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Guards at Australian-Managed Refugee Detention Centre on Nauru Traded Marijuana for Sexual Favours

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 22 2015 (IPS) - Guards at a Nauru refugee detention centre managed by the Australian government traded marijuana for sexual favours from detainees, according to the latest damning report into the Australia’s beleaguered refugee policy.

The report into the Regional Processing Centre on tiny Micronesian island Nauru, found evidence of rape, sexual assault of minors, and numerous other transgressions both by detainees and centre staff.

Australia’s controversial policy of mandatory detention for arriving refugees, often in offshore facilities, has come under fire in recent weeks. The release of another report into refugee detention centres saw the Australian Human Rights Commission label the Nauru and Christmas Island facilities “dangerous” and “distressing.”

A further report by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, stated Australia’s treatment of refugees in such centres breached the U.N.’s Convention Against Torture.

The Nauru report, released Friday, found evidence of sexual and physical assaults in the centre, but states figures for such crimes were likely much higher than stated due to under-reporting by victims.

Refugees told investigators they did not report particular incidents “because they had lost confidence that anything would be done about their complaints.”

The review said centre staff “in the most part, acted appropriately” in dealing with complaints and referrals to police, but that procedures to report, respond to or mitigate serious incidents “could be improved.”

The impetus for the report came in September 2014, after Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens party alleged women detained on Nauru were forced to “expose themselves to sexual exploitation” for access to showers, other amenities, and cigarettes.

Minors told the review of guards had offered marijuana and other items for sexual favours, and had “been on duty while under the influence of alcohol.”

The report, with numerous sections heavily redacted, details several claims of guards demanding detainees show their naked bodies in exchange for longer showers, making “lewd gestures” and “improper sexual proposition,” and numerous instances of physical assault.

Between October 2013 and October 2014, 17 minors were recorded as having self-harmed at the centre, including attempted hangings, “an 11-year-old who swallowed a metal bolt and a rock,” three cases of lip stitching – with one minor claiming they got needles from guards – and a 15-year-old who ingested detergent.

The Government and Immigration Department were criticised for releasing on a Friday afternoon, on a day when the death of former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, was dominating the news cycle.

“I didn’t think this government could get that lower, but I tell you what – it’s pretty shameless,” Hanson-Young said of the report’s timing.

The report recommends greater training be given to guards on Nauru, a review of guidelines around sexual harassment, greater investigation by the Australian government into such incidents reported in the review, the establishment of “a robust child protection framework,” and better frameworks for prevention of such incidents.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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