SYDNEY: Australia must put allegations of rape and mistreatment at an immigration camp on the Pacific island of Nauru before a royal commission into child abuse, aid and welfare groups said Tuesday.
A Senate committee on Monday criticized the detention center on the remote island as inadequate and unsafe for asylum-seekers and called for children to be removed from the facility as soon as possible.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), an umbrella body for welfare agencies, said allegations of abuse must be investigated independently.
“For people in Australia to be satisfied that the human rights of children in the Nauru detention facility are being protected, it is vital that Commonwealth action, or lack of action, on child abuse be investigated by an independent commission,” it said in a statement.
The government does not accept the findings of the Senate committee, in which opposition Labor and Greens members outnumbered the ruling coalition, and has argued that conditions at Nauru have improved since a critical review earlier this year.
But Tessa Boyd-Caine, from ACOSS, said the repeated child abuse uncovered by the Senate inquiry was deeply disturbing and should be referred to an ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The commission is investigating wide-ranging allegations of pedophilia in Australia, including in places of worship, orphanages, community groups, schools and in the entertainment industry.
“We are not satisfied that the situation of children in the Nauru detention center has improved; nor that they are being adequately protected from abuse or repeated abuse,” she said.
The committee heard submissions concerning the rape and assault of asylum-seekers, including that sexual favors were exchanged for contraband between detainees and guards.
Evidence to the committee also suggested that a seven-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted in the Nauru camp in early 2015 remained locked up there while her alleged attacker had been able to continue to watch her through a fence.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said while political opponents prepared the Senate report, he was open to considering its recommendations.
“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 offenses at all,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I think what we need to recognize though is that regional processing is there because we are not going to allow these people to come to Australia.”
More than 630 people are currently held on Nauru, including 86 children, under the government’s policy of refusing asylum-seekers arriving by boat resettlement in Australia and instead sending them to Nauru and Papua New Guinea.