Treasure Island: How Companies Are Profiting from Australia's Abuse of Refugees on Nauru

April 4, 2017

Treasure Island: How Companies Are Profiting from Australia's Abuse of Refugees on Nauru

A major corporation responsible for running the Australian government’s refugee “processing” centre on Nauru is making millions of dollars from a system that amounts to torture of refugees and people seeking asylum, Amnesty International said today.

A new briefing,‘Treasure I$land’, exposes how Spanish multinational Ferrovial and its Australian subsidiary Broadspectrum are complicit in, and reaping vast profits from, Australia’s cruel and secretive refugee “processing” system on the Pacific island.

“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,” said Lucy Graham, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Business and Human Rights.

“By knowingly enabling the continuation of this system, which is specifically designed to cause suffering and deter people from travelling to Australia by boat to seek asylum, Broadspectrum and Ferrovial are unequivocally complicit in this abuse.”

With Broadspectrum’s AUD$2.5 billion contract with the Australian government ending in October, Amnesty International is warning other firms against seeking to profit from torture.

“Any company 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,” said Lucy Graham.

“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.”

Cruelty – a lucrative business

Since 2012, Australia has operated intentionally harsh “offshore processing” systems on the Pacific island of Nauru and the island of Manus in Papua New Guinea. Refugees and asylum seekers are isolated in remote locations and subjected to cruel and degrading conditions, sometimes for years on end, simply because they have sought safety on Australian shores.

Amnesty International’s October 2016 report, Island of Despair: Australia's 'processing of refugeeson Nauru'found that the Australian government is intentionally and systematically violating the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum on Nauru. It concluded that the conditions on Nauruare so deliberately cruel and abusive that they amount to torture.

It has now transpired that cruelty and abuse make for a lucrative business.

The Refugee Processing Centres (RPCs) on Nauru and Manus Island are run by Broadspectrum, which was bought by Ferrovial in April 2016.

Amnesty International’s latest briefing details how the part of Broadspectrum’s business that runs its operations on Nauru and Manus Island contributed AUD$1.646 billion in the 2016 financial year– an astonishing 45% of the company’s total operating revenues.

Meanwhile, Ferrovial has raked in 1.4 billion euros in revenues from Broadspectrum since acquiring the company. A substantial portion of this comes from operations on Nauru and Manus Island.

“Not only are Ferrovial and Broadspectrum turning a blind eye to the human rights violations perpetrated by the Australian government; they are the very enablers of the abuse,” said Lucy Graham.

“It’s a clinical, cold-blooded set-up where the Australian authorities set the blueprint for cruelty, and the companies do the dirty work. Considering the extraordinary profits on offer, we believe it is clear that these companies are motivated by sheer greed.”

The total value of the Australian government’s contract with Broadspectrum is AUD$2.5 billion (US$1.9 billion) over three and a half years.

When put into the context of Broadspectrum’s other business sectors, it becomes clear just how profitable this contract is.