TO the consternation of the Australian Government and the people of that country, someone – presumably someone with a troubled conscience – has leaked thousands of documents showing the widespread abuse of asylum seekers, including refugees from war zones, currently incarcerated on the island of Nauru.

The Guardian has not only published the leaks but investigated them further and the evidence of abuse ranging from sexual assault to bullying of asylum seekers is compelling. All ages are affected but children disproportionately so.

Organisations ranging from the United Nations to Save the Children have demanded action by the Australian Government, which so far has not agreed to do anything.

Wilson Security, which is responsible for guarding the refugees and asylum seekers, has constantly denied any such problems, leading to claims of a cover-up.


THE world’s third-smallest state behind the Vatican City and Monaco, Nauru is the smallest island nation in the world. Just eight square miles in area, the island is located in the Central Pacific Ocean, just 26 miles south of the equator.

For such a remote place, Nauru was long coveted by powerful countries, due to the massive phosphate deposits on the island, most of which are now exhausted. Phosphates were for decades hugely necessary for industries using chemicals.

Nauru was once a part of the German Empire, and after the First World War the League of Nations gave Australia a trust mandate to govern the island in 1923, with the UK and New Zealand as co-trustees. Phosphate mining duly thrived, though it was the phosphate workings which saw the island bombarded by the German Navy and invaded by Japan in the Second World War.


NAURU normally has a population of just under 10,000. That number has been swollen in recent years by refugees and asylum seekers being sent there by the government of Australia which prefers to use offshore islands as “halfway houses” where people seeking to enter Australia on an asylum basis are kept while they have their cases assessed. Manus Island on Papua New Guinea has a similar detention centre and indeed has more than 800 refugees and asylum seekers, twice as many as Nauru.

The Republics of Nauru and Papua New Guinea are being paid handsomely by Australia to host the detention centres. The whole offshore operation costs more than one billion Australian dollars a year.

The Nauru Regional Processing Centre, as it is formally known, was established as part of the “Pacific Solution” devised by the government of John Howard in 2001. Australia was worried about a flood of refugees and asylum seekers from around the Pacific Rim and Asia, and rather than let them land on the continent itself, Papua New Guinea and Nauru were contracted to allow Australia to process asylum seekers offshore. The Rudd government cancelled the policy in 2008, but the Gillard government brought it back in 2012.

Complaints about the centre and its staff started almost as soon as it reopened. In 2013, there was a riot and facilities were burned down.

Though there has been no great groundswell of public opinion in Australia against the detention centres, it is a very controversial policy internationally and concerns have frequently been raised by the UN High Commission for Refugees and Amnesty International among others.

Reports vary on the conditions being faced by the people in detention on Nauru. Some say they get basic facilities, but others speak of almost hotel-like conditions.


ONLY a few weeks ago, the Australian Government ordered a public inquiry into the horrific treatment of children and young people in detention in the Northern Territory. Now they face many more claims about Nauru.

The Nauru leaks are such big news around the world because they comprise formal reports compiled by officials working with those detained in the centre.

They are jaw-droppingly hideous at times. One female asylum seeker was told that men would be waiting for her demanding marriage once she got out. Another was told that rape was common in Australia.

Myriad claims of sexual assault, some of them made by children, contain details not fit for a family newspaper. Others just tell of physical and psychological abuse on an industrial scale.


SAVE the Children yesterday released an extraordinary statement which has really put the spotlight on the Australian government.

It said: “An unprecedented number of former Save the Children workers from the Nauru Regional Processing Centre (RPC) have taken the decision to speak out, many of whom have never done so before.

“The professionals, who include case managers, social workers, child protection specialists, teachers, and adult, child and youth recreation workers, are calling for the closure of the Nauru RPC and the immediate transfer of all asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru to Australia.”

Natasha Blucher, former Save the Children senior caseworker, said: “As the authors of many of these reports, we encourage you to understand that despite the clinical and objective language we have used in our professional roles – these reports document intense suffering experienced by families, children and individuals and are irrefutable evidence of the harm caused by offshore detention.”

Tellingly, and most damningly, Jane Willey, a former Save the Children teacher, said: “It appears from looking through the published database that nowhere near the full extent of the incident reports written on a day-to-day basis have been released. What you are seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Judith Reen, a former teacher, said: “It was very common for us to write incident reports which were then scrutinised by Wilson Security and downgraded in importance. We were expected to simply report incidents and then trust Wilson, the very organisation whose staff were sometimes alleged perpetrators, to conduct investigations.”

Alyssa Munoz, former Save the Children child protection worker. said: “It is simply the documentation of the extreme harm caused to children that we saw everyday. In all my years as a child protection specialist, I have never seen such intense harm caused to children on such a large scale as I saw occurring in the Nauru RPC.”


HERE’S the government’s statement: “The documents published today are evidence of the rigorous reporting procedures that are in place in the regional processing centre – procedures under which any alleged incident must be recorded, reported and where necessary investigated. Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims – they are not statements of proven fact.

“All alleged criminal incidents within the regional processing centre are referred to the Nauru Police Force (NPF) for investigation. Refugees living in the community are encouraged to report all criminal incidents to the NPF. A number of matters remain under active investigation.

“The department is examining the matters published today to ensure all of these matters have been reported appropriately by service providers, consistent with the policies and procedures covering such matters.”

Alison Phipps: Australia's shame is the UK's game

I WAKE up to news from a tiny island in Micronesia, Nauru.

Nauru, coral reef and white-sandy beaches, sounds like paradise. It is the site of the offshore facility where the Australian government outsources the detention of people who arrive seeking refuge.

Outside Gosford Parish Church, New South Wales, the wayside pulpit sign reads: “Hell exists and it’s on Nauru.”

There has been a leak of a cache of documents. More than 2,000 files. I am caught between a strange relief that, at last, what many of us have known for years is public knowledge, and the same horror that accompanies any report of immigration detention, not least in the UK.

Those who have made the perilous journey from Indonesia and landed in Australia will be sent to Nauru for detention and settlement in Papua New Guinea, or deportation back to their unsafe homes. Australia has not simply sanctioned the detention, in appalling conditions, of children, women and men who have sought refuge, Australia has actively legislated for this practice, against the Refugee Convention, and has made illegal any reporting from within the detention facilities.

This includes, horrifically, the reporting or whistle-blowing by medics, of child abuse. As a consequence, in 2015, the Australian Medical Association said it would oppose the law. Since then, doctors have defied it to expose stories of child abuse.

When Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, published the Commission’s report in 2015, The Forgotten Children, she was vilified and asked to resign by the Abbot-led government. The report’s findings included the following: lChildren on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress. lThe inevitable and foreseeable consequence of Australia’s transfer of children to Nauru is that they would be detained in breach of article 37(b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. lAustralia transferred children to Nauru regardless of whether this was in their best interests, in breach of article 3(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Today, Triggs is telling leading news outlets in Australia that the cache, published by the Guardian yesterday, has “revealed the extent of abuses and trauma on the island” and that it backs up its own review. Amnesty International says the need to pressure the government to close offshore detention centres has never been higher, while UNHCR is “gravely concerned”.

Of course, we are no better. The ‘dirty deal’ between the EU and Turkey sends people who arrived from the Mediterranean back to Turkey.

In Calais, Citizens UK have identified 170 children legally eligible to be reunited with their families in the UK. They are stuck in limbo.

The Help Refugees UK census in May this year counted 568 children, 74 per cent of whom are unaccompanied.

THE UK pays for the maintenance of the hard border in Calais, which has effectively become our own Nauru. Questions have been asked repeatedly in the UK parliament, not least by Stuart Macdonald, who described the Immigration Act 2016 as a “dark piece of legislation”.

And then there is the roll call of shame of the detention centres in the UK – Yarl’s Wood, with serial reports of serial abuse, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook – with the suicides and deaths in detention. Not to forget Scotland’s only detention centre – Dungavel – where as a detainee visitor I saw the shame and misery of so many denied their freedom, including children.

Rod Bower, the Anglican priest leading Gosford Parish Church, a site of much campaigning activity against the degrading conditions in Australian immigration detention, has said “if the protecting of our borders requires the incarceration of bodies, the sexual abuse of children, the rape of women and the murder of men, then we are, of all nations, the most depraved”.

Hell exists. It is detention.

Alison Phipps is Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies and convener of the Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network. @alison_phipps