The Australian government has adopted a "system of deliberate cruelty" that has turned the Nauru-based asylum seekers detention facilities into "an open-air prison," Amnesty International said in a scathing new report on Monday.
"The Australian government is choosing to subject women, men and children to an elaborate and cruel system of abuse with a policy that is intentionally designed to harm people," the human rights advocacy group said in the report "Island of Despair."
"On Nauru, the Australian government runs an open-air prison designed to inflict as much suffering as necessary to stop some of the world's most vulnerable people from trying to find safety in Australia," Anna Neistat, Amnesty's senior director for research, said in a statement.
Australia has intercepted all asylum seekers travelling to the country by sea since 2013, and either turns their boats back or processes their claims offshore in Nauru or on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
The government says that it deters people-smugglers and prevents people from undertaking the hazardous boat journey to Australia.
According to the Australian department of border protection, 396 people are still waiting to be processed at Nauru detention facility, while 1,196 asylum seekers have been processed, of which 942 were given genuine refugees status, and are now living in the community in Nauru.
The Amnesty report said mental illness and incidents of self-harm among the asylum seekers were shockingly commonplace with "nearly all of the people reporting mental health issues of some kind."
They have suffered "devastating and, in some cases, irreparable" damage and the government had gone "to extraordinary lengths to hide the daily despair of the people on Nauru," said Neistat, one of the very few people who has managed to enter the island to investigate.
Remote and secretive, Nauru has some of the most stringent visa regulations for journalists and activists, making it near impossible to visit.
Last month, Danish lawmakers were forced to cancel a planned visit to the Australian-run detention facilities after three members of the group were refused visas to the Pacific island nation.