The Uniting Church has demanded the immediate closure of Australia’s offshore detention centres following the publication of leaked documents from the Nauru facility that detail harrowing incidents of physical, sexual and psychological abuse inflicted on child and adult asylum seekers.
The 2016 documents, detailing 1086 incidents deemed serious enough to be reported by staff working at Nauru detention centre from May 2013 to October 2015, have been collated and published by the Guardian Australia.
“Today’s revelations confirm again the criminal culture of abuse brought about by deliberately cruel policies which dehumanise asylum seekers, particularly the young and vulnerable,” Rev Elenie Poulos, who is National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, said today.
“The Nauru Detention Centre must be closed immediately. All people seeking asylum should be brought to Australia and given the best care and support we have to offer.
“This has been the Uniting Church’s position since the beginning of offshore detention, and today’s evidence shows that it has never been more urgent that the camps on Nauru and Manus are closed as soon as possible.”
Over half of the leaked documents involve incidents with children, despite them only making up 18 per cent of detainees.
There are seven reports of sexual assault on children, 59 reports of other types of child assault, 30 of children attempting acts of self-harm and 159 of children threatening to self-harm.
In September 2014 a teacher reported that a young teacher’s assistant had been told if she wanted to have a four-minute shower, rather than two-minute one, she would have to oblige a male security guard sexually, who liked to watch girls and boys in the shower.
In January of 2015 a father reported that a security officer slapped his disabled son in the face after the boy was caught playing with the guard’s radio.
On September 2015 it is alleged that guards laughed about a young girl sewing her lips together, prompting the girl’s father to “significantly self-harm” when his attempt to get an apology was thwarted.
Many threats of self-harm are chronicled including a teacher’s account of watching a girl do a numeracy test in October 2015 and then noticing she had written “I like death” and “I don’t want life” on the paper along with a drawing that looked like a drooping flower.
The leaked documents indicate that even unborn children are at risk. A pregnant woman in October 2015 – reacting to news that she would have to deliver her baby in Nauru, which she considered a life-threatening risk – showed a case worker a razor. She threatened to cut open her stomach to kill herself and the baby if not taken to Australia.
Other accounts show the toll on detained children’s mental health with reports of one girl screaming, wetting herself and gouging herself in the face uncontrollably during a fight involving a group of children, while other children have suffered threatening hallucinations.
Some children have been reported as behaving in an overtly sexual manner including exposing themselves or provocatively interacting with guards before Save the Children case workers intervened.
In July 2014 a girl under the age of 10 undressed and invited adults to stick their fingers in her vagina.
Nauru staff also record a litany of abuse, observed or alleged, and manifold symptoms of trauma involving asylum seeker adults.
Sexual misconduct claims include reports that bus drivers take voyeuristic picture of detainees, guards telling single female detainees they have a “list” of those they are waiting for once they get out and claims of sexual assault inside the camp.
A number of harrowing reports describe attempted or threatened self-harm by detainees.
The Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce says the documents reinforce the already well-documented case against offshore detention centres made to the Moss Review two years ago.
“The files released today corroborate the allegations made in letters from detainees which were smuggled out of the Nauru camp and given to the Taskforce in 2014,” Misha Coleman, Executive Director of the Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce, said.
“These were allegations that were completely ignored. They were a horrific red flag to the scale of abuse and the government did nothing.
“The government knew. It then did nothing to prevent the ongoing daily acts of abuse committed on children and women especially.
“The letters detailed a range of abuse cases including a rape and an alleged cover-up of that rape – it’s clear from the files released today that the situation has sunk to unholy depths”.
Rev Dr Peter Catt, who is Taskforce Chair, drew parallels to the recent exposure of abuse of indigenous children held in the Don Dale Detention Centre in the Northern Territory, which has led to the establishment of a royal commission.
“We’re calling on the Australian Government to immediately bring these innocent people from Nauru, here to Australia, and then to immediately establish a royal commission into these sorry offshore detention camps.” Rev Catt said.
“In the same way that the Government reacted swiftly and correctly to the expose of the abuse at Don Dale Detention Centre, we call on the Government to react swiftly and bring people here to Australia, out of harm’s way.”