Amnesty warns any company taking over Manus and Nauru camps complicit in ‘abuse’

Ben Doherty
Amnesty has warned that companies who may take over the contract to run the Manus and Nauru centres will be participating in a deliberately abusive regime. Photograph: Reuters

Amnesty International has issued a pre-emptive warning to any companies considering taking over Australia’s offshore detention centres, that to assume the contract to run the camps would be to be complicit in “human rights abuses”.

Ferrovial, the Spanish infrastructure giant which owns camp management company Broadspectrum, has already told the Australian government it will not work on the island camps on Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island beyond the expiration of its current contract in October 2017.

A new Amnesty briefing Treasure I$land: How companies are profiting from Australia’s abuse of refugees on Nauru, argues that any companies stepping into the breach after Broadspectrum leaves will be participating in a deliberately abusive regime.

“Any company or organisation considering taking up this toxic baton will be complicit in an intentionally abusive system, in direct contravention of its human rights responsibilities, and will be exposing itself to potential criminal liability and damages claims,” Lucy Graham, Amnesty International’s researcher on business and human rights, said.

“The regime of cruelty at the refugee processing centre on Nauru leaves a stain that no responsible company would want on its conscience or reputation.

“The Australian government has created an island of despair for refugees and people seeking asylum on Nauru, but an island of profit for companies making millions of dollars from a system so deliberately and inherently cruel and abusive it amounts to torture,” Graham said.

In response, Ferrovial told the Guardian Amnesty’s report was repetitious of previous statements, and “gratuitous, since it fails to take account of the company’s announcement, immediately after acquiring Australian company Broadspectrum, that it would not bid for the contracts when they came up for renewal … as they are not part of its strategic business portfolio”.

Ferrovial said the camps were regularly visited by representatives of the United Nations, International Organisation for Migration, and Australia’s ombudsman.

Broadspectrum said it would be “happy to incorporate suggestions to improve conditions in the regional processing centres and has done this several times”.

“Broadspectrum has repeatedly called on Amnesty International to make specific suggestions to improve living conditions, however Amnesty International has failed to respond.”

The Nauru and Manus camps have been riven by allegations of systemic physical and sexual abuse of asylum seekers by guards, rape, murder and death in detention, violence, acts of self-harm, suicide attempts, widespread and chronic mental health problems, poor medical care, and harsh physical conditions.

Matthew Phillips, co-director of GetUp’s No Business in Abuse campaign, which detailed the legal and financial risks to companies involved in offshore processing in July, said the companies which had taken offshore processing contracts had done so in the knowledge they were contributing to a regime of systemic abuse.

“Amnesty’s report serves as a warning to any organisation considering taking on contracts inside the government’s abusive offshore detention regime. Doing so would make them complicit in gross human rights abuse, and the target of a global campaign.”

The Australian government has ultimate authority over the camps and has escalated its efforts to clear them in recent months.

Forced deportations of people assessed as not meeting refugee convention criteria have increased dramatically, and asylum seekers are being offered up to $30,000 to prematurely abandon their protection claim and return home.

Officials from the US department of homeland security are currently on Manus Island conducting fingerprint and other biometric testing for possible resettlement in America. But it’s unknown how many refugees the US will accept and the Australian government has conceded there will be a “balance” of refugees - who are legally owed protection - remaining on the two islands.

The corporate side of the detention centre operation is proving most difficult for the Australian government to manage.

Along with Ferrovial’s refusal to work on the islands any longer, Medical services provider IHMS was expelled from Manus Island last week after the PNG government ruled it was not licensed to practice. It has been replaced by a PNG company, which is providing only basic and emergency medical care.

The President of Nauru, Baron Waqa, begins a four-day state visit to Australia on Wednesday.

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