A whistleblower who worked at the Manus Island refugee detention centre in Papua New Guinea has spoken out, condemning it as not even fit to “serve as a dog kennel”.
The former Head of Occupational Health and Safety, Rod St George, made a series of disturbing allegations about conditions at the Australian-run centre in an exclusive interview with Dateline on SBS ONE.
“I've never seen human beings so destitute, so helpless and so hopeless before,” he told reporter Mark Davis, as he described repeated instances of rape and sexual abuse between asylum seekers with the full knowledge of staff.
“We might separate people in those circumstances on the mainland, but there aren't any facilities at Manus to do that, so these people who have been assaulted are forced to remain back in the tent,” he said.
“We talk about this as an island that's 700 kilometres north of Port Moresby… [but] if you knew there were people next door being raped and you said nothing, you'd be complicit.”
St George also described how detainee 'heavies' forced other asylum seekers to sew their lips together, and he detailed how one man had an ear drum perforated when he was tortured by other detainees.
And he claimed that acts of self-harm and attempted suicides are occurring “almost daily” among asylum seekers waiting months for their asylum applications to be processed.
“In Australia, the facility couldn't even serve as a dog kennel. The owners would be jailed,” he told Dateline. “I felt ashamed to be Australian.”
St George resigned from his role after just a month.
The allegations come as the Australian Government announces all asylum seekers arriving by boat will be processed and resettled in Papua New Guinea, with the Manus Island centre to be expanded.
Dateline put the allegations to recently appointed Immigration Minister Tony Burke, who revealed it's the first time he'd heard the most serious claims.
“I need to hear the very specific allegations, I need to make sure they're properly investigated,” he told Mark. “If the implementation of different policies needs to be reviewed as a matter of that, then that needs to occur.”
Mr Burke asked to be put in touch with Rod St George to hear further details.
Dateline's latest revelations follow Mark's disturbing story two months ago about life at Manus Island, when Australian officials at the detention centre went to great lengths to stop him filming.
Watch Mark's whistleblower exclusive above, and read more on the Dateline website.