Agger and Jensen found that testimony is an open attestation of victims’ private pain and a condemnation of injustice with a psychotherapeutic effect. Testimony allows individualised pain to be experienced by the audience as personal encroachment, which then engenders the empathy of the audience for such pain. It can also be seen as an advocacy against political oppression and the violation of human rights. In Island of Despair, an Iranian refugee testified to the fact that there was no real difference between being detained at the detention centre and living freely as recognised refugees on Nauru.
We now understand that getting the refugee status does not give us any freedom, we have no idea how long we are in for and when we can get released”. The use of negation “not and no” denies the possibility for refugees on Nauru to enjoy the right of fundamental liberty, and emphasises the psychological pain of living with uncertainty and despair. The use of “we” attempts to include the audience as part of the refugee community, and to engage their imagination of how they would feel if they were in the shoes of the refugees.
By using simple language, the testimony here helps forge understandings across difference between the audience and the refugees. It allows the mental suffering of the refugees to enter the audience in order to make the audience feel responsible for the refugees on Nauru, and to stimulate the audience to express disapproval of the Australian Government’s refugee detention policy. Testimony evidently provides the audience some insight into the negative impact of sustained detention on the whole life of the refugees on Nauru.
In addition, Island of Despair adduced the testimony of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists to strengthen the argument that detention does cause long-term harm to refugees. Through adopting the politics of recognition as referred to by Hesford, Amnesty International utilises the College’s authoritative figure of representing mental health professionals to aver that the Nauru detention centres are responsible for the severe mental illness suffered by the refugees.
The College testified to the fact that prolonged immigration detention has been shown to worsen mental illness in those already suffering when detained and to result in the development of completely new conditions in those without mental illness on arrival. The testimony of the College is a powerful device to acknowledge the undeniable truth of numerous refugee suffering cases illustrated in this report. It also serves as proof to stress the Australian Government’s moral culpability of setting up these detention centres, in which every refugee is being exposed to a high risk of developing and aggravating mental illness.
Inadequate medical care provided to refugees on Nauru is another major issue. The hospitals on Nauru are ill-equipped to offer certain medical services and specialists. Refugees with serious medical problems were transferred for treatment to Australia, but returned to Nauru before their treatment was complete. A refugee who suffered a heart attack said that the doctors on Nauru could not do anything about his clogged arteries. A worker in one of the hospitals on Nauru said that people are often discharged while they are still sick, half-conscious, having needles in their hands.
A Pakistan refugee reported that a Nauruan nurse called him “rubbish” when he asked her whether a doctor would come to see him. These testimonies are fragments of the refugees’ lives, but they are interrelated. They are telling the audience the synopses of bad experience faced by refugees. The aggregated testimonies form a coherent story of how bad the medical services on Nauru are in treating injured refugees. Testimonies resonate among the audience on the issue of refugees receiving poor medical assistance, which is an example of the failure of the Australian Government to provide suitable places and supports for settling refugees.
Additionally, testimony can be translated into visual images. Island of Despair displayed a drawing by a 16-year-old Iranian refugee. The drawing depicted seven children with tears who were contained in a house named as “Naru”. The spelling mistake of Nauru implies that refugee children on Nauru are not receiving proper education. The children were isolated from the sunlight, which is a metaphor of hope. Even refugee children on Nauru realise that they have no hope with their lives.
Island of Despair further exhibited testimonies regarding the suffering of refugee children as a result of diverse human rights violations. A service-provider witness said that refugee children who attended local schools were being hit by teachers, and threatened with machetes by Nauruan children. A secondary refugee student said that the Nauruan boys run up, hugged her and touched her bottom. A teenage refugee reported that local children tried to pull off her hijab. These testimonies demonstrate significant violations of children’s fundamental human rights.
Refugee children are suffering from physical injuries, threatening, sexual assaults, and all sorts of discrimination. Testimonies unveil the unacceptable environment surrounding refugee children, and engender the empathy of the audience for their suffering. This compels the audience to ponder on why the Australian Government blatantly allows discriminatory behaviours to inflict harm on refugees, and influence them to blame the Australian Government for allocating refugees to Nauru.
All of the testimonies are aiming at interrupting the refugee detention policy and preventing further refugee suffering from happening. After analysing the Island of Despair report, this essay manifests how the Australian Government is responsible for the existing refugee problems on Nauru. Owing to wars and humanitarian interventions in their homelands, refugees are forced to seek protection from persecution in other countries. Australia is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Nonetheless, the Australian Government established detention centres to detain refugees forever, without giving them an adequate standard of living. Interpreting and adopting different analytical techniques from academics provides useful insight into how photographs, language, narrations and testimonies can affect the audience by moulding their perceptions of refugee issues. It is perceptible that Amnesty International is able to gather support and encourage the audience to act in the interest of upholding refugees’ fundamental human rights.