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Inquiry slams refugee centre

Tuesday 1 September 2015 | Published in Regional


CANBERRA – The Australian government should speed up the removal of all asylum seeker children and their families from the Nauru detention centre, a Senate inquiry has recommended.

The Senate select committee probing the operation of the Australian-funded facility found conditions in the centre were “not adequate, appropriate or safe for the asylum seekers detained there”.

It called for a “full audit” of allegations of sexual abuse, child abuse and other criminal conduct.

“The committee is deeply concerned that without this inquiry, the allegations heard and evidence received would not have been uncovered,” its report said.

“There appears to be no other pathway for those affected by what they have seen and experienced in the Regional Processing Centre (RPC) on Nauru to disclose allegations of mistreatment, abuse or to make complaints.

“The committee believes that no guarantee can be given by the department that any aspect of the RPC is run well, and that no guarantee of transparency and accountability can be given until significant changes are made and accountability systems are put in place.”

The committee also called for the Australian Human Rights Commission and Australian media to be given “reasonable access” to the regional processing centre.

“Australia created the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru. It is Australia’s responsibility and in its present form, it is unsupportable,” the report added.

Paul Ronalds from advocacy group Save the Children has backed the inquiry’s suggestions.

“The culture of secrecy that has been associated with the offshore detention facilities has facilitated the sorts of harms that this Senate review has clearly demonstrated have been going on,” he said.

However, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has rejected the report as a “political witch hunt”, pointing out the committee is dominated by Labor and the Greens.

The committee includes two Labor senators, two Liberals, and Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens.

However, Dutton indicated he was open to considering the recommendations of the Senate inquiry.

“I’m happy to consider any of the recommendations which provide a better outcome for people,” he said.

“I think what we need to recognise though is that regional processing is there because we are not going to allow these people to come to Australia.”

The inquiry was established in March after the Moss Review exposed alleged sexual exploitation of detainees – including children – by detention centre staff.

Three days of public hearings and more than 100 submissions revealed fresh claims of misconduct, including an allegation that security personnel used “unreasonable force” against asylum seekers.

A former employee of Wilson Security said he witnessed a range of misconduct by locally employed security staff, including trading in contraband and threatening and sexually harassing asylum seekers and refugees.

He said some of the reports documenting these incidents were shredded.

There are currently 637 asylum seekers detained in Nauru, including 86 children.

The committee received evidence from a number of submissions that the Government was aware of the abuse of children well before it publicly acknowledged the allegations after the release of the Moss Review in September 2014.

In one incident from November 2013, an asylum seeker child was allegedly indecently assaulted by a cleaner employed by Transfield Services.

A Save the Children case worker said her manager referred the incident to then-immigration minister Scott Morrison in December 2013.

The case worker, Kirsty Diallo, criticised what she described as the Government’s failure to protect the child or take action to “mitigate potential threats” to other children in detention on Nauru.

“It can’t be made any clearer that locking children up with the guards on Nauru is exposing them to abuse,” committee deputy chair Senator Hanson-Young said.

The committee recommended that legislation be passed requiring the mandatory reporting of any reasonably suspected unlawful sexual contact, sexual harassment, unreasonable use of force or other assault perpetrated against asylum seekers in offshore detention.