SYDNEY- Staff at an immigration camp on Nauru claim the Australian government was aware of the alleged sexual abuse of women and children asylum seekers on the Pacific island outpost for more than a year, but failed to act.
In an open letter released Tuesday, the current and former employees said the immigration department had been aware “of the sexual and physical assault of women and children on Nauru for at least 17 months”.
But Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said his predecessor was only made aware of the allegations in late 2014, and had then ordered a review.
The review revealed allegations of sex crimes, including against a minor, and found that assaults had been under-reported and many detainees were anxious about their personal safety.
Investigations are underway into some of the allegations, and some of the Nauru staff have been sacked.
“The review reported back to the department with 19 recommendations and those recommendations are being acted upon now,” Dutton told Sky News.
“And if there are further allegations then people should make those to the appropriate authorities and they will be investigated.” The letter is signed by 24 former and current staff including psychiatrists, youth workers and teachers, and calls for all asylum-seekers to be removed from Nauru.
It also wants a Royal Commission – a major formal public inquiry – into the abuse allegations and the government’s response.
The letter claims that the immigration department was informed, in writing, of allegations via incident reports, as well as by being present at daily and weekly meetings at which assaults were discussed.
It says that when a boy was sexually assaulted by a detention centre employee in November 2013, the then immigration minister was informed. Despite this, the boy was kept in detention, where he was subject to further abuse.
“It is important to highlight that many survivors who did come forward previously, still remain in Nauru subject to further abuse,” the letter stated.
Viktoria Vibhakar, who worked with the charity Save the Children on Nauru, said those who signed the letter felt morally obliged to do so.
She said one girl had wanted to take her own life after being sexually abused, while other small children were demonstrating disturbing sexualised behaviour.
“I believe that all of those children in Nauru need to be removed from detention and brought to Australia where they can be safe,” Vibhakar told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Since 2013 Australia has sent all asylum-seekers arriving by boat into detention on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and denied them resettlement in Australia despite an outcry from rights groups.