The Australian government has rejected accusations levied by two rights groups that it overlooks the "systematic" abuse and neglect of asylum seekers it sent to the island of Nauru in order to discourage further illegal arrivals.
"We strongly refute many of the allegations in the report and would encourage Amnesty International to contact the department before airing allegations of this kind," an Australia Immigration Department spokesman told dpa on Wednesday.
Australian authorities forcibly sent 1,200 asylum seekers to the Pacific island state of Nauru and are willfully ignoring the severe abuse and neglect they face there, according to a report from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
"We're not talking about individual cases, we're talking about patterns," Amnesty researcher Anna Neistat told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
"Essentially they are making an example to prevent further arrivals by boat," Neistat said.
Those detained, including women and children, are being denied medical care in "abhorrent" conditions, the report says. Nauruan locals attack detainees on an almost daily basis, and women cannot go out alone out of fear of verbal and sexual abuse, Neistat said.
"What I found on Nauru is what I can only describe as a deliberate, systematic abuse," Neistat told the ABC.
Since 2001, Australia has run detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea to handle asylum seekers and migrants who arrived in the country illegally. Access to refugees held on Nauru is difficult: Permission is rarely granted, and Nauru restricts journalists from visiting the island.
Undercover investigators spoke to more than 80 of the 1,200 people being detained by Australian authorities on Nauru, according to the report. Requests for official visits with the asylum seekers were rebuffed or neglected, according to ABC.
According to the Australian immigration spokesman, Amnesty made no attempt to consult with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in preparation of the report.
Australia remains committed to regional processing and will continue working closely with the Government of Nauru to support the full implementation of regional processing arrangements as agreed under the memorandum of understanding, the spokesman said.
"The Republic of Nauru is a sovereign nation and Australia does not exert control over Nauru's functions, its law, its judicial system or law enforcement," he continued.
"Australia does, however, provide support to the Government of Nauru by funding accommodation and support services for all transferees and refugees, including welfare and health services," the spokesman said.