Report condemns Nauru detention centre conditions

An aerial view of Nauru. Source: AFP

A review into allegations of abuse against asylum seekers in Australian detention on Nauru is damning about conditions on the island.

(Transcript from World News Radio)

The long-awaited Moss review into allegations of abuse against asylum seekers in Australian detention on Nauru is damning about conditions on the island and the treatment of asylum seekers housed there.

The review has found a pressing need to improve the way sexual abuse claims are handled, better training for staff, and better protection for asylum seekers.

It has acknowledged the environment in which officers of the Australian Immigration Department, service provider staff and Nauruan authorities are working is difficult but says urgent changes need to made.

Amanda Cavill reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

The Moss review has found it's possible that guards had traded marijuana for sexual favours with asylum seeker children, that there's been under reporting of sexual and physical assault allegations to authorities, and that some allegations may not have been reported.

It has also found that 17 children engaged in self-harm between October 2013 and October 2014, including attempted hanging.

The Moss review makes 19 recommendations including that contract service providers review sexual harassment and sexual relationships guidelines and that the Nauruan criminal code should be changed to address child protection issues.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says all of the Review recommendations have been accepted and work has begun to implement them, in cooperation with the Government of Nauru.

"They have in place a strong law and order system and they have to deal with difficult circumstances. They have committed themselves to making sure that they can provide appropriate accommodation for people within the regional processing centres, and like the Australian government, they don't have a tolerance for illegal behaviour, including in particular sexual assault. I find the thought of anybody, in particular children, being sexually assaulted completely abhorrent."

Mr Dutton says the government will also work with service providers and the Australian Federal Police to implement change.

The review has recommended the Department and the government hold a joint investigation into the breakdown of trust with the aid group, Save the Children, which led to the removal of ten Save the Children employees from the island.

It also examined claims workers from Save the Children at the Australian-run detention centre were coaching detainees to self-harm and to make false claims.

Head of the Immigration Department, Michael Pezzullo says he believes the Save the Children staff were fairly removed, but concedes there appears to be no evidence to back up the claims against them.

Mr Pezzullo won't say if they deserve an apology.

"I don't want to speculate about any future hypothetical outcome. We'll work through all the issues including the issues on both sides of the discussion. If you read chapter 4, there were instances, credible allegation of Save The Children staff behaving in a way that was about ideologically debating of the policy rather than actual delivery of service. That led to a breakdown in the relationship in part."

The Moss review has recommended that several dozen cases of sexual and physical abuse should now be referred to Nauruan authorities.

It has also acknowledged Nauruan authorities have limited resources to investigate claims and need better forensic services.

Mr Pezzullo says the the Immigration department is already reviewing procedures and processes at all other detention centres to ensure that the vulnerable are protected.

"We're also quite separately, with the changing nature of how we're using the Migration Act, and shifting changing profile if you like of the population of these detention centres, working through the release of detainees under temporary protection. The very nature of our centres are going to change in any event so we're taking the opportunity along with the advent of the Australian Border Force on 1st July, subject to legislation passing and these centres coming under the operational management of the Border Force, we are taking the opportunity to look at all of our practices around the protection of children, vulnerable people and the management of people in our ... care."

Greens Immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson Young says she finds it unacceptable that there have been no proper provisions in place to deal with the abuse before now.

"I note that the department has said they will respond and accept all of the recommendations. They include having proper management and teaching and training for staff about how to engage properly with asylum seekers inside in terms of not accept ing sexualised behaviour, not carrying out sexual harassment. You'd think that those types of things should've been in place long before now. "

The department says it will now undertake a two-month comprehensive review of how best to ensure the report's recommendations are implemented in full.


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