A flight carrying 19 Sri Lankan and Iranian asylum seekers touched down in Papua New Guinea on Wednesday morning.
A flight carrying 19 Sri Lankan and Iranian asylum seekers touched down in Papua New Guinea on Wednesday morning. Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Amnesty fears for mental health of asylum seekers on Nauru

CONCERNS have been raised about the conditions being experienced by hundreds of asylum seekers on Nauru.

Amnesty International has expressed fears for the mental health of the almost 400 asylum seekers in detention on the island, citing over-crowding and extreme heat.

The group said conditions in the temporary processing centre were so bad it was causing some of the detainees to self-harm.

It came as Immigration Minister announced the government would begin processing people on Australian soil because of capacity constraints on Nauru and Manus Islands.

Mr Bowen said these people would receive "no advantage" from being processed in Australia and would be treated as if they were being processed at one of the regional facilities.

He said given the number of people who had arrived by boat since August 13 - the day the government recommitted to the offshore processing of asylum seekers - it would not be possible to transfer them all to Nauru or Manus Island "in the immediate future".

The first group of asylum seekers arrived at the processing centre on Manus Island on Wednesday.

A flight carrying 19 Sri Lankan and Iranian asylum seekers touched down in Papua New Guinea on Wednesday morning, the Department of Immigration said in a statement.

"Accordingly, some of these people will be processed in the Australian community. They will not however be issued with a permanent protection visa if found to be a refugee, until such time that they would have been resettled in Australia after being processed in our region," Mr Bowen said.

"People arriving by boat are subject to this no advantage principle, whether that means being transferred offshore to have their claims processed, remaining in detention, or being placed in the community.

"Transfers to Nauru and Manus Island will continue, however in the coming weeks and months my department will begin releasing some people who arrived by boat on or after August 13 into the community on bridging visas."

Mr Bowen also revealed 100 Sri Lankan men, all recent arrivals from a number of different boats, had been sent home.

He said it was the ninth involuntary removal this month and the largest return to Colombo so far.

"This latest removal was achieved with the cooperation of the Royal Australian Air Force who made a KC-30 aircraft available to enable a larger number of people to be removed at one time than was previously possible," Mr Bowen said.

"The message here is very clear: people who pay smugglers are risking their lives and throwing their money away. They are being told lies. There is no visa on arrival, there is no speedy outcome, and there is no special treatment."

He said without a valid visa the Sri Lankans had no legal right to remain in Australia.

Since August 13, 525 Sri Lankans have returned home - 426 involuntarily.

And the boats continue to come, with another two intercepted in Australian waters on Tuesday night.

A vessel carrying 55 people was stopped west of Cocos Island, while another with 82 people on board was intercepted south-west of Christmas Island.

All passengers were to be transferred to Christmas Island.

The latest boat arrivals came on the same day Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison launched a scathing attack on the government over the issue.

Mr Morrison pointed out 515 boats carrying more than 30,000 people had arrived in Australian waters since 2007.

About half of that number have arrived this year alone.

"Thirty thousand arrivals is greater than the population of cities like Alice Springs, Warrnambool, Nowra, Albany, Maryborough and Devonport. It is around one and a half times the size of cities like Goulburn, Armidale and Mount Isa," Mr Morrison said.

The government, on advice from the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, agreed to re-open the processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island in August.

While this had long been the Coalition's policy, Mr Morrison said until the government started turning boats around the problem would not go away.

But the expert panel found turning asylum seeker boats around was not an option without the co-operation of neighbouring countries like Indonesia, which is opposed to the idea.

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