Category Archives: PNG/Pacific Solution

Asylum seeker children on Nauru abused, sexually harassed at school: former teacher

January 08, 2016 | smh

A five-year-old asylum seeker was urinated on by a group of Nauruan boys and asylum seeker girls have been sexually harassed at school, a former teacher says, saying many parents are too scared to send their children to school in 2016.

The claims are backed by asylum seeker children who report that Nauruan students threaten them with knives and teachers routinely swear at them. One Iranian boy reported his female Nauruan classmates offered sex for money.

I will not go to school because… the education is really bad, the teachers swear at us and the students hate us

In one alarming allegation, outlined in an official incident report sighted by Fairfax Media, a group of children were hit with a wooden ruler for being late to an exam.

The Nauru detention centre, as pictured in 2012.The Nauru detention centre, as pictured in 2012. Photo: Angela Wylie

 

It has been six months since the Australian government closed the detention centre school and forced child asylum seekers into Nauruan schools, where classes are taught in the Nauruan language and teachers are frequently absent.

A former teacher contracted by the Australian government to teach at the detention centre said that since the change, bullying by students and teachers had become rife, teacher training was poor and the special education needs of asylum seeker and refugee children were not being met.

It meant school attendance among about 70 children languishing at Nauru was low, and not expected to improve this year.

The Badawi family, including eldest sons Ahmed (left) and Mohammad (second from right).The Badawi family, including eldest sons Ahmed (left) and Mohammad (second from right). Photo: Supplied

 

“A lot of the Rohingyan girls stopped going because they were constantly being sexually harassed. These are girls that wear hijabs,” said the teacher, who remains in close contact with asylum seekers and refugees on the island.

“One little five-year-old boy was surrounded by Nauruan kids and they all urinated on him. There were no consequences, that kind of behaviour was tacitly condoned – that’s why [parents] pulled their kids out. Because they felt their kids weren’t protected or safe.”

Iranian Mohammad Badawi, 14, who has been in detention for more than two years, said he wanted an education but did not attend school because it was “dangerous”.

Ahmed and Ali Altabarawi. Their mother did not wish to be identified.

Ahmed and Ali Altabarawi. Their mother did not wish to be identified. Photo: Supplied

“I will not go to school because … the education is really bad, the teachers swear at us and the students hate us,” he said in a recording made this week, obtained by Fairfax Media.

In a separate recording made in October last year, Mohammad said he stopped going to school after female students offered him sex.

“One day the Nauruan girls come and told me bad things, like one-dollar-one-hour [for sex]. When I told [a teacher] the [teacher] say ‘why didn’t you go with them?’,” he said.

Other students “bring knives … and they scare us”.

Mohammad said security guards at the detention centre had also threatened to hurt him outside the facility, and he was reluctant to leave to attend school.

A young asylum seeker from Iraq, Ahmed Altabarawi, said he did not feel safe outside the detention centre and did not attend school.

“Outside the camp is not good, people are not good guys, they fight … and many dogs bite people,” he said in a recording also made in October.

“I don’t go to school – school is bad. All the guys fight the Arabic people.”

An incident report dated April 2014, sighted by Fairfax Media, details how four asylum seeker children at Nauru College were attacked by a teacher for being late to a maths test.

The report was made to Transfield Services, the Australian government contractor that runs the detention centre that has since changed its name to Broadspectrum.

The students apologised for being late and said they had been getting water. A teacher “proceeded to hit them with a wooden ruler on the shoulders”, the report said, adding two of the children began crying and the beating left red marks.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said school governance arrangements were a matter for the Nauruan government and it did not have enough information to comment on the alleged incidents.

The Nauruan government did not respond to request for comment.

A Broadspectrum spokesman said it was not responsible for education services in the Nauruan community.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/asylum-seeker-children-on-nauru-abused-sexually-harassed-at-school-former-teacher-20160107-gm1mdh.html

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Losing the plot: the sad tale of refugee Abyan

October 23, 2015 | brisbane times

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

A young, vulnerable and traumatised woman who sought protection in Australia has been very badly let down.

One solitary question was asked in the national Parliament this week about an issue that goes to the heart of Australia’s self-image as the compassionate country of the fair go. It came from the Labor opposition, but could just as easily have been a Dorothy Dixer from a Coalition MP.

“Can the minister please provide the House with information on the government decisions taken in relation to the pregnant Somali asylum seeker who was recently transported between Australia and Nauru?” Richard Marles asked Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

If the opposition, any opposition, has used the word “please” when pressing the government for information in question time, I, for one, am struggling to recall it.

Marles called her an asylum seeker, when in fact she is a refugee who has been found to have a genuine fear of persecution if returned to Somalia. He neglected to mention she was single, with a complicated medical history, and that she maintains the pregnancy is the result of being raped on July 18 after her release from detention on Nauru.

His question was open-ended, rather than focused on why it had taken so long to bring the woman to Australia after she requested an abortion (which is unlawful on Nauru), and why she was returned on a charter flight after just five days, at significant cost.

No wonder Dutton began his response by thanking Marles very much for the question, and “very much for the way he framed the question as well”.

Dutton then set out to counter the claims by lawyer George Newhouse​, that the woman known as Abyan (not her real name) had received totally inadequate treatment since the alleged rape, both on Nauru and during her short stay in Australia.

The minister told how she saw a primary health nurse on arrival in Brisbane on October 11 and how, in subsequent days, her situation was reviewed by a mental health nurse and a GP, usually with an interpreter present, before she said that she did not wish to proceed with the abortion and was returned to Nauru.

But something was lost amid the claim and counter-claim: a young, vulnerable and traumatised woman who sought protection in Australia has been very badly let down by the system, not once but at almost every turn.

What is left is a swag of unanswered questions that go to the heart of the arrangement between the Australian and Nauru governments: Why was Abyan reluctant to report the alleged assault to Nauruan police? What level of care did she receive after the pregnancy was confirmed on August 25, prompting her decision to seek a termination? Why did it take so long for her to be brought to Australia? Why were her only interactions with nurses and a GP (or GPs) in Australia?

The answer to the threshold question, Abyan has told supporters in Australia, is that she feared going to the Nauruan police, did not want anyone to know about the assault and only revealed it when the pregnancy was confirmed.

Her reticence is explained by the experience of a 23-year-old Iranian, whose shocking story was told on ABC TV’s Lateline this week and is a case study in worst practice when it comes to dealing with sexual assault.

The more troubling question is why Abyan was denied access to mental-health and other specialists to help her make an informed decision on the termination in Australia. Why just a GP and a mental-health nurse?
Abyan’s lawyer wanted her to be able to discuss all her options in terms of the termination, with the same level of care afforded to Australian women in similar situations. But Australian officials saw the question of options through a very different prism.
“Her option is to be afforded the treatment, which is what she sought,” is how Michael Pezzullo, the secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, put it to a Senate committee. “There is no other option available for her in terms of any other basis upon which to stay in Australia.”

The context for this response was offered by Dutton a week earlier, when he declared: “The racket that’s been going on here is that people, at the margins, come to Australia from Nauru, the government’s then injuncted and we can’t send them back to Nauru – and there are over 200 people in that category.”

In Abyan’s case, lawyers did seek an injunction to delay her deportation, but it was all about giving her access to health professionals. It had nothing to do about her seeking to stay permanently in Australia. It was abandoned because she was already on a plane to Nauru.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young asked many of the right questions during the Senate committee hearing this week, including how Abyan was feeling after being returned to Nauru.

She was told that Abyan was “engaging well” and “in a positive way”, with support and health services on the island, and “talking of her future on Nauru”. This was not the message from Chris Kenny, the Australian journalist, who reported that Abyan was “agitated and distressed” when he knocked on her door and that she still wanted a termination, but no longer in Australia.

Hanson-Young has called on the government to appoint an independent advocate or guardian to represent the interests of Abyan and others in similar situations. It’s a good idea.

There is also a compelling case for asking Philip Moss, who investigated allegations of sexual assault within the processing centre on Nauru and reported in February, to examine how well his recommendations have been implemented.

John Brayley​, the highly regarded inaugural surgeon general of the Australian Border Force, should also be tasked with reviewing medical services on Nauru and for those in detention and in transit accommodation on Manus Island, including services to victims of sexual assault.

But the inescapable conclusion is that Abyan’s story is simply further evidence that the centres on Nauru and Manus are unsustainable, and that both continue to damage vulnerable people for no other purpose than to deter boat arrivals.

“I’m despairing of it, to be honest. I just think we’ve lost the plot,” says former Australian of the Year and eminent psychiatrist Patrick McGorry​, who believes the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull provides an opportunity for a better way.

Maybe it does, but the prospects are grim unless hard questions are asked and honest answers are given.

Source: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/comment/sad-tale-of-allegedly-raped-refugee-abyan-shows-we-have-lost-the-plot-20151023-gkgs19.html#ixzz3pU2PPw1W

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Nauru refugees ‘treated like animals’, subjected to ‘bride shopping’ by guards, social workers say

June 30, 2015 | ABC News

Refugees walk about the detention centre on the island of Nauru

Refugees walk about the detention centre on the island of Nauru

Desperate and dispirited asylum seekers at the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru formed “suicide pacts”, identified themselves as numbers instead of by name, and were treated like animals by some guards, according to accounts by two social workers who worked at the centre.

“There was single adult female.. there was a group of teenage girls, there was a group of fathers, there was a group of mothers,” said Natasha Blucher, a case worker who personally signed 10 reports alerting centre management to the pacts.

Ms Blucher and another former social worker, Michelle Groeneveld, were among 10 Save the Children staff ordered to leave Nauru last October when former immigration minister Scott Morrison claimed they encouraged refugees to self-harm.

A Government review dismissed the claims, but none of the workers at the centre of the storm has spoken publicly until now.

Ms Blucher said she often clashed with guards about the practice of identifying inmates as numbers.

“Most of the time it wasn’t toxic but then sometimes … I would challenge them on things that they were doing or ask them to stop treating people with disrespect or ask them to stop referring to people by their boat IDs,” she said.

Ms Blucher said she believes the practice demoralised and degraded people: “So, something that people would constantly say is, ‘they think we’re animals, they’re treating us like animals’.”

Sinister stories have already emerged about the sexual exploitation of inmates by guards.

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

AUDIO: Listen to Peter Lloyd’s report. (PM)

Ms Blucher described an atmosphere where local Nauruan staff saw the camp as a showcase for bride shopping.

“They would say things like, ‘hey baby, come and sit on my knee’,” she said.

“They would peer into their tents, they were trying to set it up for when they got outside and they could have a relationship, and the women found that very, very threatening.”

Ms Groeneveld argues the Australian Government was deliberately cruel and did not meet needs on purpose.

“It’s very obvious in that environment that the Government do not want to give any comfort or make anything comfortable at all,” she said.

Social workers were constantly reporting abuse

By late last September, as some asylum seekers on Nauru were planning to kill themselves, the Government decided to sack some Save the Children case workers.

In leaked documents, one official described the public sacking of staff as a “circuit breaker”.

I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence – a boiling pot of despair.

Michelle Groeneveld, Save the Children staff

Ms Blucher has come to see the dismissal as an act of intimidation.

“I was just constantly challenging when I felt that people were not being respected or that where somebody’s safety was at risk,” she said.

Ms Groeneveld had a similar view.

“I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence — a boiling pot of despair,” she said.

“We were constantly reporting inappropriate behaviour of guards towards children.”

The Senate inquiry into allegations over Nauru received a submission from Wilson Security, denying wrongdoing.

Ms Blucher believed Australia’s detention camp on Nauru had become the bitter harvest of successive governments — intentionally cruel to force asylum seekers to give up their claims.

“Even if it works to stop the boats, it’s not worth it,” she said.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-29/desperate-nauru-refugees-formed-suicide-pacts-social-worker/6581906

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Australia’s selective mercy

June 06, 2015 | Jema Stellato Pledger

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”. Source: Supplied

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”.

I have pondered the amount of press, time and effort that went into trying to save Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’s lives. It was nothing short of exemplary in terms of who and what Australia can be. For once in a very long time I was proud of Australia; of the Australian people as the country was brought together towards a common goal to save the lives of these young Australian men

I was very interested in the social media outrage with posts stating that ‘Bali will not be my holiday destination’ and ‘we must cut arts collaborations with Indonesia’. The disgust aimed at Indonesia was palpable and from my perspective quite frightening. The anger is understandable but one must remember, if you break the rules of a country you are entering, there is a price to pay and unfortunately two young men paid the ultimate price.

I stand for mercy was an excellent campaign and one which crossed cultures, languages, generations and socio-political beliefs.  But what is Mercy? The dictionary definition is ‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm’ (Oxford Dictionary).

In respect to Mercy, let’s turn our attention to a 5 year old Iranian child who was on Nauru for more than a year. She came to Darwin’s Wickham Point Immigration Detention centre due to her father’s ill health but the family are to be returned as soon as he is well. The child has been diagnosed with severe PTSD. Her displays of sexualised behaviour are further evidenced by drawings of inappropriate sexual acts, which are indicative of either experience of, or witness to abuse or both (John Lawrence SC, 2015). Mr Lawrence, the family’s lawyer is appealing to keep the child in Australia. Can you imagine how the parents of the child feel? How impotent, helpless and disturbingly desperate because they could not and still cannot protect their child. One needs to put themselves in their shoes for moment and I’m sure there would be a need for retribution in your heart.

In the report the Forgotten Children- The 2015 Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention there was evidence supporting the fact that detaining children causes irreparable harm. “The overarching finding of the Inquiry is that the prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children causes them significant mental and physical illness and developmental delays, in breach of Australia’s international obligations”.

The Immigration minister Morrison and Dutton respectively agreed that keeping children for prolonged periods in remote islands does not in fact deter people seeking refuge nor people smugglers offering their services. In short desperate people will do anything when there is a glimmer of hope, however faint.

On Christmas Island the right of all children to education was denied for over a year. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, as the guardian of unaccompanied children, has been derelict in his duties to act responsibly on their behalf. There are numerous issues, but one of the worst, that would appear to affect any action was the finding that incidents of “physical assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children indicate the danger of the detention environment”. The children and their families were not immediately removed. I doubt this would have been so if it happened to an Australian child or family.

So I ask, where does Mercy come into these stories? We all stood for mercy when those poor young men were to be executed… Can one stand for mercy and ignore the plight of children and women being harmed in our name?

There is a story of a 23 year old young woman who was viciously attacked whilst on a day release from Nauru camp. The camp guards and her brother went looking for her when she didn’t arrive back to camp. She was was found in the police station, in severe shock and covered in bruises. She had clearly been sexually assaulted.

These stories are not uncommon. How can a 5 year old be sent back to her abusers or a 23 year old sexual assault victim be thrown in jail?  These are victims of Australia’s harsh and inhumane policy and there are many in this situation. Do we not have a responsibility to bring them to Australia for proper treatment?

How would anyone feel if it were their daughter who was raped and sexually abused? Would you sit silent? I doubt it! Would you want the perpetrators brought to justice? Yes you would. How is this child and young woman any different to one of our own? They are not. Their parents have the same fears and need for justices as any Australian.  As Australians we must ask ourselves “how could we have allowed this to happen, and worse, let it continue?”

Further, the thousands of Rohingya Muslims languishing at sea for months are in dire need of our help. Initially countries in the area pushed them back….but to where? They are escaping ethnic ceasing in Myanmar. They are stateless and no one wants them. Australia has stood firm on its pushing back the boats with Tony Abbott stating that “it would be ‘utterly irresponsible’ for Australia to do anything which may encourage people onto boats” (James Bennett, ABC News 2015).

Were is not for Malaysia and Indonesia who “relented on a hard-line policy of pushing back the boats, and said their nations would accept the migrants for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies” (Al Jazeera, 22nd May), the boatloads of Rohingya would have faced certain death. Currently the U.S. and Malaysia continue to search for the thousands still stranded at sea.  The Wall Street Journal reported on May 25th that Indonesia has joined the search. Where is Australia?

Australia has been vocal on its stance for Mercy. We stand against the death penalty yet we send children back to horrendous conditions in offshore processing centres. We allow the rape of young asylum seeker woman to go unpunished. We pay billions of tax payer dollars to keep innocent people locked up in camps. We stand by and literally watch children women and men perish at sea and allow poor countries shoulder the burden. Mercy is not selective- only in Australia, it seems.

Jema Stellato Pledger is a Human Rights Advocate and a PhD candidate at ACU Melbourne. She can be reached at kommonground8@internode.on.net

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Cautions for Australians, Lies for Refugees | Cambodia Resettlement

April 23, 2015 | the diplomat

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 22 : Unidentified protester holding anti government immigration policy sign whilst attending World Refugee Rally June 22, 2014 in Brisbane, Australia

Australia is pulling out all stops to convince asylum seekers to take the Cambodia option.

A tropical paradise or a place where foreigners risk serious danger and hardships? When it comes to refugees, the Australian government has been acting like a used car salesman trying to peddle a sale – or in this case, a one-way ticket to Cambodia. Australia has been pulling out all the stops to convince refugees from Nauru to take a charter flight to Cambodia, which could leave as early as this week.

A letter that Australian officials recently sent to refugees on the island of Nauru, obtained by the Guardian, claims that, “Cambodia is a safe country, where police maintain law and order. It does not have problems with violent crime or stray dogs. Cambodians enjoy all the freedoms of a democratic society including freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”

But that’s not what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is telling Australians. Its travel advice for its own citizens has this to say: “Opportunistic crime is common in Cambodia… Assaults and armed robberies against foreigners have occurred, and foreigners have been seriously injured and killed… Banditry and extortion, including by military and police personnel, continue in some rural areas… Australians should avoid all political gatherings, protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent. Local police and security forces have responded with force on occasion.”

For its part, Khmer-language media in Cambodia are reporting an upsurge in violent crime, aimed particularly at foreigners, which it says the government is unable or unwilling to address.

Why is the Australian government telling its own citizens the truth, while telling refugees a pack of lies? Simple. The government has sent more than 800 asylum seekers who tried to reach Australia by boat to Nauru for resettlement and refugee processing. It’s now trying to get some of those found to be refugees to go to Cambodia. It is desperate to implement its A$40 million ($31.1 million) deal with Cambodia to send refugees there so it can show that it has not trapped them forever on Nauru.

To its credit, Cambodia has insisted that only refugees who consent to go to Cambodia will be accepted, and up until now, no one has been willing to go. So now Canberra is resorting to deception to persuade some of them to take up the offer.

The reality is that Cambodia is an extremely poor country with no safety net. There are few social services for Cambodian citizens, let alone foreigners. The Australian government letter touts Cambodia’s healthcare system as being “of a good quality for the region,” but it’s not even equipped to meet the needs of most Cambodians, much less refugees. Mental health treatment is virtually non-existent, though Cambodia is full of people suffering the psychological effects of the Khmer Rouge period and subsequent wars and mass atrocities.

As for protecting freedom of speech, that wasn’t the experience of 10 women whose trial I observed there last November. After a three-hour show trial, the women were fined and each sentenced to a year in prison. Their crime? “Obstructing traffic” while protesting the flooding of their homes. Opposition activists and politicians are regularly arrested. The notoriously corrupt police commit abuses with impunity, while the courts run on exchanges of money.

The Australian government letter describes “jobs for migrants, and strong support networks for newly settled refugees, including opportunities to buy businesses.” But the refugees I met in November who had gone to Cambodia seeking asylum told a different story – of discrimination that makes jobs hard to get, of language barriers, and low wages that don’t even cover subsistence costs. They told me how difficult their lives were, and how they live hand to mouth.

“This is a corrupt country,” one refugee told me, when asked what advice he would give to the people on Nauru. “You will not find jobs. We have been here more than two years and we have no money and not enough to eat. It’s better to wait in Nauru. It is a very, very bad life here in Cambodia. There is no future.”

So who will look after refugees traumatized by the persecution in their home countries, perilous boat journeys, long periods in detention, and the shock of being dropped into a completely unknown culture without being able to speak the local language?

Refugees on Nauru already have a difficult life with squalid conditions and abuses in detention, and limited job prospects and a lack of safety for those released into the community. But they are understandably fearful of making a new life for themselves in Cambodia where respect for human rights depends on who you are, where you come from, and who you know. Needless to say, foreigners fleeing war and repression are likely to start at the bottom of that pecking order.

Australia should end its sick joke of pretending Cambodia is a safe country for refugees. It’s unconscionable to lie to people who have already suffered so much and to put them in further danger. The right thing to do would be to close the camps on Nauru and Manus Island once and for all, and allow those found to be refugees the chance to start their lives over in Australia, a paradise or not.

Elaine Pearson is Australia director at Human Rights Watch

Source: http://thediplomat.com/2015/04/cautions-for-australians-lies-for-refugees/

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Cambodia says no refugee arrivals imminent, contradicting Peter Dutton

April 20, 2015 | theguardian

Refugees on Nauru protesting in early March over conditions and the Cambodia deal.

Refugees on Nauru protesting in early March over conditions and the Cambodia deal.

Spokesman for Cambodia’s interior ministry says a delegation left for Nauru on Monday but ‘we don’t know anyone who volunteered so far’

Cambodian officials have confirmed they are sending a delegation to Nauru to discuss settlement plans, but have said no arrivals were imminent from the island, contradicting comments by Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton.

Last week letters were distributed by Australian immigration staff to refugees on Nauru offering them a settlement package in Cambodia. A spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration has confirmed it was sending an official in anticipation of movements.

Small protests have also occurred in the refugee community living on Nauru surrounding the Cambodia arrangement. One 12-year-old boy also attempted to throw himself into the ocean in an apparent attempt to self-harm.

While the transfer of refugees for settlement from Nauru to Cambodia was scheduled to leave on Monday, the move has faced delays, in part due to the arrival of Cambodian officials.

On Monday, Dutton also said there were logistical issues with officials from Cambodia. He added that if it had “forced a delay of a couple of days then so be it”.

Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for Cambodia’s interior ministry, told the Phnom Penh Post that a delegation was en route on Monday to Nauru.

But he also contradicted Dutton’s comments about the transfers, and said that no arrivals were imminent from Nauru.

“We have received a request from the embassy and [the interior minister, Sar] Kheng has already ordered the immigration department to send officials to Nauru, either [yesterday] or [today], depending on the availability of plane tickets.

“We don’t know anyone [who] volunteered so far,” he said.

Another official from the foreign ministry, Koy Kuong, said officials “were confused by the Australian side”, and the comments contained in a letter to refugees that said flights could begin as early as Monday.

Dutton told ABC radio that Australia had approached “a large number of people on Nauru” for potential resettlement.

The memorandum of understanding between Cambodia and Australia says that Cambodia will offer permanent settlement to people who have “undergone a refugee status determination process in the republic of Nauru and have been determined to be a refugee, and meet the entry and settlement requirements of the kingdom of Cambodia”.

They must be found to be refugees, have made a voluntary decision to go to Cambodia and must have their applications considered by Cambodian officials.

The settlement push for Cambodia has faced heavy criticism from human rights groups. Unicef says Australia would be violating the rights of children if transfers to Cambodia went ahead.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/apr/20/cambodia-says-no-refugee-arrivals-imminent-contradicting-peter-dutton

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Nauru staff call for closure of asylum centre and royal commission into abuse

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.

Asylum seeker children play in the dirt at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Nauru.

Asylum seeker children play in the dirt at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Nauru. Photograph: Supplied

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
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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.

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“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.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/07/nauru-staff-call-for-closure-of-asylum-centre-and-royal-commission-into-abuse?CMP=soc_567

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