SYDNEY - Australia will investigate sexual abuse claims at its refugee detention centre on Nauru, the government said on Friday, while removing 10 aid workers from the South Pacific island following reports of coaching detainees to commit self-harm protests.
Australia's tough policies aimed at stopping asylum seekers reaching the country by boat include sending migrants to camps in impoverished Papua New Guinea and Nauru where they face long periods of detention while they are processed.
The policies have been heavily criticised by the United Nations and human rights groups.
Refugee advocates this week said that women inside the Nauru centre were regularly required to strip and exchange sexual favours with guards for access to the showers, prompting calls for an investigation by the opposition Labor and Greens parties.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said there were also allegations children had been forced to have sex in front of guards at the centre.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told reporters an independent investigation headed by a former integrity commissioner and working with the Nauru government had been appointed to look into the claims.
Ten staff from Save the Children Australia were also being removed from Nauru, Morrison said, stressing the move was related to their professional conduct and not suspected misconduct regarding sexual abuse.
"If people want to be political activists, that's their choice, but they don't get to do it on the taxpayer's dollar and working in a sensitive place like Nauru," Morrison said.
"Making false claims and worse allegedly coaching self-harm and using children in protests is also completely unacceptable, whatever their political views or whatever their agendas." Save the Children Australia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last month, Cambodia agreed to resettle potentially hundreds of refugees from the Nauru centre in exchange for $35 million in aid, an opaque deal widely condemned as a threat to asylum seekers' safety.