"De facto" detention must stop, says UN torture prevention body

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At a social centre for refugees on Nauru, where they are held, conditions are basic. Photo: UNHCR/N. Wright

Asylum-seekers trying to get into Australia are being held in "de facto" detention on a Pacific island which has failed to respect key human rights obligations, UN experts said Wednesday.

The warning comes from UN investigators who have just visited the island of Nauru, which has an agreement with the Australian government to process migrants' refugee claims.

Daniel Johnson has more.

After their first visit to the tiny island that lies hundreds of kilometres off the Australian coast, the UN investigators said they had visited "all places of deprivation of liberty".

This includes Nauru's police station, prison and a larger processing centre for asylum-seekers who've come from Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Between 500 and 600 migrants have been given refugee status on Nauru and a similar number are still waiting for their claims to be processed.

Men, women and families with children are being detained, the UN human rights office says.

And many have been waiting up to 16 months to be told if they can have official refugee status, according to Professor Malcolm Evans.

He's chairman of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture.

"The primary concern of course is that so many are being held in what amounts to a form of de facto detention as asylum-seekers when this is not how asylum-seekers should be held when they are awaiting for their applications to be processed, so the very fact they are is a problem."

Nauru is in the spotlight because it is supposed to have set up a monitoring body to protect the interests of the asylum-seekers.

Professor Evans said he'd received "clear assurances" from the island's authorities that this would happen.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations

Duration: 1'11"


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