From the Forgotten Children report of 2014, to last year’s Senate Inquiry, the conditions on Nauru are no distant, convoluted reality. The Australian government and people have been presented with the facts time and time again. We have seen and heard — Nauru is No Place For Kids.
In 2014 the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, headed up by Professor Gillian Triggs, brought to public attention the numerous “reported and unreported allegations of sexual and other physical assault” among asylum seekers kept on Nauru, suggesting offshore processing on Nauru may breach Australia’s obligations under international law.
Sceptics questioned Triggs’ motives and credibility, suggesting the inquiry was blown out of proportion.
But then, in March of 2015, the Guardian ‘leaked’ the Nauru files. These incident reports written by guards, caseworkers and teachers employed on Nauru, detailed asylum seeker’s reports of physical and sexual assault. Twenty-three of the reports related to sexual assault, causing former member of the Immigration Health Advisory Group Professor Louis Newman, to state that “the sexual assault of women is a major problem on Nauru,” due to “a systemic lack of processes and understanding”. Over half of these incidents, a total of 1,086, involved children.
The files revealed the psychological turmoil suffered by refugee and asylum seeker children held on Nauru. There were children attempting self-harm and suicide, and suffering from nightmares of “blood and death”. Former Medical director of mental health for Australia’s Immigration Detention System, Dr Peter Young, has stated “self-harm and suicide attempts increase steadily after six months in detention” caused by a deep sense of “hopelessness which is known to be the strongest predictor of suicide”.
One woman, discovering she would have to give birth on Nauru, pleaded in tears “I give my baby to Australia to look after”. She does not want to raise her baby “in this dirty environment”.
In February 2015, after reports surfaced of detainees as young as 16 sowing their lips together, cutting their forearms, or swallowing detergent, the government established The Moss Review, under the then Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. The Review looked into reports of sexual and physical assault of refugees as well as allegations that Save the Children Staff were enabling and/ or encouraging self-harm and protest.
Despite the government’s scepticism regarding reports, the Review reflected much of the sentiments expressed in The Forgotten Children inquiry, including the confirmation of at least 3 rapes in the detention centre and numerous other instances of sexual and physical assault.
According to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton the Government implemented all 19 of Moss’s recommendations. The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection insisted it would continue to “support the Nauruan government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru”, insisting that “a range of health services” are already available in Nauru “including general practitioners, psychiatrists, counsellors, mental health nurses and specialists who provide clinical assessment and treatment in-country”.
However, in 2017 The Senate Inquiry Report Into Serious Allegations of Abuse, Self-harm and Neglect of Asylum Seekers in Relation to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and Any Like Allegations in Relation to the Manus Regional Processing Centre investigated and confirmed the ongoing horrendous conditions for the refugee and asylum seekers held on Nauru, and continuation of issues identified in previous reports.
Last December the Royal Commission 5 year Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse addressed serious claims of the abuse of the children held on Nauru once again. This report recommended that the Department of Immigration regularly audit the implementation of the child safety standards, appoint qualified chid safety officers, and establish an independent visitors program. Ultimately, it urged that detention centres meet the child safety standards identified by The Royal Commission.
Despite all these reports, no response to, let alone implementation of, recommendations have been made.
It is clear that Nauru is no place to detain refugee and asylum seeker children. These children are being tormented by their environment. Psychologists cannot simply treat them while on Nauru, one Save the Children Worker noting “the risks of harm to children are endemic to the environment, but you can’t remove them from it” (the Australian, Aug 24 2018).
We cannot shut our eyes to the realty of the children’s suffering. We must no neglect their safety in the name of protecting our borders. Nauru is no place for kids; it is time we brought these #KIDSOFFNAURU.