10 March 2015


The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has expressed concern about the mandatory, indefinite detention of asylum seekers, especially children, in the harsh conditions prevailing in offshore processing centres which are characterised by overcrowding, inadequate health care, and allegations of sexual abuse and ill-treatment. Concern was also expressed that the combination of the harsh conditions, protracted periods of closed detention and the uncertainty about the future, causes serious physical and mental pain and suffering.

The report follows the recent report from the Australian Human Rights Commission which drew on evidence from internationally-recognised medical experts, education professionals, non-government organisations and service providers working with asylum seekers, as well as interviews with more than 1000 children and their parents in Australian detention facilities, detailed incidents of assault and self-harm involving children. These included 207 cases of actual self-harm, in which 128 children were involved, and further incidents where 171 children threatened self-harm. A total of 27 children engaged in voluntary starvation or a hunger strike, while 233 assaults involving children were reported, including 33 incidents of reported sexual assault, with the vast majority involving children.

Appallingly, rather than address these concerns, the response of the government, lead by the Prime Minister, has been to attack the report as being politically motivated and in response to the Special Rapporteur’s report, complain that “Australia is sick of being lectured by the United Nations”

In the wake of the Australian Human Rights Commission Report, the President of the Refugee Council of Australia, Phil Glendenning, has called for the allegations of child sexual abuse in Australian-funded detention centres to be referred to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Currently the  Royal Commission is enquiring into past instances of sexual abuse in which institutions including the Catholic Church have been (rightly) criticised for their handling of abuse allegations. At least in contrast to the present situation, those past failings have been acknowledged and apologies and compensation offered. It can also be noted that the abuse that occurred was never the result of official policy.

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