Canberra: More than 2,000 leaked reports detail widespread abuse and trauma among children and women at Australia’s offshore detention centre for asylum seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru.
The “incident reports”, published by the Guardian, reveal that self-harm and violence are commonplace at the centre.
Numerous reports were related to sexual assault and coercion of women. The Australian government said many reports were “unconfirmed allegations”.
“The Australian Government continues to support the Nauruan Government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees,” an immigration department spokesperson said.
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“All alleged incidents within the regional processing centre are reported and where appropriate referred to the Nauru Police Force (NPF) for investigation.”
Australia outsources the processing of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat to two privately run facilities — one on Nauru and another on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
The companies that run the facilities and security are contractually required to report incidents of various kinds within specified time frames, BBC reported.
The secretiveness of the Australian and Nauruan governments about conditions at the centre has led to complaints from the media and human rights groups.
A large number of the reports concern children, either describing alleged abuse or disturbing and unusual behaviour brought on by trauma. One report alleges that a security guard shone a torch on a young girl’s genitals as she tried to urinate.
Others detail children suffering nightmares of “blood and death” and wishing for suicide.
Twenty-three of the reports describe sexual assaults, particularly against young women. Hundreds of incidents of threatened and actual self-harm are described in the documents.
A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokesman said: “It’s important to note many of these incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations.”
“They are evidence of the robustness of reporting procedures under which any alleged incident must be recorded, reported and where necessary investigated.
“The department is seeking urgent advice from its service providers today to confirm all of these matters have been previously and appropriately reported to it, consistent with the policies and procedures covering such matters.”
Shadow Defence Minister Richard Marles criticised the government for a lack of transparency and independent oversight at the centre.
“The government could be talking to Nauru actively to arrange systems of independent oversight for the facility, now it’s not clear to me that those conversations have ever occurred between the Australian government and the Nauruan government,” he said.
The number of asylum seekers travelling to Australia by boat rose sharply in 2012 and early 2013. Scores of people have died making the journey.
To stop the influx, the government adopted tough measures intended as a deterrent.
Everyone who arrives is detained. Under the policy, asylum seekers are processed offshore at centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.