THE Australian Government’s handling of refugees at its offshore centers has come under international scrutiny with the revelation of a cache of documents – dubbed the ‘Nauru Files‘ – of over 2,000 reports detailing horrific accounts of torture, sexual abuse, and other human rights violations against asylum-seekers.
The complaints showed children making up the majority of the victims of sex crimes, assault, and attempted self-harm, in what appears to be the culmination of Australia’s unwavering stance on immigration.
In a massive revelation today, The Guardian released the documents showing asylum seekers describing their “atrocious” living conditions, in an illustration of cruelty and routine dysfunction as a norm.
Of the 2,116 leaked reports – 51.5 percent, or more than half of the incidents – involved children. The numbers were considerably damning as the young group made up for only 18 percent of those in detention between May 2013 and October 2015.
The children are reportedly among over 400 asylum seekers being held in Nauru, an island state in Micronesia that is situated some 2,631 kilometers (1,635 miles) north east of Papua New Guinea. The island has a population of roughly 10,000 people living in 21-square-kilometer (8.1 sq mi) area and is one of the smallest countries in the world. Other estimates indicate over 1,200 refugees are currently housed on the island.
The Guardian’s exclusive highlighted cases that ranged from a guard allegedly grabbing a boy and threatening to kill him and guards allegedly slapping children in the face.
Other cases include requests for sexual favors and other distressing accounts that have left children traumatized, as in the September 2014 report of a girl sewing her lips together and a guard laughing at her.
A child under the age of 10 in July 2014 reportedly invited a group of adults to insert their fingers into her vagina, the paper reported, citing at least seven reports of sexual assault of children.
There were also 59 reports of assault, and 30 cases of self-harm, as well as 159 threats, all involving children.
— Close Manus & Nauru (@I_stand_for) August 10, 2016
Australia’s policy of turning away refugees
A Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries saw the forcible transfers of families with children, unaccompanied children, and single men and women to Nauru since September 2012.
Human rights advocate Amnesty International said the Australian government spent AU$415 million (US$314 million) on its Nauru operations in the fiscal year ending on April 30, 2015, nearly AU$350,000 for each person held on the island in that year alone.
Nauru’s involvement in offshore centers surrounded by a “wall of secrecy” – Amnesty
Amnesty said the operations involved both Australia and Nauru going to great lengths to prevent the flow of information off the island.
“Service providers and others who work on the island face criminal charges and civil penalties under Australian law if they disclose information about conditions for asylum seekers and refugees held offshore,” it said in a statement published on August 2.
Enacting vaguely worded laws, Nauru banned Facebook on the island under the pretext of threats to public order. Legal experts fear the laws could be used to stifle protests, as well as criminalize refugees and asylum seekers.
An AU$8,000 non-refundable visa fee and a protracted application process has also been imposed on journalists arriving from abroad. Since January 2014, only two media outlets have been granted visas to enter Nauru, while other requests were either rejected or did not receive any response.
UN officials, according to Amnesty, have also been denied entry. In some cases the workers concluded that a visit would be impractical due to severe limitations on their access.
Nauru should be closed – Oxfam
Oxfam, an international confederation of charitable organizations focused on the alleviation of global poverty, expressed concern on the shocking scale of abuse being inflicted on children held in offshore detention on Nauru.
“Evidence of the systemic and cruel abuse being suffered by children and families on Nauru should compel the Australian Government to close the dysfunctional offshore detention centre,” Oxfam Australia’s Director of Public Engagement Pam Anders said.
“The appalling level of trauma and abuse is an indictment on the Australian Government.”
She said the people detained offshore should have their claims processed quickly and be offered resettlement in Australia if they are successful.
“Australia has the capacity to accept more refugees and asylum seekers – vulnerable people who should not be forced to live in traumatic conditions in offshore centers,” Anders said.
— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) August 9, 2016
Offshore detention, Anders said, comes at a great cost to all involved as it also takes a toll on detainees in terms of mental health, wellbeing and psychological harm which she described as “immeasurable”. She said there is also a significant financial cost, which is difficult to accurately estimate but is certainly over AU$1 billion.
“Recent evidence of the horrific abuse of children in the Don Dale Detention Center in Darwin prompted a swift response from the Government,” she said.
“The Government is equally obliged to respond to today’s revelations.”