Nauru Files expose systemic abuse of refugees

August 12, 2016

A boy is grabbed around the throat, his head is smashed against the ground twice and then a chair is thrown onto him by a security guard. Many people witnessed and reported the incident.

That scenario is just one of more than 2000 incident reports written by Department of Immigration and contractor staff at the Nauru detention centre, published by the Guardian on August 10.

A girl at a Nauruan primary school disclosed that “Nauruan boys run up and touched me on the bottom and run away. [Redacted] explained this made her feel uncomfortable” and said this happens every day.

Other detainees speak of sexual harassment by guards. “She had been told that she was on a list of seven SAF's (single adult females) that the local officers had written as women they are waiting for when released to settlement.” The report went on: “She is too scared to report it for fear it will affect her potential settlement and her case.”

Another said when she tried to report rape to her cultural advisor (employed by Wilson Security) he said: “There are no charges being brought against this man. This was something normal and very common.”

A report from a teacher about an asylum seeker who was helping in the school said: “She reported that she has been asking for a 4 minute shower as opposed to 2 minutes. Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favours. It is a male security person.” This was filed under information.

Another child reported: “Hit by a Nauruan guard at the canteen.” Wilson Security downgraded this report.

Another report filed under information states: “The father said the son's face was red on the right side as a result of being slapped by the office[r] … I spoke to his [redacted] year-old son [who was slapped] and he also confirmed the same.”

Numerous reports relating to sexual assault and assault on minors, often involving Wilson security guards, have been downgraded to information from major or critical.

Wilson Security has consistently denied allegations levelled at the actions of its guards on Nauru. Numerous incidents detailed in the Nauru files were never presented by Wilson to parliamentary hearings.

Apparently self-harm is a laughing matter on Nauru for Wilson security guards. A damning incident report said: “Witnesses informed CM that a young person had sewn her lips together. One of the officers [redacted] had gone to the young person's room to see her. The officer then went to his station with other officers and they all began laughing.”

The incident files are among the most damning, comprehensive and revealing documents about the detention system yet published.

The system has continually tried to make its human rights violations unaccountable and shroud them in secrecy by denying journalists access to detention centres; refusing to release documents or comment on incidents for “operational and national security reasons”; and introducing laws making it illegal for staff to report child abuse or speak out.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton has attempted to downplay the report in the face of a new wave of public outrage, saying the reports are nothing new and many of the incidents are unconfirmed and might just be made up.

Considering that asylum seekers are concerned that reporting incidents will affect their refugee claims, it is more likely that there are even more incidents that have not been reported.

Labor, in the face of the reports, has reiterated its support for offshore detention.

However, never has the Department of Immigration shown in such detail that it has knowingly created a system that deliberately violates human rights. It is surely impossible now to deny that detention exists to destroy people who have fled and survived untold horrors to the point that they now commit self-harm and attempt suicide.

Dutton claims that people are self-immolating just to get to Australia and that children making complaints of sexual assault are trying to get a day off school. The idea that an asylum seeker, who Dutton has tried to characterise as someone coming to Australia to steal your job, would set themself on fire as a way of achieving this is utterly absurd.

Dutton claims it is not fair to compare Nauru to Guatanamo Bay. But there is a case to be made that detention centres share similarities with Nazi concentration camps. People are identified by a number not a name; conditions are deliberately made so atrocious that people commit self harm; inhumane treatment of people is normalised; and society's ills are blamed on them, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The mounting evidence of the horrors in offshore detention will not be enough to close them down. Reza Berati's murder by guards and the public outcry was not enough to close Manus detention centre and the Moss report was not enough to even bring women at risk of sexual assault to Australia.

The Nauru files are causing a new wave of public outrage, with more people speaking out against detention and looking for ways to get involved. They are creating an activist movement that makes detention so politically costly that neither major party can consider abusing refugees to distract people from the attacks it is making on society.

The upcoming refugee rights rallies on August 27 have been given renewed importance by the Nauru files.

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