PR AGENCY BECOMES first Australian company TO BE found to be in breach of refugee human rights

Today the OECD made a finding that Australian companies operating overseas should comply with the OECD’s Human Rights Principles. This is the first case of the Australian OECD contact point making a finding against an Australian company for a breach of the human rights of people seeking asylum.

For the past two years, the National Justice Project (NJP) and Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru (AWSWN) have been fighting for justice for a woman known as “Najma” who was raped on Nauru. Following her rape, her sensitive personal details were released to the media by Mercer PR, an Australian communications agency acting for the Nauruan Government.

AWSWN and NJP made a complaint to the Australian OECD contact point on Najma’s behalf to demand justice for the breach of her rights and to protect other women on Nauru from similar breaches.

The right to privacy is set out in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as follows: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Adjunct Professor George Newhouse of NJP said “it is my view that by releasing these intimate details, it is likely that Mercer PR and the Nauru government have made women on Nauru unsafe by deterring them from making complaints about rape and gender-based violence to the police. Their actions have also retraumatised Najma.”

Julie Macken of AWSWN said "in my opinion, the Nauruan government put the sensitive details of a woman's assault into a media release to send a clear and brutal message to any other woman wanting to speak about their sexual assault.”

Najma’s sexual assault on Nauru is the tip of the iceberg. It exposes the violence that vulnerable women experience on Nauru and the attitude that the Nauru government has towards them. The statistics on sexual violence in Nauru are horrific with nearly half of all women (47%) experiencing sexual violence perpetrated by someone other than an intimate partner since age 15.

This case shows that Australian companies working for foreign governments need to maintain international human rights notwithstanding their client’s instructions. The NJP is investigating whether further legal action could be taken.

Malcolm Turnbull's negligence - did he really think this deal would ever work under Trump?

The world's current political chaos highlights the need for the simple, dignified solution of bringing refugees to Australia.

This afternoon, US President, Donald Trump, appeared to say the deal to take refugees from Manus Island and Nauru was off – though as with everything to do with such a capricious leader, it is not clear whether this is his final decision or not. At the same time the Nauru government also released a media statement stating they believed “Dee” would be safe to have her baby on Nauru and there was no need for her to be medically evacuated. 

The Australian government’s use of refugees and asylum seekers as some kind of tradeable product has come to its humiliating finish with now the entire world as witness. Though surprisingly, it was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that wore that humiliation as he saw his obsequious positioning in dealing with the bully boy, Trump, come to a very public nothing.

The chaos that is now the hallmark of Peter Dutton’s treatment of refugees was also revealed today when the Nauru government rejected Peter Dutton’s calls to bring “Dee” to Australia. Her powerlessness as a woman was made clear when the men in power decided she would be made to take the risk of delivering her first baby – with all her complications – in a hospital without the most basic technology available in Australian hospitals.

“Australians have paid the Nauru government billions and billions of dollars to run these centres,” said Julie Macken from Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru. “That has not stopped people dying due to medical negligence. If anything goes wrong for “Dee” during her labour, the result could be devastating. We shall hold her doctor and the Nauru government responsible for that.

“The fact that Nauru has told Minister Dutton he has no say in this woman’s welfare, demonstrates the terrible state of affairs between the Australian and Nauru governments. Despite billions of dollars being spent on these camps it is clear the relationship between the two counties has broken down.

“From the outset, it was abundantly clear the refugee deal would be a failure with Trump as President. This deal was always fraught and would never have worked, showing huge negligence and on Prime Minister Turnbull’s part, as well as a tremendous failure in his duty of care to refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus.

“Unsurprisingly, the US President is not going to save either the refugees held in Australia’s off-shore camps, or the Turnbull government. It is time for Prime Minister Turnbull to exercise some common sense and bring the refugees on Nauru and Manus Island to Australia.

“Dee must be given the choice of a safe place to have her baby, anything less is political game playing that could cost lives.”

We will update you as this situation progresses.

For the women and children on Nauru, and for all whom are displaced in the world and searching desperately for safety.

Submission on behalf of Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru

Submission on behalf of Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru in relation to the Senate Inquiry into the “Serious allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers in relation to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and any like allegations in relation to the Manus Regional Processing Centre.”

We rely upon our report Protection Denied Abuse Condoned.

In addition to the contents of the Report we provide these submissions to address the known risks that exist for the detainees on Nauru (and by implication Manus) based on the almost two decades of research, reports, litigation, and advocacy in relation to both the onshore detention centres in Australia and the use of off-shore detention centres when used a decade ago.

We will also submit recommendations that would reduce the known risk of harm to detainees.

The writers rely on our Report in relation to the reports of abuse and harm we have detailed therein as well as other subsequent information reporting about the impact of the detention on the health and welfare of detainees.

We submit that the concerns of the medical profession that the health and welfare of detainees continues to be at risk confirms our concerns.  See this link.

We note the recent ABC 4 Corners programme which detailed some of the horrific experiences of women and young children on Nauru, including lack of access to education, fear of and actual assault and harassment, failure to investigate crimes committed on refugees, overcrowding, depression and hopelessness. See this link.

We also note that the film, Chasing Asylum, released earlier this year depicted similar concerns as our Report, noting that it contained interviews with staff and detainees whose stories were consistent with our findings.  See this link.

A common criticism of the Government of Australia and Nauru is that advocates such as us cannot speak of the matters we raise because our information is flawed or not backed up by experiences.

The policies of the both governments prevents accountability.

Before publishing our report, two of our members had tried to visit Nauru. Like many others who have tried the visas were not granted. Earlier this year a delegation of Danish MPs arrived in Australia intending to visit Nauru. They, too, were refused visas

Journalist visas, not granted automatically, cost $8000. 

Nauru and Manus were opened as a solution to the number of boat arrivals coming to Australia in the last 16 years. Both political parties are of the view that boat arrivals should stop and that the community mandates them to do so. The only solution postulated by both parties is a cruel and crushing policy that sees people transported to poor third world countries and told that they will be detained indefinitely in conditions criticised by national and international organisations. Some of the commentary by politicians claim that the cruel policy prevents drownings – some say that it prevents those not invited to Australia from ever being permitted to stay.

We say that here are numerous reasons that are political, cultural, administrative and historic in nature that have led to the high levels of abuse, sexual assault and neglect of asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru. We say that the levels are both to be expected because of the conditions detainees are kept in and because of the experiences that the Commonwealth has in detaining similar populations within Australia both on the mainland and at its centres on Christmas Island.

The risk to detainees of abuse, self-harm and neglect was and is well known by both political parties.

For unjustifiable reasons to those interested in human rights and the welfare of those vulnerable people now on Manus and Nauru, it is difficult to comprehend why the price to pay for stopping people coming by sea to seek asylum is the cruel and neglectful treatment of those in our care and who are already found to be, or likely to be, genuine refugees.

We shall attempt to detail the most egregious reasons for the policy of off-shore processing.

The first and most potent factor is political. Both the Coalition and Labor operate a policy of mandatory detention in offshore centres that is now globally infamous for abuse, as a form of deterrence. Both major parties argue Nauru and Manus detention centres are vital in order to make Australia look as unwelcoming as possible and avoid “pull factors.” As Minister Peter Dutton said recently in The Australian newspaper: "Australia was in discussions with a number of third countries about taking the refugees currently held on Manus and Nauru, but had to provide an arrangement that would not constitute a “pull factor” for people smugglers."

Again as former Coalition Minister, Amanda Vanstone, opined on Q&A recently, “Take the sugar off the table if you don’t want ants.” Presumably, Australia is the sugar and the refugees, ants.

Further, while human rights groups, including some members of the major parties, were keen to stop people drowning at sea on the journey to Australia, they could hide behind this deterrent policy to say that deaths were being prevented. The 2010 drowning of over 50 people off the coast of Christmas Island from a boat with mainly Iranian families, including many children, enabled there to be some common ground between those not wanting to punish asylum seekers in cruel conditions and those who did not care. All could say they wanted to stop the boats.

A policy of deterring people from getting on a boat in the first place was developed. By definition to be a deterrent the policy had to be hard. Any end result for the asylum seeker that resulted in sanctuary in an attractive third country would never operate as a deterrent. Any detention in proper conditions with appropriate medical, educational, recreational and work opportunities would also not be a deterrent. And when you consider the environments that people were escaping – war – terrorism – the Taliban – those conditions had to be particularly cruel to stop someone trying to reach Australia.

Nauru and Manus Island were chosen as sites for Australia’s detention centres because they presented no such “pull factors” and because their Governments were willing to conspire in the cruel practice. Damage to detainees was an inevitable consequence of such a policy – so much was known by the time those centres were reopened. It was as if the detainees sent to Manus and Nauru had to be martyrs for the political cause of preventing boats at any cost.

The Commonwealth have received fifteen years of reports from its service providers into the numerous incidents of self-harm and suicides within its detention centres caused by, or contributed to by, the conditions the detainees were kept in. All service providers have been, and continue to be required to report to the Commonwealth about detainees at risk of suicide and self-harm and about the reported incidents of same. There are hundreds of such reports held by the Commonwealth. Some detainees have died at their own hands and not only are reports obtained by the Commonwealth but the Commonwealth, for onshore deaths, participates in the inquests.

We detail here a brief summary of some of the starker reports and findings which were known before Manus and Nauru were reopened in 2012 or became known during this present use of those centres.

We note that many reports on the toxicity of the detention centres go back as far as 1998.

We note that about 90% of persons who come by boat and were processed before this current policy were found to be genuine refugees. We have no reason to doubt that the percentages on Nauru and Manus are likely to be the same. As to be a refugee there has to be a well-founded fear of persecution in the home country many will arrive with vulnerable psychological or psychiatric states.  For the definition ofAustralia’s protection obligations see The Migration Act 1958 section 36.

We also know that in the journey to Australia via Malaysia and Indonesia those arriving by boat cross dangerous waters in poor vessels to get to Ashmore Reef or Christmas Island. Many drown. Those who survive are often traumatized by the experience.

We know it is likely that the boat arrival should receive an initial assessment and might be very vulnerable to poor conditions. We know many already suffer from a PTSD.

In March 2002 Professor McGorry, who went on to become Australian of the year, published in the Australian Family Physician Vol 21, no 3 an article, “Asylum seeking and Mandatory Detention.” Professor McGorry said that, “Those who have suffered the most severe persecution are perversely the most at risk (of developing mental illness) in detention in Australia. This is not really surprising because these people are the most desperate to leave…”.

The Commonwealth has known of the failures within its detention environments to diagnose and treat mental health problems caused by immigration detention conditions through litigation taken against it suchas that of Shayan Bedraie whose family sued it a decade ago and where the Commonwealth paid out compensation, the case of Cornelia Rau who also sued the Commonwealth and who reached a settlement not just for false imprisonment but for the failure to diagnose and treat her mental illness, and the cases of P, S and M who sued the Commonwealth in the Federal Court in 2004 for the failure to provide any or adequate mental health services. There have been many more since.

The Commonwealth is aware that it has had dozens of other claims by detainees and former detainees harmed by its negligence in detaining them in immigration detention centres which conditions are mirrored by or worse than those in Manus

and Nauru. Many millions have been paid for not only persons falsely imprisoned, as was Rau, but by others who were lawfully detained under the Migration Act but who were harmed by the negligence of the Commonwealth in their detention. There are still dozens of historical cases involving negligence claims for former men, women and children from detention centres permanently harmed by the negligence of the Commonwealth listed in Courts in Victoria, NSW, ACT, and SA.

Many more have already been settled as stated but the settlements are done with confidential deeds preventing the claimant or his or her lawyer from discussing the litigation. Most in Australia are unaware of these payouts.

The Commonwealth is aware from the current litigation it is involved in for the class actions against it for the centres it operates on Manus and on Christmas Island that there are claims in those cases that the conditions are toxic and harmful, that the level of health care is criticized by experts, its own staff and by the reports of the plaintiffs and they are causing permanent mental harm therein.

All these pleadings inform the Commonwealth of the harm its detention centre is causing and the likely risk of harm to detainees.

The Commonwealth has had to appear and answer allegations about the failures to provide adequate health services at its detention centres at inquests into the deaths of detainees. The Commonwealth knows that coroners have made countless criticisms of the conditions in detention, the inadequacy of the training of mental health staff to meet the complex needs of the detainee population and the employing of guards who have little or no skills to care for a vulnerable population.  See this link.

The Commonwealth has had to provide submissions to, and provide material about, complaints by detainees and former detainees to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, tothe Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) and to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) where criticisms were made over the failure to diagnose and treat serious mental health conditions, to house detainees in cramped and punitive conditions, to have lack of access to adequate or any facilities for recreation and sport and to provide little or no access to adequate education and welfare facilitiesfor children. On many occasions the Ombudsman, HREOC and HRC have recommended that the Commonwealth pay compensation to detainees for their failures.

Many peer reviewed publications, documentaries and research has informed the Commonwealth of the impact of operating a detention centre like Nauru without adequate facilities.

In May 2002, the Professional Alliance for the Health of Asylum Seekers and their Children made a submission to HREOC for its 2004 Report A Last Resort; National Inquiry into Children in Detention1 that every detention centre operated by the Commonwealth should have

1. At least one medical practitioner on call and available 24 hours a day to attend to detainees

2. Detainees who could not obtain adequate treatment within detention should transferred to appropriate facilities

3. Thatdetaineesshouldhavereadyaccesstopsychiatricserviceswithin detention centres

4. Suitablyqualifiedstaffincludingpsychiatricstaffshouldbeinvolvedin providing policy information to the Commonwealth about the services within the detention centres

5. Detainees with psychiatric illnesses should be removed to treatment facilities and not kept within the detention centre

6. Detainees self-harming or threatening to should not be put into isolation

 7. The medical and detention staff should stop referring to self-harm and suicide ideation and attempts as attempts at manipulation of the system but should treat such as indicative of mental illness

8. detention centres should not be in isolated and remote places and should be adjacent to appropriate services and enable detainees to see families and friends as well as lawyers, medical practitioners and others with a legitimate interest in their welfare.

Such recommendations were ignored by the Commonwealth when housing the detainees on Nauru and where, ten years earlier, the Commonwealth was told that not implementing these recommendations would likely lead to harm to the health of the detainees.

In June 2002, the Family and Youth Services acting manager at Port Augusta, South Australia, wrote to the Commonwealth complaining that children housed in Woomera were not getting adequate mental health care and that there were children with mental illnesses noting in particular the large numbers of detainees presenting with mental illnesses after being in detention for in excess of 12 months2.

In the same year, the Commonwealth had been told by a psychologist that the likely breakdown of the mental wellness of a detainee was a pattern whereby it was observed that, “We actually started time-lining the breakdown of individuals. We classified the first three months as being a state of euphoria, hope, dreams. The next three months they are going through all their interviews and there is anxiety starting to building up. After six months, we see deterioration in the emotional and psychological wellbeing of individuals, a significant start in the increase of self-harm. Be it hunger strikes, emotional anxiety, psychological disturbances developing, increased request for assistance with state, which is an indication of depression,

medication for depression, more active involvement in disturbances and in self-harm. So yes, I have seen people age on a daily basis. I have seen middle aged men become old men in months3"

In the same year, a doctor employed by the Commonwealth at its detention centre in Woomera told the Commonwealth that, ‘l saw when they came in with a reputation of Australia having such a good human rights track record that they were quite sure that they will be processed quickly, that their application visa will be settled within six to 12 months at the most. When after three months I could see, the depression setting and after 12 months I can see the severe depression, anxiety, self-harm, and even some detainees having psychotic episode and in lay terms going mad4', (Dr. Bernice Pfitzner)

Also in 2002 a report from the SA Department of Human Services – in relation to the detention centre at Woomera - told the Commonwealth that the "provision of psychological and psychiatric services to children and adolescents is grossly inadequate for their short and long term needs... the provision of medical services does not have sufficient scope to provide for the acute and long term psychological and psychiatric needs of the detainees. This particularly applies to the needs of the children and adolescents. Behaviours of self-harm are minimised: depression in young children is rarely recognised. The local town doctor provides the primary

medical service and this is an incredible drain on one person... the lack of immediate access to direct psychiatric diagnosis and care is considered to be a major gap in the centre's health service. Similarly, the lack of a child psychiatrist is a primary concern given the number of depressed and self-harming children present in the centre5".

The same Department wrote to the Commonwealth and informed it in relation to recommendations for treatment and for children in Woomera that, “the overarching issue raised by these cases and reports are: increasing clinical concern that their recommendations are not being implemented by DIMIA, the ineffectiveness of community based treatment delivered at Woomera, no effective treatment programs can be put around people while they are in such a noxious environment”

Again, in 2002 the United Nations reported that the long-term detention of refugees and asylum seekers was having a negative impact on the mental health of detainees. The report writer, Justice Bhagwati, was dismissed by the Commonwealth has having prepared a fundamentally flawed report.

The Lancet published an article by Loff, Creati, Snell and Mohan which said that the conditions in Woomera were grim and punitive noting that children did not have enough space to play or crawl, the climate was too extreme with cooling often breaking down, and that the lack of adequate running water and toilet facilities was noted. See “Inside Woomera’s Detention Centre “Lancet 2002:359 (9307):683

In 2003 an article written by a former health staff worker at Woomera (Glenda Koutrolis in the Australian and NZ journal of Public Health), criticized the Commonwealth for providing inadequate staffing for the large numbers of ill persons in detention at Woomera. She had been employed as a psychiatric nurse at the Centre6.

In July 2003, the ABC showed a documentary, “About Woomera” which featured numerous reports of and examples of detainees in severe mental distress, self- harming and on hunger strike. The programme detailed the failure to provide adequate treatment and the high number of very unwell detainees within the population7.

 The Commonwealth knew that by 2003 Dr. Jureidini and Dr. Mares reported that, “In children under five years old (in Woomera) 50% presented with symptoms including delays in language and social development and emotional dysregulation, 30% showed marked disturbances of distortion or attachment relationships, and, over time, a further three children in the age group was diagnosed with severe parent- child relationship problems….” (In the children 6 – 17 years of age) ...All fulfil criteria for post-traumatic stress disorders. All were troubled by experiences since detention…. All reported trouble sleeping, poor concentration, little motivation for reading or study, a sense of utility and hopelessness and overwhelming boredom, all fulfil criteria for major depression with suicidal ideation, 30% reported frequent enuresis since being in the detention centre. All reported recurrent thoughts of self-harm. 80% had acted on these impulses including three pre-adolescent children,

70% had symptoms of anxiety…50% reported persistent severe somatic symptoms particularly headaches and abdominal pain…all children had at least one parent with a major psychiatric illness leaving children alone in the camp….8

In 2003 the director of the South Australian Women’s and Children’s hospital wrote to the Commonwealth that the Board of Directors was deeply concerned that a number of detainee adolescents were, “manifesting major depression, suicidal and self-destructive behaviour as a direct result of the environment in which there (were) living.”

Dr. Dudley, in reporting in the Australasian Psychiatry Journal in 2003 noted that the Commonwealth’s repeated claims detainees were not unwell when they self-harmed meant that the Commonwealth lacked a fundamental understanding of the psychological effects of detention which informed an inappropriate response to the managing of the self-harm and suicide attempts and this was likely to exacerbate the risk of suicide. M Dudley (Contradictory Australian. National Policies of Self-Harm and Suicide: The Case of Asylum Seekers in Mandatory Detention "Australasian Psychiatry Vol 11 (Suppl) 2003 S102-8. This Journal is in the Parliamentary Library.

In 2004, The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) wrote an extensive report into children in immigration detention, “A Last Resort; National Inquiry into Children in Detention” (the HREOC Report). This informed the Commonwealth of the impact of mandatory detention on children. HREOC interviewed medical and other staff, detainees and former detainees, independent experts, the Immigration Dept. staff, the service providers, advocates and visitors and visited every centre then operating. It called for and received many submissions. It gave the draft to the Commonwealth for its response.

The HREOC Report was a damning account of the impact that immigration detention was having on children – long term or whole of life damage. It noted delays in development, failure to diagnose and treat children of both mental and physical conditions, and the exposure by young children to adults self-harming, rioting and being assaulted by guards.

The same report contained submissions from the South Australian Department of Human Services which told HREOC that ‘for the children and young people in Woomera their continuous exposure to violence and self-harming behaviour is also creating an unstable and unsafe environment in which psychological symptomology such as suicidal ideation, dissociation, depression, restricted ranges.

The Commonwealth knew that in the HREOC report the recommendation that there should be no requirement for health service providers in the detention centres to sign confidentiality clauses in their contracts as such clauses meant that staff were not able to report on toxic conditions within the centres9.

We note that not only did the Government not implement this recommendation but, by enacting the Australian Border Force Act 2015, it deliberately attempted to make it even harder for the harm to children to be disclosed and acted upon. See part 6 of the Act.

The HREOC Report noted that the accommodation facilities at the centres at Woomera, Curtin and Port Headland were substandard and were causing or contributing to the mental unwellness of the detainee population, in particular children10.

We note that the conditions on Nauru were and are worse for detainees than those reported to be the cause of mental health problems a decade ago.

The HREOC report, in 2004, told the Commonwealth about the danger of keeping children in immigration detention centres like Curtin, Woomera, Villawood and Baxter. It noted that many children were undiagnosed and untreated for severe illnesses, that there were no torture and trauma counsellors available although a

high percentage of the detainees came from places where they had been harmed by the governments they were fleeing, that the service providers were unskilled in identifying mental health needs, that children could not be treated appropriately in the toxic environments they were being housed in where they were exposed to self- harm and distress and lack of adequate facilities, that there was a failure to monitor the health service providers in any event, and that there was a high risk of children exiting detention with life-long psychiatric and psychological conditions as a result of the failures identified in the Report11.

The Report detailed further causes of the high number of ill children in the centres and referred to using third party service providers, untrained staff, isolation of the centres, failing to audit the health and welfare of children, secrecy and inappropriate use of high risk watch programmes12.

In 2004 Dr. Simon Lockwood, a former GP at Woomera, reported on the ABC Lateline programme that he had been told by the Commonwealth when trying to advocate for better services, that the purpose of keeping detainees in harsh conditions was so that people would want to leave13.

By 2005 the Commonwealth knew that the majority of the detainee population in immigration detention were displaying psychiatric symptoms and there were no resident psychiatrists in any centre and that legal teams were having to file applications in Court to get very ill detainees transferred to treatment facilities14.

Further in 2005 the Commonwealth commissioned a report into the unlawful detention of Cornelia Rau (the Palmer Report15) which told the Commonwealth that there were fundamental flaws in the medical services provided within detention centres and of the impact of the failure to audit the health services. The Report

informed the Commonwealth of the likelihood of a detainee becoming mentally ill as a result of the conditions that existed for detainees. It made substantial recommendations for change, only a few of which have ever been implemented or, if implemented, certainly abandoned in the off-shore centres.

In 2007, Silove, Austin and Steel reported in an article in the Journal of Transcultural Psychiatry “No Refuge from Terror; The Impact of Detention on the Mental Health of Trauma Affected Refugees Seeking Asylum in Australia16wherein the authors criticize the centres being based in geographically isolated places, with conditions which look like prisons, where detainees are referred to as a number and subjected to many roll calls and searches. The article provides a history of the research on the harm caused by detention noting experts had reported detainees who “showed marked deterioration in their psychiatric state…” The authors criticized the Commonwealth for not allowing independent research to undertake systemic health surveys in spite of requests from, for example, the AMA. The article goes on to provide a history of the numerous inquiries, statements and findings about the high number of ill people in detention, the failures to diagnose and treat detainees and the secrecy of the Commonwealth.

In 2008Professor Louise Newmanand Zachary Steel wrote The Child Asylum Seeker; Psychological and Developmental Impact of Immigration Detention17reported on the highrisk that children and young people faced in immigration detention in particular stating that, “ Child asylum seekers have a range of experiences that put them at high risk of psychological distress and the development of mental disorder….Children were particularly vulnerable in the face of separation from family and caregivers and were more likely to be abused and victimized in refugee camp situations. Thet suffered the effect of malnutrition, disease and neglect ...the experience of immigration detention….is itself a risk factor for mental disorder,” (footnotes omitted).

The report further stated the risk factors for children being their exposure to trauma in detention, the parenting as a means of providing care is often compromised because of the impact of detention on the parents, and their history including separation from parents and family members.

In 2010 in a report by Green and Eager in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA vol 192;  p 65) they reported that, “Those detained for greater than 24 months had particularly poor health, both mental and physical…The main health problems varied depending on the length of time in detention, but included dental, mental health, and musculoskeletal problems and lacerations…there is a clear association between time and detention and rates of mental illness.”  The writers concluded, “Government policies…. should be informed by evidence from studies of the health of this marginalized and often traumatized group.”

In 2011 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health Dr. Jureidini and Julian Burnside AO QC reported that there were reports from Villawood of “…prolonged detention of young children in developmentally inappropriate circumstances and separation of families….There are reports from Darwin of children under the age of 10 self-harming and we are beginning to see infants with severe separation anxiety, adolescents with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorders, parents who have lost the capacity to care adequately for their children…..   The writers went on to criticize the model of contracting IHMS (who provide services on Nauru now) saying the model for doing so ‘directly harms patients.’ They concluded saying that, “The present system of mandatory detention seriously harms many of the people subjected to it. The harm is predictable and foreseeable.18

There have been many other academic reports to medical journals both here and overseas that have informed the Commonwealth of the likelihood of the detainees held in detention centres for extended periods of time developing mental illnesses. We are happy to provide a bibliography if this Inquiry wants further information about such works.

The Commonwealth has been provided with reports from its own bodies on the conditions in the centres including;

1.  The HREOC 2007 Summary of Observations Following the Inspection of Mainland Immigration Detention Facilities. This contained criticisms in particular in relation to health services, facilities for children and made a number of recommendations all directed at reducing the risk of harm.

2.  The Commonwealth Ombudsman Christmas Island Immigration Detention

Facilities 2010 (noting that there were a number of like reports in other years) wherein a number of recommendations were made, including for particular services for children.

3.  The AHRC Immigration Detention on Christmas Island 2012which also criticized the conditions and services for children and families

4.  The AHRC Snapshot Report on Immigration Detention 2013 inparticular its comments about offshore detention.

5.  In 2013 the then Minister for Immigration conceded in the press that the facilities on Nauru were underfunded and underprepared following two UNHCR reports on Nauru criticising the facilities.

6.  In 2013 a group of doctors employed by the Commonwealth or its service providers published a letter of concern about the serious failures within the health services on Christmas island and the rates of illness amongst the children detained therein.

7.  The AHRC Commission report into Children in Detention 2014 The Forgotten Children. The writers rely on the findings and recommendations for this submission from this extensive and excellent Report.

The Commonwealth has been provided with dozens of psychiatric and psychological reports on detainees held in its detention centres for the last 15 years or so which informed the Commonwealth of the high numbers of ill people requiring treatment, the high numbers whose mental health was caused or contributed to by conditions therein and the high numbers whose mental health was compromised by its failures.

The Commonwealth has been provided with, from time to time, reports from visitors, staff and former staff members and lawyers in relation to the conditions in immigration detention. This submission does not intend to list all the reports, books, press coverage and interviews in this category of materials known to the Commonwealth unless the Inquiry makes a separate request of us to do so.

We say conditions in Nauru are markedly worse than those in Woomera, Baxter, Curtin, Villawood, Christmas Island, MITA, BITA, Inverbrackie, AITA, Maribyrnong and Port Headland.  We say that all the historical information that the Commonwealth had when it reopened Nauru and Manus meant that the Commonwealth knew that it was likely that detainees kept therein would be likely to suffer mental and physical harm.

That harm became apparent amongst that detainee population very quickly. And it was known.

We rely on the findings in the aforementioned AHRC Report – The Forgotten Children. We rely on our report. We rely on the work by Mark Isaacs ‘The Undesirables19’. We rely on the work by Madeline Gleeson ‘Offshore – Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru20’. Further we rely on the footage contained in the film by Eva Orner Chasing Asylum 2016 and the ABC Four Corners Programme aired October 2016, The Forgotten Children. We rely on the files reported in the Guardian21.

e note that a report commissioned by the Guardian in 2014 found that children on Nauru were inadequately screened for disease, that there were no paediatricians in the Nauru centre and none in the hospital, there was no child protection framework in the centre which medical staff said placed children at high risk of harm, most pregnant women were suffering from depression. The report noted that in a 14 months’ period 2012-2013 there were 102 cases of self-harm, including 28 attempts by hanging, and 6.3% of the asylum population were on psychotropic medication to treat mental illness. The report went on to say that living conditions were, ‘Hot and humid with children having limited meaningful play. Children play with stones.22

Both major parties have committed to support a refugee and asylum seeker policy that:

   -  commits to detaining offshore indefinitely people who arrive by boat

   -  refuses to process their refugee claims in Australia.

   - mandates that those ultimately found to be refugees will not be permitted to settle in Australia, and:

 - ensures the detainment of refugees is done in such a way that potential asylum seekers will not be attracted to Australia

The question of how a country that has previously considered itself a staunch supporter of human rights should find itself in the position of being considered an international pariah –  as evidence in these reports – have baffled many mental health experts and academics as they have struggled to understand how a previously law-abiding and human rights-focused country such as Australia has found itself in breach of three key international human rights treaty obligations.

One of Australia’s most senior mental health experts, Professor Michael Dudley, has recently published a paper that found: ‘Public numbing and indifference toward state abuses in Nazi Germany resembles that enabling the state detention centres.’

Professor Dudley also found Australia’s public complicity in the detention regime was similar to the White Australia policy. (Established in the 1800s until dismantling began in the 1950s, this policy effectively allowed immigration only from the UK and Europe and prevented Asian immigration.)

This policy involves a failure to provide appropriate medical treatment and housing and exposes those detained to violence and sexual abuse – and all of this in the name of deterring asylum seekers from coming to Australia. Both major parties support laws that gag those who report what happens on Nauru with the threat of two years’ jail23. Reports of the systemic pattern of abuse of women and children have been deflected by attacks on the credibility of victims, staff and witnesses. Successive Ministers have blamed advocates for exposing the abuse.

Curiously, these denials have proceeded at the same time as a separate Royal Commission has exposed the cover-ups and abuse of children in Australian institutions and bipartisan political support for a campaign to end violence against women.  This suggests a cognitive dissonance when it comes to the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers coming to Australia for protection.

There is documented evidence that women asylum seekers are often escaping sexual assault and entrenched and systemic gender discrimination (see p 32 of our Report). For example, in the Judgement in S 99 v Minister for Border Protection24

Justice Bromberg recorded that the plaintiff in the case, formerly detained on Nauru, had been repeatedly beaten and sexually abused by her first husband and fled her country of origin fearing for her life. On arrival, he noted she suffered from severe health impacts of the history. He found that she was in need of specialist treatment which was not available on Nauru. She was sent to Nauru where she was raped and became pregnant.

In view of our submission it is completely unacceptable that women and children exposed to sexual abuse and assault in their history should be at risk of further trauma while in off-shore centres and in a country with high levels of domestic violence and where there are inadequate facilities and processes for the local

women let alone women arriving already suffering from the impact of trauma. Further the facilities in countries presently considered as viable alternatives (Cambodia and PNG) have alarming rates of domestic violence and few resources to deal with them. Finally, encouraging women to return to places where they suffered horrific abuse is an appalling suggestion by the Australian Government.

Our recommendations to ensure that children and women are not harmed in off-shore detention

1. We are of the view that there have to be adequate guidelines for child safe policies with best practice guidelines noting the vulnerability of the detention cohort.

2. We want policies and practices developed around the stake holders – the Governments of Nauru and Australia and any contractor, to ensure standards of care are not breached and to ensure adequate auditing

3. We ask that the Australian Government ensure that any visitor to Nauru is not refused a visa unless with good cause. The practice of refusing visitors like the Danish delegation and two of the writers in the last 12 months is deplorable. Further, journalists should not have to pay $8000 for a visa and we ask that the Commonwealth use their best efforts to enable journalists to visit Nauru and the centres.

4. That the Commonwealth reinstate the DHAG or such body to oversee the provision of health services within its centres with independent psychiatric representation on such a body.

5 That if there is a children’s advocate that the role includes the ability to investigate complaints and sufficient staff including staff with training on child protective servicing of clients be engaged.

6. That the Australian Government, in recognition of the duty of care owed to detainees, provide police services, (including adequate forensic services including rape kits and specially trained officers in sexual assaults), to the Government of Nauru urgently to ensure that those complaints that have been made or are made are investigated properly and in a timely fashion. The Australian Government should also commit to auditing the implementation of these steps.

7. That the Australian Government should bring any person currently held on Manus and Nauru to Australia for processing for their refugee status. Any person currently found to be a refugee should be immediately moved to Australia and permitted to live in the Australian community once health and security screening is completed. Failing this the Australian Government should use its best efforts immediately to find third countries, regardless of their risk of pull factors, for the population found to be refugees.

8. That the Australian Border Force Act not exclude anyone who would be a mandated reporter of harm to children from provisions in relation to disclosing reportable incidents involving detainees.

9. That the conditions in the Centres on Manus and Nauru immediately be improved to take into account recommendations made by the UNHCR, Amnesty, Save the Children and AHRC.



1 detention centres should not be in isolated and remote places and should be adjacent to appropriate services and enable detainees to see families and friends as well as lawyers, medical practitioners and others with a legitimate interest in their welfare.


3 Ibid

4 Ibid

5 Ibid

6 Detained Asylum Seekers: Health Care and Questions of Human(e)ness: Australian and NZ Journal of Public health (2003) Vol 23 p 381


8 “Children and Families Referred from a Remote Immigration Detention Centre” presented at a summit: “Forgotten Rights Responding to the Crisis of Asylum Seeker Health Care” Sydney 2003


10 Ibid

11 Ibid in particular Chapter 9

12 Ibid in particular recommendations


14 S v Secretary, Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (2005) 84 ALD 257



17 Child Adolesc Psychiatric Clin N Am 17 (2008) 665-68318 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2011 vol 35 no 4





22 of-health-care-in-detention-centres

23 Which until recently including all staff noting medical staff now exempted.24






We have been invited to speak on a panel at the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee in Victoria

The past few weeks have been enormous for asylum seekers and refugees in Australia's overseas detention centres, whose futures' just last week reached a new level of uncertainty when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed a lifetime visa ban for all who had arrived by boat since 2013.

Later in the week, a potential refugee 'swap' with the US was announced. An agreement which, if ever actualised, would potentially separate families. 

Whilst this deal could receive a green light from the US, it's unclear if will carry through to Donald Trump's term, who commented that the agreement would most probably be "be dead on arrival", further putting refugee's futures into a limbo.  

Contrary to Donald Trump's comments, former Immigration Minister Peter Dutton today announced that he thought that "the Trump administration will respect the fact that this is a very important issue to the Australian people and to the Australian Government." 

If you're feeling confused about the whole situation, then spare a thought for asylum seekers and refugees in detention who don't know what to make of this news. 

AWSWN's Pamela Curr yesterday told Fairfax that she had been inundated with phone calls from detainees who were both fearful and confused over the situation, saying that "There is a mother here who has a husband and two little children stuck on Nauru; another mother and daughter whose husband and son they have not seen for 23 months stuck on Nauru. There are families separated through the system. Now what is going to happen to them?"

And this is a very good question amongst many others that we have. What will happen to the families that are separated? What is the time frame in which this will all happen? What happens if Donald Trump is able to renege on the deal? What about people who are left behind or who may even be rejected by the US?

In the midst of this huge political minefield, which incredulously, even includes Donald Trump, we remain resolute in our objective - to tell the true story of Nauru and to represent those whom Australia's policies have silenced.

Tomorrow two of our representatives, Claire O'Connor SC and Pamela Curr, will be doing just that. 

After having made a Senate submission which relies on our report, witness accounts, ABC 4 Corners, The Guardian Australia and other media outlets' fastidious work, we have been invited to speak on a panel at the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee in Victoria, where we will be giving evidence on the serious allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers detained in Nauru's Regional Processing Centre and Manus Regional Processing Centre.

Tomorrow Claire O'Connor, a prominent human rights barrister, and Pamela Curr, one of Australia's most outstanding, experienced human rights and asylum seeker advocates, will draw attention to the high levels of abuse, sexual assault and neglect of asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru. 

Whether our evidence will make a dent in Australia's policies may not be revealed for some time after tomorrow's hearing. It's also uncertain if the Government will act with any immediacy or provide further information on their new proposal, but nevertheless it's vital that this evidence exists on the public record, because the more that does, the less the Australian Government can deny or cover up abuse as it has done all too frequently over the years.

We will be sharing our submission publicly following the Senate proceeding. Transcripts will also be published in The Hansard. In the mean time you may read our report here:


This post originally appeared on - you can view the original blog here.

It's been a troubling week for refugees and asylum seekers in offshore detention.

On Sunday, the Federal LNP Government announced that asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island would be banned for life from entering Australia. And this is despite the government having already established that 72% of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island are in fact genuine refugees.

Genuine refugees who want nothing else but to reach safety.

The law would be now be applied to anyone who had attempted to reach Australia by boat from mid-2013, meaning it would apply retrospectively to nearly 1300 people currently in offshore detention on both Nauru and Manus.

Many people on the islands have already experienced violence, rape and persecution - both in their countries of origins and since being detained in offshore detention.

Many of these are women and children, and have suffered from unspeakable abuse on Nauru, which we have documented in detail in our report published in June:

But that's not all that's happened in the past few days.

In a dazzling display of zero tact or humanity, the Federal Government has actually begun buying media space on Facebook that is geographically targeted to people in conflict zones, warning potential asylum seekers that they will never set foot in Australia if they flee by boat.

The law does not apply to minors, however their omission from the new policy is essentially window dressing. Most children on Nauru arrived with their parents, to whom the law certainly does apply.

This is a message we don't believe Australia should be telling asylum seekers and genuine refugees who are fleeing for their lives from war, genocide and persecution, particularly when both refugee policy and Australia's inaction on settling refugees remains woeful and few other solutions have been offered.

And what is AWSWN doing whilst our politicians use some of the world's most vulnerable people as a political football? 

Aside from our continuous advocacy, speaking up and writing, over the next few months and into the new year we'll be lobbying and fighting for the women and children detained on Nauru, and the entire system of offshore detention.

A year has passed since we launched our founding petition, but as the situation remains unchanged, our purpose remains clear - to influence Australia's immigration policies and bring those fleeing persecution to safety.

To reach more Australians, we've recently developed a new website which we'll be populating with information as it breaks or as it is told to us. And we now have over 36,000 supporters, many of them Australian, who back our cause. This is a huge success given we are a very specific, single-issue campaign.

So how can you help?

As small a task as it may sound, keep speaking up. As Australians, we're lucky to be able to speak out against what we view as injustices and unfair policies. We should be making use of this privilege to make the world a better place for everyone. Speaking out against the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees not only gives voice to those who have been silenced, but is a clear message to our representatives that this is not the Australia we want.

Australia's asylum seeker and refugee practises will only continue until our policy makers realise the majority of Australians find it unacceptable, and frankly, very un-Australian. 

Simply, people's lives should never be used as a political football.

You can join us by visiting:

For the women and children on Nauru - LL

Luisa Low is the publicist and co-founder of Australian Women Without Borders which operates Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru. You can contact her at


Alanna Maycock's speech at Town Hall

Firstly I think we should give RACS a huge round of applause to say thank you for their ongoing commitment and energy in rallying us all together and continuing to help inform the Australian public about what is really happening in Australia’s detention centres.

There is no doubt that we are witnessing a rise in right wing politics and a level of hostility in the west. We only have to look at what has happened in the UK over the last few days to know that, the vote to leave the EU was based on racism and an intolerance to migrants entering Britain. When we look to the US we see the growing attraction towards Donald Trump. Despite this, there is no other country in the world that mandatory detains children indefinitely.

I stand here today proud to be a nurse, but at the same time I am ashamed. Ashamed of what is happening to innocent children and their families in our name.

As I stand here today I am thinking of the children and families that are still being held in Nauru offshore processing centre.

I think of the 6 year old girl that had marks around her neck where she had tried to hang and kill herself with fence ties. I have two children aged 6 & 7 years old and they wouldn’t even know what it means to try and put fence ties around their necks to kill themselves.

I think of the 15 year old boy that had sewn up his lips in desperation. He clung to me as I encouraged him to try and stay strong and promised him I would do all I could to help him once I got back to Australia.

I think of the mother that wept on my shoulder as she told me she had been raped. She couldn’t even share this with her husband because of the shame.

I think of the father that was physically assaulted in front of me, inside the medical centre where Professor David Isaacs and I were treating his baby for Typhoid. This is supposed to be a place of safety, a place where people come to access help not to be abused.

I think of the mother that had been menstruating for two months and was using material from her tent to hold the bleeding, because she didn’t have access to sanitary products. One night she braved the long walk across the camp to try and clean herself. A blood clot fell from her as she walked passed a desk of male guards and a trail of blood followed her as she tried to reach the toilet.

I think of the mother’s that had to wash themselves and their babies in showers with no doors on. All that covered the door was a flimsy curtain, whilst male guards sat 7-10 meters away and could see their naked bodies.

I think of the mother I met that was bed wetting, because she was too frightened to walk 100 meters across the camp to use the toilet at night.

I remember the children that shook my hand and introduced themselves to me by a number and not their name.

And the 7 year old girl that looked into my eyes and begged me to put her face on the internet and show the world what was happening to her.

Last week I attended an award ceremony where Mike Baird our Premier was giving out the awards. I was told I would not be allowed to say thank you for the award in which he was presenting me with. I decided I would not be silenced on something so important, so when I stepped onto the stage I asked Mr Baird a reduced version of my prepared speech:

In July last year the Liberal party introduced the Australian Border Force Act. It is now a crime for any person working in Australia’s detention centres to disclose publically any information relating to what they saw or experienced there.

For nurses like myself and my medical colleagues this has huge implications. It is mandatory for any nurse or doctor to report abuse they may have witnessed in an Australian run medical facility. This rule however, doesn’t apply when working in Australia’s detention system. This conflict’s with every health care professional’s code of conduct and the duty of care they have for the patients.

There lies the irony in me receiving this award today. My Baird you are kindly giving up your time to honour me with this award. But, it is the party of which you are a member that could suggest I be prosecuted and jailed for up to two years for doing my job and telling the truth.

I was brought up on the philosophy that honesty is the best policy.

So, I have three requests that I would like you take away and consider today:

Number 1 – Professor David Isaacs and I are the last health care professionals to speak publically about the conditions and the health of the children we saw on Nauru. Noone else has spoken out about the healthcare on Nauru in the last 16 months. If the Liberal party are not going to prosecute us then we ask that the Act is revoked. If the act is there to stay, then when are we going to see you in court?

Number 2 – When you enter your office tomorrow, I ask that you show courage and leadership by telephoning the other members of your party and state that you don’t support the Liberal National or the Australian Labour party’s policy of offshore processing or boat turn backs. They may not be dying in Australian waters, but that does not mean they are not dying in someone else’s.

And my last request, the most important of all. In the words of my 6 year old son – he said to me before Malcolm Turnbull became leader “mummy just go and get the key from Tony Abbot’s pocket, unlock the gate and let the children out”. And it really is that simple Mr Baird and Mr Turnbull. It doesn’t take over 3 years to process an asylum application.

The average stay for a child in detention in the UK is 5 days. The EU have a rule that no child should spend longer than 7 days in detention. In Australia we have an average of 3 years now.

This is Australia’s Guantanamo and our national shame. My last and final request from you today Mr Baird is to do the right thing, get that key, unlock that gate, put those children and their families on a plane to Australia and process them in the Australian community.

Do you know what Mr Baird’s reponse to me was?  “It is not up to me”! Well Mr Baird you are wrong, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us. You have influence of power and if you really believed in compassion for refugees like you told us that day in your speech, you could not possibly belong to a party that sees children tortured. Put your money where your mouth is and walk.

People in our community ask me “what can we do make a change”. Well I’m going to tell you what we can do, we can educate our young. Post World War II, Germany made it mandatory to educate every child about xenophobia, compassion and the right to seek asylum and what we are witnessing in that country is a whole new wave of politicians and a welcoming people. I ask for you to do the same with the children in our communities. Educate our young, If Germany can turn it around then so can we.

An update from our author, Julie Macken

Well, the longest election in memory has finally ended with one of the most indecisive resolutions in modern politics. While the numbers are yet to be finalised it looks like Labor and the Coalition each got roughly one third of the votes and the Greens, NXT and Independents shared the other third.

It was an election campaign that failed to raise any major policy differences between the two old parties and only really took off when Labor accused the Coalition of wanting to privatise Medicare. The rest of the time the commentary appeared to focus on Malcolm Turnbull’s head cold, Bill Shorten’s jogging and whether either party could hold off the advance of Nick Xenophon.

But it wouldn’t have been an Australian election if we hadn’t seen regular attempts to whistle up fear of “the boats”, people smugglers and refugees, and suggestions that either Labor or the LNP was about to go “soft” on refugees. 

Of course neither of the old parties were about to go “soft” on refugees. In the absence of real leadership neither party appears capable of imagining a different policy setting, let alone how to communicate that to an electorate that has been primed to see “people smugglers” and “the boats” as a real present danger.

So, in light of that dismal state of affairs where do we go from here? 

Believe it or not there are a few reasons for hope of a change. The first is that PNG wants Australia’s detention centre on Manus Island closed. And as this story from NZ radio makes clear, PNG’s Court is considering the removal of all detainees back to Australia and the issue of compensation. How Prime Minister Turnbull responds to this reality is unclear, but pretending Australia bears no responsibility as these comments suggest, is unlikely to work. Furthermore the report we launched a few months ago has made it explicit that Nauru is not a safe place to leave refugees and asylum seekers. Neither Turnbull or Shorten have been able to challenge the integrity of the findings and neither have had the nerve to argue that it is otherwise.

Secondly, Phillip Ruddock has been commissioned to argue for Australia’s ambition for a seat on United Nations Security Committee. According to some human rights lawyers based in Geneva, Mr. Ruddock is being regularly quizzed about the refugee policy he was so instrumental in creating. Two issues that may cancel Australia’s ambition is our lack of a Bill of Human Rights – being the only western democracy that does not have that legal scaffolding - and our refugee policy that puts us in breach of the Refugee Convention, the Rights of the Child and the prohibition against torture.

Thirdly, we are slowly making inroads into the national conversation. We will continue to speak to the international media about the report and continue to update it. 

Once the dust has settled on the new parliament, we will travel to Canberra to lobby those who will see us and leave the report with those that wont.

Frankly none of this feels like enough. The suffering of women, kids and men being held in these camps, on Nauru and Manus, is heartbreaking. But with both Labor and the Coalition in lockstep over this cruel policy we need to find the opportunities where they arise and keep demanding the closure of the camps and the restoration of the rule of law.

As ever, please if anyone sees opportunities we don’t or has ideas for others actions please let us know.

MEDIA RELEASE: Protection Denied: Abuse Condoned - Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru (AWSWN) Report on the women at risk on Nauru

Sydney, 7 June 2016


This ground-breaking report on the rape and assaults on women on Nauru was written by Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru (AWSWN) on the impacts Australia’s detention policy is having on the lives and bodies of women on Nauru. 

The report documents the Australian governments deliberate policy of sending women who have already been exposed to sexual violence to a place where they are exposed to further violence. It details the lack of serious investigation and lack of accountability in relation to this violence and the dearth of appropriate services. 

It reveals the shocking damage by both the abuse and the lack of care and concern on the part of consecutive Australian governments.

The report is the result of a collaboration between women in Australia and the women in Nauru.

The report, Protection Denied: Abuse Condoned, outlines the evidence of abuse and exploitation and details the grooming the Australian community have been exposed to and lays out a set of recommendations to ensure Australia once again joins the international community and protects those who come to this country for protection. 

The report makes an overwhelmingly compelling case to close detention centres that have become crime scenes for many of the women living in them and argues the nation of Nauru is not safe for refugee and asylum seeker women.

“Putting theses detention centres on Nauru has not only destroyed the lives of many women, it has ensured the democracy of Nauru itself is enfeebled,” said Professor Carmen Lawrence. “The centres will close and when they do if we have not begun the work of building some resilience and capacity on Nauru, the people of Nauru will be again left exposed by Australia’s predation,” she concluded.

“This report is about protection denied by an Australian government which is calling for respect for women and an end to violence against women – in Australia. At the same time government policy is ensuring other women are left as prey in isolated, insecure housing on Nauru,” said Pamela Curr, Asylum Resource Centre and co-author.

“Some of these stories are known to some people, but nowhere have these stories been bought together in the political and policy context of Australian life,” said Julie Macken, co-author. “This report was written from the perspective of women on the issues of violence against women and is a first both nationally and internationally,” concluded Macken.

Link to the report below.

Women of Nauru Report

An update

We are continuing to seek clarification and greater detail about what happened on Saturday and will publish those details as they come to hand. As everyone will appreciate, getting information out of these camps is incredibly difficult and risky for the women involved. We are constantly balancing the need to get their voices heard and to get the facts absolutely straight. That means sometimes we may appear slow off the mark and other times some of the detail may need further clarification. That is why the Turnbull government must open Australia's camps to civil society and the international media. We thank you for your patience and solidarity.


Blocked from Nauru, but we have a Plan B

First we wanted to apologise for the radio silence over the last few weeks. We thought we would improve our chances of getting visas to go to Nauru if we kept our heads down and just marched through the long official process of applying.

As you will read, that was not the case.

This is how things have unfolded over the last two months and why we have moved to plan B.

Eight weeks ago a group of Australian women realized women on Nauru – asylum seekers, refugees and Nauru nationals – were being bashed, raped and extorted on a horrific scale. We decided to do what we could about that. 

That began by crowd-sourcing $20,000 to enable Professor Carmen Lawrence to go on a fact-finding visit with Professor Wendy Bacon, a nationally recognised independent journalist. 

The idea was simple: Find out what is happening to the women sent there by Australia and publish those findings.

But in these extraordinary times there is nothing simple about getting access to Nauru.

“Shortly after making an inquiry about getting a visa, the Nauruan consul told me as a journalist I needed to contact the Nauru Government directly,” said Wendy Bacon. “I sent two emails requesting information about a visa to Nauru and have not received any reply at all – that was nearly two months ago.”

On the 29th October Nauru’s Justice Minister, David Adeang, declared, "Nauru is not a state of Australia! The Australian media approaches us with great arrogance and an air of racial superiority, which is highly offensive to us. They do not show us the respect of a sovereign nation and in return we have little respect for them."

With the prospect of Wendy Bacon being able to get a visa looking grim, it was decided that Claire O’Connor S.C. would apply to go with Carmen Lawrence on the fact finding visit in December. Claire is an Adelaide-based Senior Council and has worked on numerous cases involving Australia’s asylum laws.

However, in an extraordinary admission, a Nauru consul assistant told Claire O’Connor by email on the 5th of November that:

‘All regional processing matters are handled directly through our (Nauru’s) Justice and Immigration Department in partnership with the Australian Immigration Department. I would suggest you approach the Australian Immigration first to ascertain the possibility of going to Nauru, I do not have the contact details for DIAC but this will be the best place to start. If everything proceeds then they will handle your application with Nauru Immigration as our office only deals with tourist permits.’

We made further inquiries to determine which country was in control of Nauru’s borders. Our questions produced this response from a Border Force employee on the 17th of November. It reads in part:

‘I have passed your details to the Nauruan Government Department of Justice and Border. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has no involvement in the management of travel to and from Nauru, despite the email you received from Mr. XXXX. Nauru as a sovereign nation is solely responsible for approval of visas. The Department is unable to assist with visa application.’

On the strength of that clarification from Border Force, Claire again wrote to Nauru. The consul agreed they had made a mistake and that was the last Claire has heard from the Nauru Consul.

Meanwhile Carmen Lawrence had also been making regular contact with Nauru to ask where her visa application was up to; most were met by silence. The last email she received was last week. She was told a decision would be made on the 1st of December about her application. The silence has since been deafening.

It is clear that what is left of the Nauru government has no intention of allowing an independent media or civil society on Nauru. It is also clear the Turnbull government has no intention of asking Nauru to open its borders and join the rest of the world. Tragically, it is also clear that conditions on the island for women continue to deteriorate.

It was left to Save the Children to turn off the lights as they left. There are now no independent voices left on the island and no one who can even bear witness to what is occurring there.

But ultimately no one and no country are above the law. In order to keep faith with the women who need to have their voices heard and all of you who donated money into our appeal we have developed Plan B.

We will take the next three months to research and document the violence against women on Nauru. While this began life as an issue for women who were seeking asylum or had been found to be refugees, it is now clear the women of Nauru experience shocking levels of violence against them as well. Those findings will be presented to the UN in March on International Women’s Day 2016.

If neither the Turnbull government nor the Shorten-led opposition is willing to intervene on behalf of these women, we believe there are many in the international community who will.

We are extremely disappointed the Nauru government has continued to refuse access to Australia’s camps and even more disappointed that neither the Coalition or Labor have been able or willing to negotiate access for the media and civil society.

Considering both major parties have been able to negotiate with Nauru to convince them to increase their population by another 10 per cent and to manage multi-million dollar contracts for service provision to run these camps, it doesn’t appear to be too difficult to also ensure independent access for those concerned with the human rights of those people in Australia’s care.

Thank you so much for your support and patience. This is an ever-evolving situation and we won’t stop working toward giving voice to the women who desperately need to be heard. From there we will do whatever we can to harness the power of concerned Australians and the international community to bring an end to this appalling state of affairs.

Finally, if anyone has other ideas or suggestions or stories they are hearing please contact Julie Macken on or Luisa Low at - we will get in contact with you as soon as we are able.

From the women of Nauru to the women of Australia – thank you!

After thousands of women called on Prime Minister Turnbull to allow Abyan the dignity of choice in her traumatised life, she has now been bought back to Australia.

Abyan has only ever asked for two things: a counselor to support her as she negotiates this difficult path and time to think and physically recover her health. She had been denied both by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton when he spent over $100,000 to fly her back to Nauru last Friday because she wasn’t moving quickly enough for his liking.

Fortunately, the women of Australia heard her cry for help and thousands of men and women demanded her return and took action to protect her right to choose.

To all of those who took up the fight on her behalf Abyan has said “thank you.” 

Abyan told a friend in Australia to let people know she is very grateful, as are the other Somali women on Nauru. They know that they have friends here.

Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru will continue to seek the truth about the situation for women, children and men on Nauru. We are continuing to apply for visas, book flights and accommodation for Wendy Bacon, Carmen Lawrence and Claire O’Connor S.C.

We do so because while Nauru is a very small and struggling island nation, we believe the people of Nauru wish to live with the same dignity and same principles of freedom of expression, as does nearly every other nation. And one of the most enduring and fundamental principles of civil society and good governance is an open and transparent society. 

The government of Nauru has suggested that wanting to investigate the situation for refugees on the island is somehow racist. We reject that. We believe that far from being racist: everyone, regardless of race or wealth, has the right to live free from violence in every form. Just as Australians want to end violence against women, we believe that Nauruans would want the same outcome. In fact to turn away and say there is no need for investigation, suggest some human beings are of less value than others - in other words less deserving of investigation. That could well be seen as racist.

An update on Nauru

It’s been a while since Australia’s detention policy received this much media attention, but recently the New York Times, Fairfax, the ABC, SBS, The Project and of course The Australian, have all carried stories about the extraordinary treatment of Abyan and Australia’s incredibly harsh detention regime. Amnesty International has also made the plight of Abyan and the fact that the media and civil society have been kept out of Nauru, a focus of their international work. 

Hopefully all this means that the Turnbull Government will be getting the message loud and clear that the Australian detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island at the very least need basic oversight from civil society and the media.

Ironically, the lack of external oversight was underscored when the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, now News Limited journalist, Chris Kenny, was given exclusive access to the island, to Abyan and the police discussions about her situation. 

So where to for us? 

Both Wendy and Carmen have begun the process of obtaining visas to visit Nauru. They may now be joined by one of Australia’s most renowned jurists, Claire O’Connor S.C. 

We don’t know how long this process will take but we are hopeful that it will be organised as quickly as Chris Kenny’s visit appears to have been organised.

One thing we do know is that there has never been a greater need for the voices of women and children on Nauru to be heard. 

We have seen those women brave enough to make a complaint of rape both victimised and pursued. We have seen Abyan’s allegation of rape bought into question and dismissed. This isn’t only a shattering state of affairs for the women involved, it also sends a clear and menacing message to every woman on the island, refugee or local: complain about rape and you will be punished.

As one woman on Nauru told us, the lesson conveyed by the treatment of Abyan was clear, saying: "Oh dear we all shock. This is lesson to all women".

Australians are waking up to the scourge of violence against women and children thanks to the leadership of groups like Destroy the Joint's 'Counting Dead Women', women’s refuge workers, SOS Women's Services, Rape Crisis Centres and women like Rosie Batty.
We cannot seriously hope to deal with violence here while sitting back and accepting violence committed against women detained under our names.

Thank you to every single person who has supported this work in all the different ways that you have. We shall push on from here and together we shall change this terrible situation together.

Malcolm Turnbull's honeymoon is over

Abyan has shone a light on the chaos and cruelty that is Peter Dutton’s administration of the Immigration portfolio – now the real question is what will Malcolm Turnbull do about it?

Having been removed form Australia on Friday, without access to her lawyer, counseling or the termination she had come to Australia to undergo, Abyan wrote a statement of fact about what had happened to her while she was in the custody of Border Force in Australia. 

Even for the party that gave Australia, "children overboard", this is a new low.

Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, seriously argued on Radio National earlier today that Abyan had elected to return to Nauru, have the baby conceived through rape and hope the man who raped her in the first place would not continue to rape her while she was pregnant.

Is there a woman in Australia who would willingly put herself in that situation?

This man is so out of touch with the reality of women’s lives that he seriously argued his version was more believable than hers. Of course many women would also recognise that argument.

Never has it been more vital to get the media and civil society onto Nauru to illuminate this black site. The Prime Minister must let Australia know what the hell is going on in this poor, broken island state. As both major parties have agreed to pass the gag laws on everyone who works there, independent journalists and observers are the only way we will ever establish the truth.

Right now Abyan is frightened, sick and feeling like she has been kicked from pillar to post. Time is running out and she hasn’t had the most basic support of independent counseling, a friend to hold her hand and a place of safety where she can think through what small choices remain for her.

We must ask if she would be willing to come back to Australia, and if she is, this time she is to be met at the airport with a counselor, her lawyer and her friend. She is to be given the same care and respect every woman has a right to.

The Prime Minister recently spoke about creating a culture of respect toward women in Australia. Well Prime Minister you can’t have it both ways; it is not possible to respect Australian women and systemically abuse non-Australian women, culture doesn’t work like that.

The honeymoon is over and this is where the rubber hits the road in your Prime Ministership.

- Julie Macken, Media Executive and Member of the Board of Directors AWSWN