February 08, 2015 | smh
A medical team has described the “appalling” conditions at the detention centre on Nauru, saying there are not enough sanitary pads for women menstruating and children and women are forced to shower behind a flimsy curtain that often flies open in front of male guards.
Dr David Isaacs, a Sydney-based paediatrician, said he was shocked at the conditions the 895 asylum seekers lived in when he worked at the centre in December.
“Almost every child had behavioural problems relating to trauma and stress,” he said.
“It is hot all the time, it is dusty, with very poor facilities for washing,” he said. “They will limit the amount of time you’re allowed in the shower to two to three minutes because of water shortages, and then there is this distance between the showers and the tents. I was shocked by how awful it was.”
Dr Isaacs said he felt compelled to speak out against the conditions, despite the contracts he signed before working on the small Pacific island.
“I am not afraid to break my contract and to wear the consequences, because I feel not to speak out is to condone what is happening in our name,” he said.
His colleague, Alanna Maycock, who is a nurse, was similarly distressed by the lack of privacy for women in the camp and the number of children who were wetting their beds at night, in fear of walking in darkness to go to the bathroom.
“One Muslim mother we saw had to walk past male guards at night to reach the toilet while menstruating and a blood clot ran down her leg and fell to the ground in front of them,” she said.
“Another mother was too scared to go to the shower block at night to wash her child that was covered in diarrhoea.
“Women are expected to wash themselves and their babies where there is no door, no lock and the male guards can often see them.
“Women are also wetting the beds – they are too frightened to go to the toilet at night. There are male guards and there have been reports of sexual-based violence against the women by the local guards.”
Another doctor who also worked on Nauru, Dr Hasantha Gunasekera, said holding children in detention constituted child abuse.
“The mandatory detention of children, particularly in offshore processing centres like Nauru, is child abuse. It is completely and utterly inappropriate and also unnecessary, in terms of it not being effective and being exorbitantly expensive.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration denied there was a shortage of sanitary pads and said it would be inappropriate to discuss whether women and children were suffering from bed wetting. She said there were no plans to upgrade the showering facilities.
In October, former immigration minister Scott Morrison initiated an independent investigation into claims women on Nauru had been sexually assaulted by guards. The Moss Review is yet to be released. A department spokesman said: “The review is being finalised and its findings will be released in due course.”
In November, a female asylum seeker said she had been raped twice by a male asylum seeker, who was immediately given refugee status. That allegation was also forwarded to the Moss Review.
It comes as the Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into children in detention is due to be released by the government.