Australian minister says refugees lying about sexual abuse

Documents leaked by The Guardian show more than 2,000 reports of sexual assault have been made relating to the Australian refugee detention centre located on Nauru island.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

The island of Nauru, the smallest state in the South Pacific.

After documents noting reports of sexual abuse at Australia's refugee detention centre on Nauru were leaked on Wednesday, the Australian Government said asylum seekers lied about assaults in order to be relocated to Australia.

The leaked files suggest that more than 2,000 children on the remote Pacific island may have been sexually assaulted, with threats, extreme living conditions as well as self-harming also being reported.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on Thursday asylum seekers are lying about being abused on Nauru.

"I have been made aware of some incidents that have reported false allegations of sexual assault, because in the end, people have paid money to people smugglers and they want to come to our country," Dutton said in an interview on Australian radio.

"Some people have even gone to the extent of self-harming and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia. Certainly some have made false allegations," he said, referring to cases where people set themselves on fire.

Under Australia’s immigration policy, asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat are taken to either Nauru island or Papua New Guinea.

Australia insists the policy is necessary to prevent deaths at sea when asylum seekers try to reach Australia from Indonesia.

Refugee advocates said the leaked reports show an urgent need to end Australia's offshore detention policy and for asylum seekers to be given medical and psychological support.

Hayley Ballinger, a child protection worker at the Nauru detention centre from 2014-15, found Dutton’s statement an "absolute insult" to the refugees.

"All of the statements speak for themselves. Certainly the clients I saw there suffered and they really suffered. And this stuff really, really did happen. We witnessed it first-hand," Ballinger told Reuters.

Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea, March 21, 2014. (Reuters)

However back in April 2015, Dutton was saying he wants to make Nauru a "safe environment."

The minister said he had "instructed the department to do whatever they possibly can, both domestically within the detention network here and with our partners in the regional processing centres, to make sure that the standard of care is as high as it possibly can be."

However, although rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have managed to visit the island for short periods, journalists and filming are forbidden in the area, making it harder to assess the situation in the detention centre.

While rights organisations say Australia is deliberately ignoring the reports, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the reports will be "carefully examined to see if there are any complaints ... or issues ... that were not properly addressed."

Two United Nations agencies along with several human rights groups have already condemned the the situation in Nauru.

The UN high commissioner for refugees said: "The documents released are broadly consistent with UNHCR’s longstanding and continuing concerns regarding mental health, as well as overall conditions for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru.”

"UNHCR has observed and reported a progressive deterioration of the situation of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru through its regular visits since 2012."

Amnesty International has also published a statement in response to the leaked reports.

TRTWorld and agencies