The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office “is concerned” over the allegations contained in ‘The Nauru Files’, a cache of leaked documents released by the Guardian, last week, containing explosive claims of physical and sexual abuse, including against children.
According to the newspaper, the cache includes “more than 2,000 incident reports from the Nauru detention centre, written by guards, caseworkers and teachers on the remote Pacific island”.
Although most of the reports detail relatively minor incidences, several detail “attempts at self-harm, sexual assaults, child abuse, hunger strikes, assaults and injuries”.
The director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, Fr Maurizio Pettenà, issued a statement on 12 August expressing his concerns about the revelations.
“It is of grave concern that more than half of the allegations involve children, even though they make up 18 percent of those in detention. Of particular concern, is also the manner in which these allegations have been handled, in particular the downgrading of severity in allegations,” Fr Pettenà said.
“The Catholic Church calls for immediate action to be taken by the Minister of Immigration, Peter Dutton, in order to reduce the human suffering of the refugees on Nauru.
“There has been a consistent decline in the mental and physical condition of refugees on Nauru. Concrete action must be taken to improve conditions.
Fr Pettenà wrote that despite the Nauru senate inquiry and the Moss inquiry, revealing similar situations, “unfortunately the situation remains the same”.
“Any response to people seeking asylum must focus on respecting their human dignity, above all else.
“Governments have a responsibility to manage migration flows, but the Australian Government’s current approach is harsh and should change. “The Catholic Church opposes mandatory detention and offshore detention because these policy responses do not respect the dignity of people seeking our help. It is imperative that the dignity of the human person must always come first.”
Last week, Minister Dutton denied that there was anything revelatory in the leak, saying that many of the incidents had been make public before. He cast doubt on the veracity of the claims, saying asylum seekers were simply intent on being settled in Australia and had rejected other offers of being resettled in their home, or other, countries.
“I won’t tolerate any sexual abuse whatsoever. But I have been made aware of some incidents that have been 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,” Minister Dutton told media.
“Some people have even gone to the extent of self-harming and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia, and certainly some have made false allegations in an attempt to get to Australia.”