Australian government ‘knew of abuse months before acting’
Staff at Australia’s immigration detention center on the Pacific island of Nauru say the government was aware of alleged sexual abuse and assault against refugees for months before it launched a probe into the allegations.
Dozens of current and former workers said the Australian government knew of the abuse before it acted, and the staff members are preparing written testimonies to a Senate inquiry into the conditions at the immigration detention center on the island, the Guardian Australia reported on Tuesday.
A number of the workers have indicated that they are willing to give evidence in person before the Senate committee and provide working documents and incident reports demonstrating cases of physical and sexual abuse dating back to November 2013.
The staff members said their testimony would prove that authorities were aware of the human rights abuses in the Nauru camp long before October 2014, when the government ordered a special inquiry into the abuses.
The Australian government claims that it began taking action as soon as it learned about the allegations of abuse and violence at the detention center.
The Senate committee will have the authority to hold interviews with the detention center’s personnel and overrule the non-disclosure clauses of the workers’ contracts, which prevent employees from speaking publicly about the facilities or their work and could risk up to two years in prison if they do so.
The committee will accept submission until April 27 and it expects to report its findings in June.
A spokesman for Australia’s immigration department said it is aware of the Senate committee inquiry into the conditions at the Nauru center and it “will cooperate fully with all proceedings.”
This comes as former Integrity Commissioner Philip Moss released a report last month, confirming allegations that the refugees detained at the center, including children, were subjected to sexual and physical abuse as well as other forms of maltreatment.
Refugees stand behind the fence surrounding Australia’s immigration detention center on Manus Island. (File photo)
In addition, the United Nations published a report on March 9 in which it criticized Canberra for failing to facilitate adequate detention conditions for asylum seekers and demanded a halt to the detention of children.
Australia uses the detention facilities in the tiny island of Nauru and in Papua New Guinea, including on Manus Island, to hold up the refugees who attempt to reach the country illegally.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has described Australia’s camps on Nauru and Manus islands as “harsh” facilities that “impact very profoundly on the men, women and children housed there.”