Children in detention on Nauru (Image courtesy https://www.pedestrian.tv)

The Turnbull Government has earned world-wide condemnation again for its treatment of children in detention, this time refugee children and women on Nauru. The Guardian's leaked reports show a scale of abuse far worse than Don Dale. John Passant reports.

THE 2,000 leaked incident reports – the biggest leak of documents from Australia's secretive offshore detention centres – reported by The Guardian, show a level of abuse of asylum seeker children and women on Nauru that goes well beyond Don Dale.

Not only are there beatings. There is also a pattern of sexual assaults of refugee women and children, as well as self-harm and deplorable living conditions.

As David Marr says, this is raw evidence of torture.

Although children make up only 18 per cent of those imprisoned on the Nauru concentration camp they make up 50 per cent of the incident reports.

As The Guardian report says:

‘In the files there are seven reports of sexual assault of children, 59 reports of assault on children, 30 of self-harm involving children and 159 of threatened self-harm involving children.’

Brutalising refugees and asylum seekers – torture – is deliberate Australian Government policy. The Government hopes to stop people who are fleeing wars and persecution form claiming asylum in Australia. It does this for political reasons. It thinks it wins votes.

The Opposition does, too, which is why there is bipartisan support for these offshore gulags. Indeed, the incidents reported cover the period from May 2013 under Gillard and Rudd to October 2015 under Abbott and Turnbull. In spite of Labor trying to hedge the Coalition with its reintroduction of a bill to force mandatory reporting of child abuse and commitment allowing journalists into offshore detention camps, its policy on boat arrivals remains depressingly similar to the Coaliton's.

Hiding this abuse and torture is part of the strategy of government to ensure the Australian people do not know the brutality inflicted in their name on innocent people. That is why the Government has criminalised leaking and reporting on the abuses in these offshore detention centres. Those who speak out face two years in jail.

It has also ignored various reports about the horrors, including a recent Amnesty International report, which also outlined a long litany of abuse of refugees and asylum seekers.

Just as many Australians were shocked by the ABC’s Four Corners’ revelations about the horrors of Don Dale, so too will many Australians be horrified by the information contained in these leaked emails about the reality of Nauru.

However there is a difference. Almost immediately after the ABC aired its report the prime minister announced a royal commission into the abuse at Don Dale. Of course, it will be a whitewash and won’t address the fundamental issues that give rise to this systemic abuse. However, the prime minister had to move quickly, recognising the revulsion, shock and disgust many Australians (but not all) felt.

In the case of the abuse and torture revealed on Nauru, however, rather than action, the weasel words have been flowing.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection – the Department that oversights the offshore concentration camps – says the reports are merely ‘unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims.’

It also said: 

‘... some of these individual matters are historical in nature.’

As if that absolves them.

The Department claims, as does the Government, that not only does it continue ‘to support the Nauruan Government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru’ but that ‘it also takes seriously its role in supporting the Government of Nauru to protect children from abuse, neglect or exploitation.’ If that were the case, the Government and department would bring all those locked up on the hell holes on Nauru and Manus Island to Australia for processing and settlement here.

In a case of Kafkaesque visions and Orwellian nightmares, the department will investigate the claims. Who better to whitewash the abuse and torture claims than the very department charged with oversight of the systemic abuse of refugees and asylum seekers? But it is all OK?

As the Department of Immigation says:

‘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.’

It will make sure proper procedures have been followed. You just cannot make this shit up.

The abuse of aboriginal kids in Don Dale is the same as the abuse of refugees and asylum seekers and occurs for the same reason — to unite workers with the very people who are cutting their wages, jobs and public services against the “other”. The reason is simple enough. White workers in the Southern states of the U.S. felt socially, and in a warped way as a consequence of discrimination, “superior” to black Americans. They saw themselves as not being on the bottom rung of society. However as a result of their “unity” with their exploiters they had and have low wages, if they do have a job.

Is there a way forward? We know the ABC does a great job of exposing problems in our society and the prime minister thanked Four Corners for opening our eyes to the abuse and torture at Don Dale. No doubt Turnbull would support any application by Four Corners for visas to visit the detention centre on Nauru, again in the interests of transparency and honesty. No doubt ….

Sarcasm aside, maybe we don’t need that anyway. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) went undercover on Nauru and released a damning report a few days ago of the abuses being carried out there in our name. This is yet another report detailing the shocking treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

As Amnesty and HRW pointed out:

‘Australian authorities are well aware of the abuses on Nauru. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Senate Select Committee, and a government-appointed independent expert have each highlighted many of these practices, and called on the government to change them. The Australian government’s persistent failure to address abuses committed under its authority on Nauru strongly suggests that they are adopted or condoned as a matter of policy.’

Of course, these abuses are Government policy. It is time to open up the detention centres to real scrutiny. What have you got to hide Turnbull and Dutton?

We got a glimpse of the potential power to overturn Government policy when staff at Lady Cilento Children's Hospital refused for some time to release baby Asha back to Government officials for community detention and then return to Nauru. This type of action is not on the immediate agenda of most unions or workers so at this stage remains an aspiration.   

For some time now, I have argued that civil disobedience must become a real option for both the refugee movement and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resistance movement to put real pressure on the Liberal and Labor parties to stop the abuse and the torture and return humanity to our actions. Shut down the centre of Melbourne to shut down Don Dale. Shut down the centre of Sydney to shut down Nauru.  

United in real action against brutality, these campaigns together have the potential to win. 

Read more by John Passant on his website En PassantYou can also follow John on Twitter @JohnPassant.

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