Protesters take aim at violence against refugees

Issue 
Activists occupying the immigration department offices on October 7. Photo: Kyja Noack-Lundberg

A group of 20 refugee supporters staged a sit-in at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on October 7. They were protesting the ongoing rapes and assaults against refugees on Nauru.

The protesters occupied the office for about 90 minutes before police arrived. According to one of the demonstrators, the activists entered the building at about 10.30am and started chanting.

The staff closed the reception area and called security, who filmed the demonstrators and told them to leave. When the activists refused to leave, the police were called.

Police directed the protesters to leave the building and 11 people who failed to comply were arrested and taken to Day Street police station in Darling Harbour.

The demonstration followed the Nauruan government's announcement, on October 4, that the detention centre would become an “open centre” and detainees would be free to roam the island. The next day it announced it would process all 600 asylum seekers still held by the end of the week. It subsequently reduced that number to 400.

While details are still emerging about the exact changes to detention on Nauru, the safety of asylum seekers in the community has been a major issue since people started to be released from the camps.

Erima Dall from the Campus Refugee Action Collective, Sydney University said: “Malcolm Turnbull has made addressing domestic violence a feature of his government, but if he is concerned about violence inflicted against women then he must end the violence against refugees in the government's care. He must close Nauru and bring refugees into the Australian community. Anything less is sheer hypocrisy.”

According to Transfield Services there have been 33 formal allegations of rape or sexual assault inside the Nauru detention centre between September 2012 and April 2015. This is in addition to 67 allegations of child abuse, and 253 instances of self-harm.

There have also been numerous attacks on refugees living in the community. Nazanin, a 23-year-old Iranian refugee, who was raped and beaten in May, has twice attempted suicide. The immigration department would not bring her to Australia until she suffered kidney failure.

More recently, ABC's 7.30 documented the brutal rape of two women. One woman, known as “Najma”, was left in a cave and had to wait four hours for the police to respond. The other, 23-year-old “Abyan” became pregnant after being raped and is begging to be brought to Australia for an abortion.

“It is simply grotesque that a woman who has been raped and needs an abortion has been refused passage to Australia. The facilities to perform an abortion are not available on Nauru, and even its legality is unclear.

Is Turnbull going to force her to give birth, or leave her to some other fate? That would be another shocking act of violence,” said Dall.

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