Widespread condemnation of Australian centre on Nauru

UN high commissioner says asylum seekers should be moved off Nauru after revelations

Demonstrators gather in Sydney to protest against alleged child abuse in Australia’s Northern Territory detention centers – the country has been hit by another detention centre scandal. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

Demonstrators gather in Sydney to protest against alleged child abuse in Australia’s Northern Territory detention centers – the country has been hit by another detention centre scandal. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters


Two United Nations agencies and dozens of human rights, legal, religious and medical groups have demanded the Australian government put a stop to the suffering of asylum seekers and refugees in its offshore processing regime, following the publication of the Nauru files.

The Australian government faced widespread condemnation after the Guardian revealed thousands of leaked documents from inside its detention centre on the Pacific island of Nauru, covering a period of more than two years.

The documents, part of the largest ever leak from inside the Australian-run regime, included incident reports detailing countless instances and allegations of abuse and trauma , often perpetrated by or involving detention centre staff.

The UN high commissioner for refugees said it was “gravely concerned” by the allegations raised and said all refugees and asylum seekers should be moved off Nauru “to humane conditions”.

“The documents released are broadly consistent with UNHCR’s longstanding and continuing concerns regarding mental health, as well as overall conditions for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru,” it said.

“UNHCR has observed and reported a progressive deterioration of the situation of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru through its regular visits since 2012.”

Officials from the UNHCR were present - though they had not spoken to him - when a 23-year-old Iranian refugee, Omid Masoumali, doused himself in petrol and set himself alight on Nauru in May this year in protest at conditions on the island.

After delays in flying him from Nauru for medical attention, Masoumali died in a Brisbane hospital two days later.

In the wake of the publication of the Nauru files, the UNHCR said permanent and humane solutions for Nauru’s asylum seeker and refugee populations were needed urgently. “Delays in immediate action to rectify the current situation are exacerbating human suffering and causing ongoing deterioration.”

A group of 26 former Save the Children staff released a statement on Wednesday afternoon to say they were the authors of many of the reports but the leaked cache was just “the tip of the iceberg”.

On Wednesday the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection said many of the incident reports “reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims - they are not statements of proven fact”.

“The documents published today are evidence of the rigorous reporting procedures that are in place in the regional processing centre - procedures under which any alleged incident must be recorded, reported and where necessary investigated,” it said.

The department said it was examining the matters raised to ensure the reporting process by the centre’s service providers was appropriate, but there was no evidence to suggest under- or misreporting.

“The Australian government provides support to the Nauruan government, including the deployment of Australian federal police officers to work alongside the [Nauruan police force] and build their capacity to investigate complex and sensitive incidents.

“It also takes seriously its role in supporting the government of Nauru to protect children from abuse, neglect or exploitation.”

Amnesty International’s senior director for research Anna Neistat, who went undercover last month to investigate the centre, said the Guardian’s report “laid bare a system of ‘routine dysfunction and cruelty’ that is at once dizzying in its scale and utterly damning for the Australian authorities who tried so hard to maintain a veil of secrecy”.

“The Australian government has engaged in one of the most successful mass cover-ups I’ve witnessed in my career of documenting human rights violations,” said Neistat. “They’ve repeatedly said this kind of abuse has not been going on. They’ve been lying.”

The Australian Medical Association called for the establishment of an investigative body, entirely independent of government, to immediately assess the health and living conditions of every person in offshore detention.

– Guardian service