Asylum seekers self-harmed & self-immolated to get to Australia – immigration minister

A refugee from Afghanistan in the western Sydney suburb of Guildford, Australia. © David Gray
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has accused asylum seekers of deliberately making false allegations of sexual assault in an attempt to get to Australia. Some have “even gone to the extent of self-harming and self-immolated,” the minister said.

"If an adult – mother or father – smacks their child in the detention center, or on Nauru [a Pacific island that hosts a detention camp for asylum seekers] that's reported by the guards as an incident report," Mr. Dutton said in an interview with Australia's 2GB radio.

"That's not an allegation of sexual assault. People can have their own views about discipline of children. If there is movement of children, or if a child is having problems at the Nauru school and doesn't want to go to school, that forms the basis of an incident report," he added.

“I have been very clear, with the Department, with the Secretary, with the Commissioner, that I won't tolerate any sexual abuse whatsoever. But I have been made aware of some incidents that have 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," Dutton said on Australian radio.

“They have been told if they have sought to come here by boat, they won't be settling. 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."

"The standard response every time information is brought to light is to diminish it, to discredit it, and to ignore it. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be taken seriously," former doctor at detention center for migrants on Christmas Island, John-Paul Sanggaran told RT. "There are absolutely no repercussions for anyone and the government more generally for putting these people in this situation," he said, adding that he "hopes that international pressure continues."

Meanwhile, 8,000 pages of leaked documents have revealed systematic child abuse on Australia’s offshore detention center on Nauru. Earlier this week over 2,000 reports exposing assault, sexual abuse and self-harm in immigration detention centers on the island were leaked to the Guardian. The leaks detail over 1,000 incidents involving children, who make up 18 percent of Nauru’s 442 detainees.

In one incident, a teacher reported that a girl requested increased shower times. “Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favours. It is a male security person. She did not state if this has or hasn’t occurred. The security officer wants to view a boy or girl having a shower,” the report said.

The revelations coincide with the findings of the Australian Senate, which revealed a number of attempted suicides and incidents of children self-harming. It also described overcrowding and unhygienic conditions in Nauru, with cases of typhoid and TB reported.

"We've got a minister for immigration speaking about incidents where there was more than one person who set themselves on fire because of the despair that they were going through. And to characterize it as a way of manipulating the situation, so that they might be brought to Australia, the suggestion that someone might burn themselves alive and to death for one of them so they can get to Australia is perfectly digusting," Sanggaran told RT.

Last week human rights groups slammed the Australian government for its treatment of refugees who were sent to Nauru, saying that “few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on those seeking refuge and freedom.”

Some 1,200 men, women and children who tried to reach Australia by boat were "forcibly transferred to the remote Pacific island nation of Nauru," where they suffer "severe abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect," Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International noted.

“Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel in the extreme,” said Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty.

“Driving adult and even child refugees to the breaking point with sustained abuse appears to be one of Australia’s aims on Nauru," Michael Bochenek, senior counsel on children’s rights at Human Rights Watch, who conducted the investigation on the island, added.

Amnesty said in its report that the Australian government’s offshore operation on Nauru is surrounded by a "wall of secrecy," with both Australia and Nauru doing their best to "prevent the flow of information off the island."

Nauru has banned Facebook, while service providers and others who work on the island face criminal charges if they expose information about conditions for asylum seekers and refugees held offshore, Amnesty says.

Australia has been sending refugees to Nauru, which has a population of 10,000, since September 2012, following a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between the two countries (the Republic of Nauru and the Commonwealth of Australia.) Australia covers all the costs of the refugees detained on the island while their cases are processed.