mabye because of the pills we’re taking for MALARIA. Please help us …”

There are nearly 700 people locked in these two camps. In December the UN High Commissioner for Refugees described the conditions on Nauru as “harsh”. Now even Fairfax can report them as “hell”. Yet the government is expanding the centres to accommodate more, and has pledged almost $3 billion over four years to build and operate the camps.

The expansion of the prison camps comes at a time when single mothers are having welfare entitlements cut. To add insult to injury, Martin Bowles, secretary of the Immigration Department, reported to a Senate inquiry earlier this month that some of the costs of constructing the Manus Island facitlity may be counted as part of Australia’s so-called “aid” budget to Papua New Guinea!

Prime Minister Gillard’s response to the release of the reports was callous. Hunger strikes or attempted suicide “doesn’t get you anywhere”, she reportedly told journalists. Her words are as inhuman as they are predictable. This is exactly the sort of response these concentration camps are designed to produce. As Asylum Seeker Resource Centre founder Kon Karapanagiotidis said yesterday, “These are not camps for processing; they’re camps designed for the psychological torture of asylum seekers”.

The camps should be shut and those held inside should be released, granted permanent protection and paid compensation for the trauma this government is inflicting.