Tag Archives: nauru

New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 offshore refugees a year never taken up

January 11, 2016 | theguardian

Refugees on Nauru plead with the NZ prime minister, John Key, to be resettled but its immigration minister says the decision is up to Australia

The Nauru detention centre from which 28 refugees have written to the NZ government seeking resettlement.
 The Nauru detention centre from which 28 refugees have written to the NZ government seeking resettlement.

A two-year-old offer from New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees a year from Australia’s offshore detention centres remains untouched by a reluctant Australian government, despite a public plea from people on Nauru.

The New Zealand government has since reallocated this year’s places to Syrian refugees but says the offer remains part of its official immigration policy and open to the Australian government.

Last week 28 refugees on Nauru wrote to the New Zealand prime minister, John Key, asking to be resettled in that country under the Australia-New Zealand agreement.

The refugees have been found to have a well-founded fear of persecution in their homelands but have been offered only temporary residence in Nauru.

“Australia will not accept us despite us asking them for safety,” the handwritten letter, signed and affixed with the refugees’ boat numbers, says.

“They gave us to the Nauru government and told us we were now their responsibility. Nauru has not given us, and does not have the means to give us, permanent protection and safety.

“After 30 months in mouldy tents and now in the community where we are not accepted, some of us now have travel papers which give us the freedom to leave.”

In response to the letter, New Zealand’s immigration minister, Michael Woodhouse, said it was up to Australia to resettle people from its offshore detention camps and that New Zealand remained willing to assist.

“It is for Australia to take up the offer to utilise the up to 150 places and to date they have not done so,” he said. “As such, the places are reallocated to the annual quota and most recently the places were given to Syrian refugees.”

In a deal brokered between prime ministers Key and Julia Gillard in 2013, New Zealand agreed to accept 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore processing centres each year from 2014-15.

The quota remains in New Zealand’s forward planning for humanitarian resettlement.

But when the former Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, was elected he effectively scrapped the deal at the Australian end, saying it would be called upon only “if and when it becomes necessary”.

“Our determination is to stop the boats and one of the ways that we stop the boats is by making it absolutely crystal clear that if you come to Australia illegally by boat you go not to New Zealand but to Nauru or Manus and you never ever come to Australia,” he said.

The Coalition government is loath to have refugees resettled in New Zealand as it is seen as undermining a fundamental tenet of the policy: that boat-borne asylum seekers will never be settled in Australia.

Refugees resettled in New Zealand can apply to become citizens after five years. New Zealand citizenship would give those people the right to travel and work in Australia.

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said he believed resettlement in New Zealand would be an incentive for asylum seekers to board boats.

“I think an outcome like that could … result in creating incentives for people smugglers to get back into business,” he said.

Some refugees on Nauru have recently been granted travel documents, which would allow them to travel to another country that was willing to admit them. The visa to live in Nauru expires in five years.

Nauruan officials maintain that all refugees must ultimately be resettled in another country.

So far, 815 people have been granted refugee status on the island, including, it is understood, about 80 children. They are living in the detention centre or in the Nauruan community.

A further 543 people, including 70 children, remain in the detention centre awaiting a refugee status determination.

After Nauru and Manus Island’s first iterations as Australian immigration detention facilities – under the “Pacific Solution” between 2001 and 2008 – 705 people from those centres were resettled in Australia and 401 in New Zealand. Far smaller numbers were resettled in Sweden, Canada, Denmark and Norway.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/jan/11/new-zealands-offer-to-take-150-offshore-refugees-a-year-never-taken-up

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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.

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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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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.
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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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Three Refugees Hospitalised After More Self-Harm And Violence On Nauru

March 17, 2015 | newmatilda

Tensions have once again boiled over on the island of Nauru, amid growing protests and clashes between islanders and refugees. Max Chalmers reports. WARNING: This article contains images of a distressing nature.

At least three refugees living in the community on Nauru were hospitalised overnight after a stone throwing attack knocked a couple off a motorbike, and a young woman attempted suicide in the Anibare camp.

Around 10pm a group of refugees were attacked while riding motorbikes, with a man in his late 20s struck in the head by a rock, causing him to crash the bike and leaving him “badly injured”, according to a friend who visited him in hospital after the incident.

Images of the man show him bleeding heavily from his face.

New Matilda understands both the man and his wife remain in hospital, and that Nauruan police have questioned them, as well as another group of witnesses.

“It’s very common for the locals to throw stones, it happened to my friend last night… it’s common it’s, not something unusual,” one refugee said.

After hearing of the incident refugees and locals gathered at the hospital, with police on hand to prevent conflict between the groups.

In a separate incident that took place a short time after the stone throwing, a young Iranian woman was also left hospitalised after attempting to commit suicide.

Refugees who know the woman told New Matilda she had suffered severe back ache in recent months, preventing her from basic tasks, including shopping and cooking.

They said she had only been offered painkillers, and had become desperate for proper treatment.

One of these friends, who lives on the same block in a different room, had been caring for the woman last night, but was forced outside to make a call.

When she returned, the woman was in the bathroom.

“I call her, are you hearing me, and she didn’t answer me, and I was worried,” the friend, also an Iranian, told New Matilda.

“I opened the door and I saw her… she was bleeding, she was awake.”

“She was lying on the floor, her head was on the toilet, and she was not good, she was, how can I say, her face was completely yellow. She was not feeling good at all.

“I called other friends and I called the ambulance and police and anyone I know.”

According to the friend, Nauruan police arrived first, followed by an ambulance a full hour after the incident took place.

“Everything here is slow. The life here is nothing for them, the refugee, are not important here. No-one care about us,” they said.

The friend accompanied her to Nauru’s only hospital in the ambulance, crying as they travelled.

After being given painkillers, both returned to the Anibare camp in the early hours of Tuesday morning, where the injured woman is now resting.

An image from Nauru overnight, in which a young woman attempted suicide.

An image from Nauru overnight, in which a young woman attempted suicide.

As New Matilda revealed last week, former Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison had been left ‘shit-worried’ after a video informing asylum seekers they would never be settled in Australia caused escalating protests in September last year.

While these concerns related to the situation in the centre, tensions have also been steadily building in the Nauruan community as refugees are processed and released.

Protests have become a regular occurrence, with the Nauruan government issuing restrictions on where they are allowed to take place. Images seen by New Matilda (below) show women and children protesting today, holding banners that read “we are refugee women, we are not attacker” and “stop violence against women and children”.

Refugees are currently negotiating for the right to protest outside the Australian High Commission.

Close to 200 people, including children, were taken into custody after protesting earlier in the month.

Violence against refugees in the community has been regularly reported since released from detention began, including multiple attacks on unaccompanied minors.

According to refugee and human rights law experts, Australia maintains an obligation to refugees resettled on Nauru even after they are released from detention.

The Department of Immigration has been contacted for comment.

Source: https://newmatilda.com/2015/03/17/three-refugees-hospitalised-after-more-self-harm-and-violence-nauru

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The secrecy surrounding Australia’s asylum camps

March 12, 2015 | BBC News

Asylum seekers on Manus Island

Very few images have emerged showing conditions on Manus Island

Australia’s policy of detaining asylum seekers in offshore facilities, for months, even years, has attracted strong criticism from bodies such as the United Nations. But government secrecy surrounding the operation of these isolated centres means many Australians know little about what life is like for those detained inside.

When journalist Eoin Blackwell needs to find out what’s going on inside Australia’s immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island, he calls his local contacts.

Mr Blackwell doesn’t bother making official inquiries because, in his experience, information or access requests made to the Australian and PNG governments are ignored or forgotten.

“Every request I’ve made with the government to do with Manus has been denied or delayed until it went away,” says Mr Blackwell, a former PNG correspondent for Australian Associated Press.

“One time I tried to get into the centre and the Australian government said it was up to the PNG government and the PNG government said they had to call Canberra. Eventually we were told ‘no’ but no one would say who was telling us no,” says the reporter, expressing the frustration many journalists feel about the secrecy surrounding the centre.

The BBC sent a number of written questions to the Australian Immigration Department for this story but at the time of writing had not received a reply.

No-man’s land

Located in the Bismarck Sea and more than 800km (500 miles) north of the PNG capital Port Moresby – or a 3,500 km, 10-hour flight from Sydney – Manus is one of PNG’s most remote islands.

Few among the 65,000 population have benefitted from the billions of dollars successive Australian governments have spent converting a navy base into a no-man’s land for asylum seekers trying to reach Australia.

Map

Journalists outside PNG can’t enter Manus Island without a visa and approval from PNG’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, but permission is rarely given. Following Mr Blackwell’s departure in 2013, there was only one Australian media correspondent left in PNG, the ABC’s Liam Fox.

The Australian government, under former Prime Minister John Howard, set up the detention centre on Manus Island in 2001 as part of its so-called Pacific Solution to detain asylum seekers offshore while their refugee status was determined.

Manus was closed in 2008 by Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd but was reopened by his successor Julia Gillard in late 2011.

The difficulty of finding out what is going on in the centre was highlighted in early 2014 when riots broke out inside its gates. More than 60 asylum seekers were injured and 23 year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati was killed.

Conflicting reports soon emerged from government and refugee sources about exactly what took place.

People attend a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers, in Sydney on 23 February 2014.

Reza Berati’s death in February 2014 at Manus Island prompted protests from activists

It wasn’t until May last year that an independent report by Australian former senior public servant Robert Cornall found Mr Berati had died after he was clubbed over the head by a locally-engaged Salvation Army employee.

A year later, conflicting stories emerged about a fresh round of hunger strikes and self-harm at the centre. Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton blamed refugee advocates for encouraging asylum seekers to protest.

‘Pit of human misery’

Despite the wall of secrecy, Mr Blackwell, who is now based in Sydney with AAP, has visited Manus Island five times.

He paints a grim picture of what life is like for more than 1,000 male asylum seekers in a centre now infamous for two detainee deaths (in September another Iranian refugee died from septicaemia after cutting his foot), describing hot, harsh conditions, malaria, overcrowding, poor hygiene, riots, hunger strikes, mental illness and water shortages.

The reporter gained entry to the centre in March last year when he accompanied a PNG Supreme Court judge who was doing an inspection as part of a human rights case.

“Foxtrot (one of four Manus compounds) was a pit of human misery,” Mr Blackwell recalls.

“The refugees live in shipping containers, there’s water everywhere, lights not working, the heat is oppressive, no windows. There was a (detainee) with a bandage over his eye… asking for help in this stinking, hot compound.”

File photo: A man walking between tents at Australia's regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea

Conditions in the camps have been criticised by NGOs and the UN

Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul says he relies on first-hand, eyewitness reports from people inside the centre, as well as video and images supplied by detainees and staff via mobile phones.

But he says after this year’s hunger strike, an estimated 40 to 50 mobile phones were seized in a security crackdown.

“Since the hunger strike, [authorities] have mounted CCTV cameras all through the centre,” says Mr Rintoul.

“In some compounds, guards wear cameras on their uniforms. There are routine patrols in the yard and the rooms. Staff are checked with security wands on the way in and out.”

Mr Rintoul claims the Australian government doesn’t want the public to know what is really going on inside the centre.

“That is why journalists and mobile phones are excluded. But when the footage comes out they can’t maintain the pretence,” he says.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-31827074

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Doctors speak out against conditions on Nauru

February 08, 2015 | smh

Medical staff have criticised what they say are poor conditions at the Nauru detention centre.Medical staff have criticised what they say are poor conditions at the Nauru detention centre. Photo: Angela Wylie

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.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/doctors-speak-out-against-conditions-on-nauru-20150208-137xwd.html

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