An Australian Senate committee report published on Monday said that the conditions in a detention centre for refugees on the Pacific Island of Nauru were inappropriate and unsafe for the detainees.
The report called on the Australian government to remove children from the detention centre and improve living conditions at the center, which holds 630 asylum seekers.
“The government should develop a plan for the removal of children from the Nauru RPC (Regional Processing Centre) as soon as possible, with their families where they have them, to appropriate arrangements in the community,” it said.
The committee's report was the results of six months of investigations and public hearing.
The inquiry investigated allegations of rape and abuse. It said that journalists and right workers should have reasonable media access to the center.
The report said, “The continued transfer of children to Nauru, and detention of them in the RPC, is likely to breach Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
“RPC Nauru is neither a safe nor an appropriate environment for children and that they should no longer be held there.”
After the report was released, a group of pro-government senators published another report questioning the findings of the committee. The committee which published the original report largely consists of opposition party members.
“All members of the committee appreciate the seriousness of the allegations put to the committee, however it is important to note that the veracity of many of the allegations made was not able to be tested,” the rival report said.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the committee’s report was “a witch hunt,” because opposition Labor Party and Greens members outnumbered the ruling coalition and the Australian government has described the report as a political “stunt.”
However, Dutton said that he would be “happy to consider any of the recommendations which provide for a better outcome for people.”
“We need to provide people with a dignified setting, we need to provide them with support and we don’t tolerate any instances of sexual offences at all,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I think what we need to recognise though is that regional processing is there because we are not going to allow these people to come to Australia.”
Australia’s asylum policy
Australia’s policy of attempting to prevent asylum seekers from reaching its shores on boats has been controversial for a long time. The government has taken strict measures to stop an influx of refugees into the country, including the establishment of the off-shore detention centers.
As part of this policy, Australia signed an agreement with Combadia to resettle refugees detained in the Nauru detention centre. Cambodia would take some refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea in return for aid. This was a highly controversial agreement because Cambodia has also been accused of abuses.
Al Jazeera reported that just four refugees have been resettled to Cambodia from Nauru but the country's government would receive AUS$40million (USD$28m) in additional aid.
Richard Marles, Australia’s opposition spokesman, described it as an “expensive joke.”