April 07, 2015 | the guardian
Open letter from detention centre employees alleges Australian government knew of physical and sexual abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru more than a year before it acted.
The federal government has been aware of physical and sexual abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru for more than a year but failed to take appropriate action, workers from the detention centre have alleged.
In an unprecedented move, 23 current and former medical staff, teachers, social workers and child protection staff have signed an open letter calling for the removal of all asylum seekers from Nauru to Australia. They have also called for a royal commission into sexual abuse on Nauru and into the government’s response.
Transfield immigration staff told they can be fired for using Facebook
The three-page letter says comments by immigration minister Peter Dutton that there was a “zero tolerance” attitude to sexual abuse “do not reflect the attitude or actual response” on Nauru.
It says Dutton’s request for asylum seekers to come forward and report sexual assaults could put them in further danger because of the close-knit nature of the detention environment.
The recent review led by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss found some allegations of sexual assault at the centre were substantiated. The review has now sparked a federal Senate inquiry to further investigate allegations of abuse at the centre.
Some of the workers were also due to appear on ABC’s Lateline on Tuesday evening.
The letter says: “We are a group of current and former employees from the Nauru detention centre who have first-hand knowledge of the conditions in which children and adults are detained.
“We would like to inform the Australian public that the government and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection [DIBP] has been aware of the [allegations of] sexual and physical assault of women and children on Nauru for at least 17 months, long before the Moss review was ever commissioned.
“[DIBP] and all service providers were informed, in writing, of several of the assaults detailed in the Moss review in addition to many other assaults not mentioned in the report.”
The letter was signed by former and current staff and workers from Save the Children and International Health and Medical Services.
Former Save the Children workers named on the letter include Jesse-James Clements, Viktoria Vibhakar, Tobias Gunn, Jarrod Kenney, Hamish Tacey and E Maree.
Named former staff from International Health and Medical Services include Dr Peter Young, Dr Rodney Juratowitch and Dr Michael Gordon.
A number of other current and former staff from Save the Children and the Salvation Army have signed the letter, but chose to remain anonymous.
The incidents it highlights include one from November 2013 in which a boy was sexually assaulted by a detention centre employee. Guardian Australia has previously reported on the case, and obtained documents that show the service provider Transfield filed an incident report at the time.
The letter says that on this and other occasions, the immigration department was made aware of the allegations through incident reports, meetings and minutes from Save the Children meetings, but that it chose not to act.
“Despite this knowledge, the DIBP chose to keep this child in the detention centre where he was assaulted and remained at risk of further abuse and retaliation. Indeed, this child was subjected to further incidents of abuse while he was in detention.”
The letter says Dutton’s comments encouraging asylum seekers to report abuse when the Moss report was released posed further risks as they continue to live in close proximity to the alleged perpetrators. The signatories allege this will place them at future risk of assaults.
“It is not safe to expect women and children to report abuse to authorities and then require them to live in close proximity to the [alleged] perpetrators,” it said.
“To do so places them at risk for repeated assault, retaliation for reporting the abuse, and exposure to repeated reminders of the assaults that they suffered which further delays their recovery from trauma.”
The letter says the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women by detention centre staff – another allegation raised by Moss – was reported to the Department of Immigration 16 months before the Moss review.
“However, DIBP refused to remove these women from the unsafe detention environment.”
The letter calls for the closure of the Nauru detention centre.
“In order to protect asylum seekers, and in particular women and children from further abuse, we immediately ask for the transfer of all asylum seekers in the Nauru detention camp to Australia. We also request the Australian people support a royal commission into abuse allegations in the Nauru detention centre.”
The Senate inquiry into events on Nauru is now accepting submissions, and is likely to hold public hearings in April and May. Some former detention centre staff are preparing submissions, which will be protected by parliamentary privilege.