Opposition parties in Australia and New Zealand have joined calls for an inquiry into recent disturbing reports about the abuse of asylum-seekers on remote Pacific islands.
Graphic images of bloodied refugees and reports detailing widespread sexual assault and child abuse on the Nauru island have drawn international attention to Australian-run refugee camps.
On Monday, Australia’s opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten said he was leading the push to have a senate inquiry into the allegations. “We’re seeing more and more disturbing reports coming out from Nauru,” he said.
Last week, the British daily The Guardian published over 8,000 pages of files it said were leaked from the Nauru detention camp, detailing widespread sexual assault, child abuse, self-harm and suicide attempts among refugees.
Australia sends asylum-seekers, including children, by boat to Nauru where they suffer violence, sexual assault and degrading treatment.
The United Nations and human rights groups as well as many governments have repeatedly called on Australia to end the offshore processing but those calls have fallen on deaf ears.
Photographs published on the weekend showed two bloodied Afghan men after they were allegedly attacked with an iron bar by locals on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
“Just because people are in detention doesn’t mean that they have to be mistreated and it doesn’t mean that they should be kept in indefinite detention,” Shorten said.
The opposition leader, however, said he still supported the offshore processing of asylum-seekers on Nauru and in PNG to dissuade others from traveling to Australia.
This undated file photo shows a man walking between tents at Australia’s refugee detention camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. © AFP
Australia stops asylum-seeker boats from reaching its shores and denies resettlement to those arriving by sea even if they are found to be genuine refugees.
It turns back refugees to their country of departure or sends them to the impoverished island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea as well as on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.
Some 442 people reportedly remain on tiny Nauru today and almost double that number on Manus.
New revelations, published by The Guardian, cite incidents such as guards threatening a boy with death and only allowing a young woman a longer shower in return for sexual favors.
It detailed cases of self-harm, including a woman trying to hang herself and a girl sewing her lips together. Refugees at the camps suffered from mental stress caused by prolonged detention, it said.
“The allegations contained in the documents must be systematically and properly investigated and those responsible held accountable,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Australians protest against the government’s immigration policies in Sydney on February 4, 2016. © AFP
New Zealand’s Labor opposition added voice to growing concerns, with its foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer denouncing Australia policy as unsustainable.
On Thursday, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said refugees and asylum seekers had lied about being victimized at the detention center.
The remarks outraged Hayley Ballinger, a child protection worker at the Nauru detention center, saying it was an “absolute insult” to suggest that refugees had lied about abuse.
Human rights groups say the Australian government is intentionally making refugees suffer in offshore facilities to discourage new arrivals.