Government urged to remove all children from Nauru immigration detention

Read the report in full at the end of the article.


A Senate Committee has called on the Abbott Government to remove all children from the Nauru detention centre, which it described as “neither a safe nor an appropriate environment for children”.

In a report published on Monday, the government was also urged to “commit to and publicly state a specific plan for addressing the educational needs of asylum seeker and refugee children in Nauru”.

The five member cross-party committee – established to investigate allegations relating to conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru – said the centre was “insupportable” in its current form.

It further stated that many who had come forward to give evidence into the conditions had called for its closure.

“The present conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru are not adequate, appropriate or safe for the asylum seekers detained there,” it stated.

“The committee believes that the Commonwealth must accept ultimate responsibility for conditions at the Centre, commit to a clear plan for its future as part of genuine regional arrangements for dealing with irregular migration, and make tangible improvements to living condition.

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

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Primary among the recommendations put forward was the removal of all children from the centre, amid numerous allegations of sexual abuse.

The report made reference to the Moss Review and an earlier inquiry carried out by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which stated that the “prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children” was in breach of Australia’s international obligations.

It also cited additional evidence from former workers at the centre, including Viktoria Vibhakar.

The former Save the Children Australia employee told the inquiry that people were “required to experience multiple episodes of sexual harassment” before they were moved to a safer location.

Ms Vibhakar told the committee that claims of sexual harassment made by a 16-year-old girl were investigated by the Nauruan Police Force, but the harassment by Commonwealth contracted employees did not cease.

“Even when abuse against a child is substantiated, not only is there no statutory authority to intervene or to remove children from abusive situations, but there are not adequate laws or a functioning criminal justice system to bring the perpetrator to justice,” she said.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre also outlined fears relating to living conditions, stating that access to the toilets was a source of concern for the 87 women and children in the centre.

“Women and children are too scared at night to go to the bathroom as a group of Nauruan and Australian guards group outside the toilets,” they said.

“This forces the women and children to wet their bed, have to wear pads or squat outside their tent.”

The committee stated that it “fails to understand how, if immigration detention facilities in Australia are regarded as inappropriate locations for children, the government could possibly regard as acceptable their continued detention in the far worse conditions of the Nauru RPC”.

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The committee also slammed the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, calling on them to take more responsibility for incidents within the centre.

The report stated that the Department had no system for staff “to disclose allegations of mistreatment, abuse or to make complaints”.

“The department has been unaware of serious acts of misconduct by staff of contractors, as those contractors have not adequately fulfilled their reporting obligations,” it read.

“The committee remains of the view that the government in particular has sought to avoid the full accountability to which the Senate is entitled.”

Among the 15 recommendations in the report, the Committee urged the Abbott Government to provide sufficient support to Nauru’s police and courts, as well as provide greater transparency about life in the centre.

Other recommendations included:

that Government of Australia, in consultation with the Government of Nauru, agree on and publicly commit to a model timeframe for refugee status determinationthat asylum seekers be informed about the steps being taken to process their claims, be regularly updated on the progress of the claim, and that an explanation be provided to asylum seekers when model timeframes are not metthat the Department of Immigration and Border Protection with Australian Federal Police undertake a full audit of all allegations of sexual abuse, child abuse and other criminal conduct reported to various inquiriesthat the Immigration Minister report to the Senate by the end of December 2015, and every six months thereafter, setting out all allegations of a criminal nature made in relation to the RPC, and the action taken by the department in response

It also called for daily random drug and alcohol tests for centre workers. 

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The report also detailed the increasing costs involved with the centre, totalling more than $1.3 billion since it was reopened in 2012.

Operational costs jumped from $143,196,000 in 2012-13 to $387,662,000 in 2013-14.

Of the previous financial year, operating to April 2015 totalled $380,419,000. The majority of these costs – $359,013,000 or 94 per cent – was spent within the centre. The remaining 6 per cent was spent on settlement.

The Committee’s deputy chair, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, stated that the government’s “head-in-the-sand approach” to mounting evidence of systemic child abuse was causing immeasurable harm.

“Nauru’s legal system has collapsed, its police force is not capable of protecting women and children and there is a sinister culture of secrecy that hangs heavy over the camp,” she said.

“No one there is safe… It’s clear that the Nauru camp needs to be shut down, before more damage is done.”