Allegations of abuse, neglect and self-harm
This chapter examines the abuse, neglect and self-harm alleged to have
occurred at the Regional Processing Centres (RPCs) in the Republic of Nauru
(Nauru) and Papua New Guinea (PNG).
These allegations are not new. Numerous allegations of misconduct and
neglect, both minor and major, have been made since the establishment of the
RPCs. Many of these allegations have been outlined, in detail, in previous
inquiries into these and related matters.
This report is not intended to duplicate the evidence presented to previous
inquiries, and should be read in conjunction with those previous reports. However,
this chapter will set out the range of allegations of abuse, self-harm and
neglect, and discuss the new corroborative evidence from both primary and
secondary sources in regards to historical claims of abuse, as well as claims
of ongoing abuse and neglect.
The Nauru files
On 10 August 2016, The Guardian Australia published over 2,000 incident
reports from the Nauru RPC.
These de-identified reports, referred to by the Guardian Australia as 'the
Nauru files', detail incidents which were recorded between 2013 and 2015. At
the time of their release, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection
(the department) stated that the reports detailed 'unconfirmed allegations or
uncorroborated statements and claims' and not proven facts.
Some of the reports contain allegations made by asylum seekers and refugees, as
reported to RPC staff. Many contain accounts of incidents which staff members witnessed
first-hand, or in which they were personally involved.
Many of these incident reports, both individually and collectively,
corroborate much of the evidence presented to the committee from secondary
sources. This report will refer to the incident reports and, where appropriate,
will quote the words of asylum seekers and refugees (as recorded by the
reporting staff member) directly.
Allegations of abuse and self-harm among refugees and asylum seekers
The committee heard evidence about widespread allegations of abuse and
neglect both within RPCs, and in the Nauruan and Papua New Guinean communities.
The committee also heard that self-harm and suicidal ideation among refugees
and asylum seekers of all ages is extremely common.
This evidence presented to the committee was largely from secondary
sources. However, the committee has noted particular incident reports contained
in the Nauru files, where those reports further illustrate an allegation made
by a secondary source. The committee has also noted that other organisations,
including Amnesty International, have conducted their own first-hand
confidential interviews with refugees and asylum seekers, and has made
reference to those interviews where the subject matter further illustrates
allegations made by a submitter.
The allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect among refugees and
asylum seekers on Nauru relate to the facilities provided to refugees and
asylum seekers, staff conduct, harassment and attacks in the Nauruan community,
widespread poor mental health, the provision of healthcare services, and the
protection of children.
RPC living and recreational
Many submitters raised serious concerns about the living and
recreational facilities at the Nauru RPC. Some of these submitters discussed
first-hand experiences of difficult living conditions, while others recounted
evidence provided to them by refugees and asylum seekers detained within the
As outlined in previous inquiries, the natural environment on Nauru presents
challenges. The RPC is located at the centre of a phosphate plateau, with
little natural shelter from the heat.
Temperatures regularly exceed 30 degrees Celsius,
and humidity levels can reach between 70 and 90 per cent.
The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) submitted that the RPC facilities do
not provide relief from the weather conditions.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that heat levels in the crowded tent
accommodation can reach 45–50 degrees Celsius, and explained that in the high
humidity environment, mould grows quickly on tent walls and ceilings, and
torrential rain fall pools water on the floor.
It noted that approximately one third of the total number of refugees and
asylum seekers currently on Nauru remain in RPC tent accommodation.
In February 2015, the then-service provider Transfield Pty Ltd advised
the department that tented accommodation in the Nauru RPC failed to meet
Australian Mould Guidelines, with more than 10 metres square of visible mould
growth in all tents.
The department agreed that mould is a persistent problem in tented
In May 2016, the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution
Clinic of Stanford Law School (Stanford Law Clinic) interviewed a number of
individuals who had formerly been detained at the Nauru RPC.
These interviews were conducted for the purpose of gathering evidence to
provide to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in support
of a request that the Prosecutor prosecute Australia for crimes against
Interviewees described a lack of air conditioning or fans for many months, and
the subsequent installation of just one fan per tent, as well as personal
belongings being repeatedly damaged by flooding.
An incident report contained within the Nauru files similarly notes concerns
from a Save the Children Australia worker about children with rashes on their
necks, chests and arms consistent with heat rash.
The committee heard evidence of both historical and ongoing overcrowding
within the RPC. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
advised the committee that accommodation facilities remain overcrowded.
Stanford Law Clinic interviewees described that they had at times been required
to sleep on a blanket on the ground, or a military style cot.
Several others described being held in overcrowded tents with multiple
families, with up to 50 people in one tent.
They also alleged that bathroom facilities were inadequate, with less than 10
toilets and showers available for approximately 100 people.
There were also allegations that food and water supplies on Nauru are
restricted, and not in adequate supply. In October 2016, the UN Committee on
the Rights of the Child (CRC) commented on the limited access to basic services
in Nauru, including a lack of safe and clean drinking water in a high humidity
environment, leaving children and families 'vulnerable to dehydration and other
serious health problems'.
Former detainees have also reported these concerns, alleging that water
shortages could last up to one week during their detention, and that this would
prevent showering and lead to water rationing.
One detainee also alleged that at times, contractors would replace the fresh
water in the showers with salt water.
In March 2017, the department advised that domestic water on Nauru is provided
through 'reverse osmosis of sea water' and 'imported bottled water', both of
which are 'freely available to all staff and all [refugees and asylum seekers]'.
Discrepancies remain between evidence by the department and witnesses about how
much clean drinking water was available to refugees and asylum seekers.
The Australia Director of HRW, Ms Elaine Pearson, argued that RPC
facilities are not sufficient to provide either privacy or security
(particularly at night).
Several leaked incident reports reflect this argument, and indicate that a lack
of personal space contributes to a feeling of being unsafe. These include
families accused of bullying one another,
individuals accused of threatening other detainees,
a single mother who advised that a man kept entering her tent,
and women who stated that they had been the victims of harassment,
and sexual harassment.
Allegations of poor staff conduct have also been addressed in previous
inquiries into these matters. In 2015, Mr Phillip Moss AM concluded that it was
likely that guards had exploited adults and children in exchange for access to
shower facilities, that women had been raped, and that adults and children had
been physically and sexually assaulted.
The committee heard allegations of unprofessional conduct by some members
of RPC staff, including conduct designed to deliberately antagonise and taunt
asylum seekers and refugees. The allegations from secondary sources and
confidential interviews are reflected in many of the incident reports contained
in the Nauru files.
Amnesty International reported that some RPC service providers would
call asylum seekers by their boat or refugee identification numbers, and
alleged that some Wilson Security guards called asylum seekers 'rubbish'.
In its response to this submission, the department noted that this issue had
been dealt with by the select committee in August 2015, and that the service
provider in question had apologised.
The department stated that there is no evidence that this practice currently
Stanford Law Clinic interviewees likewise described physical
altercations with security staff (as well as locals and fellow detainees), an
environment that permitted rape, and sexual blackmail perpetrated by guards (as
well as locals and fellow detainees).
Others described exchanging sexual favours for longer shower times or goods
like cigarettes, and one man alleged that he had been gang raped by men wearing
Wilson Security uniforms.
RPC staff members have reported hearing other staff members making
disparaging comments about asylum seekers, including saying that they should
'go back to their country and get out of Nauru'.
The Nauru files also contain allegations of Wilson Security staff swearing at
grabbing and pushing them,
and subjecting them to invasive security measures.
In November 2014 a Save the Children worker recorded that a female detainee
alleged that a Wilson Security cultural advisor had spoken improperly to her
about her recent rape, causing her to feel sick and want to hit her head. The
worker recorded that the woman had described the cultural advisor stating the
- 'Why? Things that happen to you are as common as going to the bathroom
or eating food'
- 'Rape in Australia is very common and people don't get punished'
- 'If that happened to you why didn't you scream at the time? '
- 'You have to take it out of you head if you go to Nauru then he [the
perpetrator] could be your neighbour or if you go to [redacted] then he could
be on the plane next to you. You also have to teach your son to treat this man
- 'There are no charges being brought against this man, this was something
very normal and very common'.
Extremely serious allegations of serious criminal conduct by staff
members, including against children have also been made. These allegations
spread across the available incident reports, from 2013 through to 2015. The
reports detail troubling allegations, including staff members allegedly
sexually assaulting a child,
choking a child,
hitting a child across the face,
spitting at a child,
asking a child to lift their shirt and display her stomach,
pulling a child's hair,
otherwise physically assaulting children,
and physically removing a child from a tent and then later threatening to assault
One incident report details a staff member having to be physically restrained
by other staff members as they tried to hit a child in the RPC canteen.
In September 2015, a Save the Children Australia staff member reported
that they had found a child who was crying and shaken, and who alleged that a
Wilson Security guard had become angry at him, grabbed him around the throat,
and hit his head against the ground twice. 
The worker recorded observing the child then asking the guard repeatedly 'why
did you hit me?' Further incident reports alleged that a security guard had
deliberately cut down a shade cloth upon which children were sitting, causing
them to fall to the rocky ground.
In another incident, a Save the Children Australia teacher recorded that her
assistant had asked a guard for a four minute shower, to which the guard
replied that he would do so in return for sexual favours, and also expressed a
desire to watch a boy or girl showering.
In another, a child alleged that a security guard had threatened to call the
Nauruan Police about him, and have him locked in a cell forever, and then
pretended to call the police.
Doctors for Refugees (DFR) raised concerns about the conduct of staff
members in Australia. They submitted that an adult woman who had been
hospitalised in Australia for depression and suicide attempts during her
pregnancy told the organisation that she was forcibly returned to Nauru five
months after giving birth.
DFR stated that the patient provided the following account of her transfer:
Woke at 6am in bed and officers in the room. She was wearing
undergarments and officers would not allow her to put on her clothes prior to
driving to the airport. Officers took video footage of her during the drive.
Dragged onto the plane sustaining scratches on elbows, knees and back of neck.
Photographs demonstrate an abrasion to one knee, bruising above the right elbow
and three large bruises on the upper back. She was not permitted to breastfeed
her son between 6am to 5pm. Her husband was transferred in a different vehicle.
DFR also submitted that an unaccompanied minor who had been detained in
the Brisbane transit centre and placed on 'high security check' was forcibly
transferred to Nauru against her will.
DFR stated that 'witnesses have reported to DFR that she was dragged across the
courtyard of the detention facility screaming in protest'. DFR noted that soon
after the woman returned to Nauru she set herself on fire.
The committee also heard allegations of unprofessional conduct at senior
management levels. Amnesty International stated that it had conducted a
confidential interview in September 2016 with a managerial-level service provider
who stated that being privy to conduct at the higher levels of office 'really
ate at my soul'.
The staff member described the 'gut-wrenching' feeling of hearing Australian
Border Force personnel speaking about asylum seekers and refugees as 'pieces of
meat—like cattle', and laughing at suicide attempts.
The department provided a response to Amnesty International's October
2016 report, Island of Despair–Australia's 'Processing' of Refugees
The department stated that it had reviewed the circumstances of the individual
cases described in the report. It asserted that a wide range of the claims were
false, and that some had been aired previously and had either been refuted or
Harassment and attacks
The committee heard evidence of refugees and asylum seekers being afraid
of venturing from the camp into the local Nauruan community because of alleged
assaults and harassment. From February to October 2015, asylum seekers and
refugees at the Nauru RPC could leave at a designated exit point during agreed
Since October 2015, the centre has been designated as being open 'all the
The department described the arrangement in its submission to this inquiry, as
one which enables refugees and asylum seekers to 'venture beyond the RPC without
A number of submitters outlined concerns about physical attacks towards
asylum seekers and refugees by local residents, as well as antisocial and
aggressive behaviour including throwing bottles, spitting, swerving vehicles
towards refugees and asylum seekers, and causing property damage.
Amnesty International submitted that refugees had been viciously attacked in
the Nauruan community, including one man who reported being attacked by a group
of local men in mid-2016, kicked from his motorbike and beaten, suffering
serious head trauma.
Both HRW and Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru (AWSWN)
submitted that female refugees and asylum seekers have reported widespread
sexual assault and harassment, including groping, touching, explicit threats,
and attempted rape.
Several incident reports in the Nauru files reflect these allegations, including
reports of sexual harassment at the hands of fellow refugees and asylum seekers,
and sexual propositions and harassment from local Nauruan men in public places.
Ms Pamela Curr of AWSWN stated that in May 2015 a woman in Nauru had been gang
raped by a group of local men who had attacked her, doused her with petrol and
burned her. Ms Curr stated that the woman in question fell pregnant as a result
of this rape, and had to be transferred to Australia for an abortion.
In April 2016 it was reported that a refugee who had been settled on
Nauru was raped while suffering an epileptic seizure, and had since attempted
The report, which noted that abortion is illegal in Nauru and only sometimes
legal in PNG, stated that the woman had been transferred to PNG. On 7 May 2016
it was reported that the Federal Court of Australia (FCA) had ordered that the
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection not to organise an abortion
procedure in PNG.
HRW explained that in response to this harassment and violence, refugees
and asylum seekers on Nauru have tried to alter their behaviour in order to
alleviate the risk of attacks. Ms Pearson advised that women and young girls reportedly
rarely leave the RPC alone.
There are allegations of misconduct by Nauruan police. Amnesty International
advised that service providers and refugees had both confidentially disclosed
instances where police had torn up a refugee's written statement, forcing them
to sign a statement the police had pre-written, robbed asylum seekers, and
Amnesty International also outlined the case of a man who had allegedly been
arbitrarily arrested and incarcerated for over three months, after which time
he was harassed and bullied by local police who placed him in a dark room for
over four hours and eventually placed him in solitary confinement on the charge
of 'threatening a Nauruan citizen'.
It also stated that a service provider had confidentially disclosed an instance
in 2016 where local police were called and entered the RPC after a woman had
taken her dessert away from the designated eating area. The police allegedly
dragged the woman out of the RPC and to the police station.
In an incident report recorded in May 2015, a man alleged that he had been
assaulted by local police for refusing to submit to an alcohol breath test. He
reported that he was beaten, his clothes were torn off, and he was placed in a
cell in only his underwear.
Amnesty International also submitted that an Australian Federal Police (AFP)
Officer had dealt improperly with a minor.
It submitted that an asylum seeker was jailed in June 2016 for allegedly
'threatening a Nauruan citizen', and had been taken to the local police station
together with his eight year old son. The father alleged that the an AFP
officer at the station questioned his son alone for 20 minutes, and then
declined to provide him with a copy of his son's statement, stating that he
would be contacted about it later. The father alleged that when he was contacted
one week later and advised to leave the RPC and collect the statement, he was
subsequently arrested outside the RPC by a group of fifteen Nauruan police
officers and approximately five AFP officers.
Amnesty International stated that the man was held in prison for
96 days, including a period in solitary confinement. The man alleged that
during his imprisonment he attended court several times, but was never
permitted to speak. Amnesty International stated that the man was eventually
found not guilty, and released on 7 September 2016.
Widespread poor mental health and
persistent high levels of self-harm
The committee heard evidence that refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru express
serious and persistent mental health concerns.
After visiting Nauru in July 2016, Amnesty International reported that
almost every person with whom its researchers spoke reported a mental health
issue of some kind, and that almost every person said those problems began once
they were transferred to Nauru.
High levels of anxiety, mood swings and trouble sleeping have been widely
Amnesty International reported that a woman had watched a man set himself on
fire one week after giving birth to her child. After this, she lost her
breastmilk, barely spoke, and stopped leaving the family home.
HRW, which also visited the RPCs, echoed this, noting that nearly all asylum
seekers and refugees interviewed by HRW expressed concern about their mental
Media reports note that two detainees have self-immolated while in the
Nauru RPC. Mr Omid Masoumali, 23 years old, was filmed pouring petrol on
himself and setting himself alight. He was transferred to Australia for medical
treatment but died of his injuries. His wife alleged that prior to being
airlifted, he went without medical care for two hours, and it was a further
eight hours before pain relief was administered to him.
Ms Hodan Yashin, a 21 year old Somali woman, also set herself alight and was
airlifted to Australia for treatment. She was reported to have suffered severe
burns to her upper body and face.
Several individuals interviewed by the Stanford Law Clinic also
described widespread self-harm, alleging that self-harm was 'everyday business'
in the RPC, and depression was a constant battle.
One interviewee described to the Clinic how he attempted to kill himself on
seven different occasions, revealing the large scars on his stomach where he
had slit himself open.
Numerous incident reports contained in the Nauru files reflect these
allegations of widespread poor mental health and self-harm. Although it is
unclear whether the database of leaked reports represents all incident
reports during the relevant periods of time, the reports which have been
included indicate that:
from January to October 2015 there were 25 recorded incidents of
actual self‑harm (six of which were categories as 'critical' incidents,
and 19 'major' incidents);
from February to December 2014 there were 37 recorded incidents
of actual self-harm (3 'critical', 10 'major', 14 'minor', and 10 'information');
between 2014 and 2015 there were 62 recorded instances of actual
self-harm (ranging in classification).
The reports of self-harm included in this database, and as referenced by
secondary sources, include instances of people self-harming by pouring petrol
drinking insect repellent,
drinking cleaning fluids,
ingesting baby bottle sterilising tablets,
and cutting themselves.
Incident reports outline numerous instances of people refusing food and
water. The classifications associated with these recorded incidents varied
from mere 'information', through to a 'critical' incident of a pregnant woman
starving herself in September 2015.
In some of these recorded incidents it was alleged that individuals were
deliberately doing this to try and force officials to bring them to Australia,
while others stated that individuals told staff members that they had no choice
but to stop eating.
HRW explained that children and young people exhibit higher-than-normal
levels of bedwetting, nightmares, and poor behaviour.
Mr Daniel Webb of the HRLC submitted that some children have been so
traumatised that they have received inpatient psychiatric treatment.
One former teacher at the Nauru RPC stated that within 15 months, one of her
former students who had been 'one of the brightest, bubbliest students' was
taking psychotropic medication and would 'cry silently'.
Amnesty International submitted that one young girl, who had spent 18 months
living in a tent, would vomit, wet her bed nightly, and wake up screaming.
There are also numerous incident reports alleging self-harm on the part
and threats to harm themselves.
Save the Children teachers recorded a number of instances during which their
students disclosed thoughts of self-harm and suicide.
The incident reports also indicate a concentration of threats to self-harm
among students who were attempting to prevent the closure of their RPC school.
In one particularly concerning incident, a Save the Children Australia
staff member recorded observing a child 'in a fit of screaming and flailing her
arms', who had climbed onto the top of a store room and threatened to jump.
The worker recorded that three different staff members tried to calm the child
down for fifteen minutes, but she continued scream, scratch her face (causing
her head to bleed). The worker stated that the child appeared to be 'in a far
off mental space'. Two witnesses were reported to have stated that the child
had a meltdown when a security guard tried to pull a chair from her hands and
she fell backwards, striking her head. This incident was initially reported by
the Save the Children Australia worker as a minor incident of accident/injury
and non-compliance. It was subsequently downgraded to 'information'.
The committee heard significant concerns about the standard of healthcare
provided to refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru, and the manner in which
medical transfers to Australia and PNG take place. Incident reports also
demonstrate a lack of faith in the provision of adequate medical services on
the part of asylum seekers and refugees, especially in the case of pregnant
The Australasian College of Emergency Medicine (ACEM), the peak
organisation for emergency medicine in Australasia, explained that asylum
seekers and refugees have complex healthcare needs, which can arise due to the
means by which they arrived at an RPC, and as a result of the conditions once
they are housed in the RPC.
They may be vulnerable to infectious diseases, poor nutritional health, and
developmental risks associated with poor mental health in the case of children.
In October 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) raised concerns in relation to the care available to mothers and young
children on Nauru.
It highlighted in particular the lack of health services available for asylum seeking
and refugee children, 'many of whom have developed chronic conditions as a
result of living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and the fact that
the main medical provider in the [RPC] has no paediatrician.
Amnesty International submitted that tuberculosis is widespread at the Nauru
RPC, and that the dampness in the RPC and the phosphate in the air are
particularly damaging for the illness.
It reported that an asylum seeker on Nauru stated that approximately 40
children at the Nauru RPC had tuberculosis.
The committee heard evidence from media reports and medical
organisations which submitted to this inquiry of serious concerns about the
healthcare services being provided to refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru. In
2017, a young woman and her premature son were medically evacuated to Australia
in critical condition, following the performance of a caesarean section in
In January 2017, DFR reported that it had requested the medical transfer of a
pregnant woman from Nauru to Australia.
DFR advised that the 37 year old woman was 35 weeks pregnant, and that the baby
was in breech. It explained that the woman had previously had a miscarriage on
Nauru and that she had a large tumour on the wall of her uterus, meaning that
she faced a complex and potentially life threatening delivery. The report also
alleged that the woman had been prescribed an antidepressant drug (citalopram)
which may cause harmful effects on the human foetus, according to Australian
guidelines. Following a period of intensive media scrutiny, on 3 February 2017
it was reported that the woman was going to be flown to Australia to give
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) submitted that it did not
believe that asylum seekers and refugees in Nauru and Manus can access the same
level of healthcare which a person in Australia would receive.
It explained that a number of asylum seekers have sought medical intervention
from the AMA, and that it has obtained medical records from those patients
where the written consent of that patient has been obtained.
Acknowledging that the information it provided could not be independently verified,
the AMA expressed its concern in relation to the care being provided to certain
individuals, citing the following case studies from Nauru:
a woman who had engaged in self-harm, as well as allegedly having
been the victim of verbal, physical and sexual abuse while in Nauru. The AMA
stated that the woman had been prescribed Quetiapine, Lorazepam and Mirtazapine
'with severe side effects';
a woman whose weight had reportedly fallen by more than half, and
whose kidneys were failing;
a man who was the victim of a physical assault in Nauru,
including a strike to the head. The AMA stated that one month after the attack
the man had a CT scan and was advised that he had a broken bone in the centre
of his skull. The AMA stated that this diagnosis was later reviewed to
'suffering from a mental illness'. The patient's wife was allegedly told that
no more could be done for his mental health and that the mental health doctor
would recommend electric shock treatment. The AMA also stated that a doctor in the
Nauru RPC placed the patient on 16 medications. 
The AMA explained that it had experienced difficulties keeping in
contact with asylum seekers and refugees who had approached them for
assistance, and on whose behalf the organisation had made representations.
For a third party to access a patient's medical records, a patient is required
to provide a 'legally valid' signed consent form to IHMS.
The AMA explained that this process posed problems, because some health
concerns had been raised with the AMA by a third party, and, while the AMA
could raise the matter with the department, it could not contact the patient
It also explained that technological barriers could frustrate the process of
obtaining records. It explained that it would receive signed consent forms via
a mobile phone photograph which had been sent by text message.
It also argued that patients themselves would be prevented from viewing their
own records where they were provided in a digital format, as access to
computers was severely limited.
The AMA submitted that in each of the cases it cited in their submission,
the AMA had no knowledge of the patient's current medical situation because they
had not been provided with updated information, or had not been able to obtain
the consent of the patient beyond the information originally provided.
and does not comment on individual cases 'without being able to properly
identify the patient and receive their consent to discuss their case in an open
and transparent way'.
IHMS stated that it was concerned that AMA had 'chosen to use a series of
emotive quotations to imply unsatisfactory medical treatment rather than
providing a systematic, professional discussion of the cases as would normally
be undertaken by medical professionals'. IHMS stated that they are willing to
discuss cases which the AMA wishes to raise if it can provide a valid consent
from the patient authorising IHMS to do so.
The committee noted that many of the concerns raised by the AMA were
also raised by DFR. DFR explained that doctors who are members of the
organisation conduct independent medical analysis of refugees and asylum
seekers' cases, with their written consent, and make clinical recommendations
which are submitted back to IHMS.
DFR advised that it currently has 188 active cases for individuals in
Nauru and Manus who have self-referred to DFR for medical assistance, and 26
cases related to individuals in Australia.
DFR explained that in 26 per cent of its cases, 'severe and deteriorating
mental health is the primary reason for the referral', and noted that this does
not include cases where an individual is experiencing more than one condition,
and the primary reason for the referral is not a mental illness.
DFR stated that in more than 30 per cent of its cases the primary reason for
the referral was a suicide attempt.
DFR expressed concern about the care being provided to certain
individuals, citing the following case studies from Nauru:
a child whose mother suffered from severe depression and had
attempted suicide multiple times, and was so disengaged from her son that she
could not tolerate his touch or his presence;
a Clinical Professor recommended that a child be transferred to
Australia for testing as the diagnosis could be tuberculosis, syphilis, or
yaws. The child was not transferred.
a child who had been identified as suffering from a possible
developmental delay three years earlier. A child and adolescent psychiatrist
recommended that the child be transferred immediately to Australia to access
specialist services. The child's medical records indicated that the child had not
received specialist paediatric developmental assessment or treatment;
a child who had been diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, and
was recommended for a formal developmental assessment for Autism Spectrum
disorder in October 2015. In February 2016 another psychologist recommended a
psychiatry referral. In April 2016 a further psychologist recommended a referral
to a child psychologist. DFR stated that 'there is no evidence in his case file
of these recommended referrals occurring and no developmental assessment has
a child with sinus pain who was placed under full sedation three
times by a dentist for investigation, placed on six courses of antibiotics, and
was taking daily medication. DFR questioned the testing which had been
undertaken in relation to the child's care, and stated that it had corresponded
with IHMS in relation to the diagnosis. DFR stated that 'IHMS insists that the
diagnosis is dental abscess despite no response to multiple antibiotics', and
four diagnoses of 'maxillary sinusitis' on four separate occasions;
a child had sustained a fracture in the forearm of his dominant
DFR reviewed his X-ray and recommended that the child be referred to an
orthopaedic surgeon. DFR stated that IHMS dismissed this recommendation and it
was only after the X-rays appeared in the Australian media that the operation
DFR had recommended, took place. DFR stated that 'notably this involved flying
an Australian orthopaedic team to Nauru, at great expense, to perform surgery
in June 2015, a delay of one month following the original injury'. DFR stated
that in November 2015, a medical officer at the Republic of Nauru Hospital
noted in the child's medical records, 'patient was not seen and evaluated by
physiotherapist!! No physiotherapy was done since my referral last August'. DFR
stated that one year later the child was experiencing severe arm pain and
impaired function of his dominant hand. DFR also stated that the child's mother
informed them that an orthopaedic surgeon had been flown from Australia one
month ago but the 'surgery room was not ready for operation'.
Amnesty International raised similar concerns, stating that asylum
seekers and refugees reported that 'the principal response to their mental
health issues has been the prescription of strong sedatives and anti-psychotic
The committee noted in particular the following compelling case from
DFR, which the committee regards as an example of the difficulties associated
with accessing adequate services on Nauru.
(Name redacted) was [a child] upon his arrival to Nauru in
September 2013 and assessed as having 'mild PTSD symptoms.' His father took
him to Torture and Trauma counselling and he initially coped well. In April
2014, IHMS doctor and psychologist noted he was being bullied because of a
speech impediment. He was referred to a paediatric psychiatrist. The
psychiatrist noted 'speech production disorder' and referred to an Ear Nose
and Throat surgeon (ENT) for assessment of reduced tongue movement. In May
2014 the child presented with a dental infection and later that month represented
after assault by another child at school. The psychologist noted 'he is
teased daily about his speech impediment.' A 'high priority referral'
unsigned in his case file is dated June 2014. His father presents to IHMS
multiple times over 3 months to check this referral—psychologists and
multiple general practitioners confirm an existing referral and note
escalating this to the Senior Medical Officer on Nauru several times.
(Name redacted)'s father submitted a complaint through
Transfield services regarding the delayed specialist review and received
written reply from the Health Services Manager on the 13th of May: 'I do not have
a date for specialist to visit Nauru at this time. (Name redacted) is on the
waiting list and we will notify you when we have a date for this service. '
On the 22nd of May 2014 the Senior Medical Officer for IHMS on
Nauru submitted a Recommendation for Medical Movement from Nauru to Australia
for oral surgery and speech therapy to the Area Medical Director. [DFR] does
not have documentation following this to explain why no transfer occurred.
7 months later, in December 2014 an IHMS medical officer at
the Republic of Nauru Hospital (RONH) documents 'advised no operation for
tongue tie is indicated. There is clear evidence that tongue tie operation
does not improve speech.' Unfortunately, while surgical management of
tongue-tie is controversial, indications for possible surgery include
articulation problems, psychological problems and periodontal disease—all
present in this case. Standard treatment for tongue-tie and speech problems
is a collaboration between paediatric ENT specialists with speech
pathologists (neither available on Nauru). [DFR] does not have clinical notes
between this time and April 2015 when an IHMS psychologist wrote to the Heath
Services Manager on Nauru that '(name redacted) had a tongue untied not long
The psychologist also wrote in 2015 that 'his speech is
very poor, due to this he reported being severely bullied by his peers and he
is no longer attending school... communication difficulties, enuresis and
suffering from bullying reinforced his self-hatred, as a result his
self-esteem is non existent in my opinion. Conceptually his sleep
deprivation, social exclusion and detention fatigue create more anxiety,
severe depression and suicidal ideations...at the moment I worry for his
prognosis.' 11 months later, in March 2016 (name redacted) attempted to
strike him-self with a knife and Nauru police noted knife slashes on the
walls. Upon arrival to hospital (name redacted) stated 'I am tired of life...I
want to die.' In May 2016 a psychologist documents '(name redacted) had
disclosed suicidal ideations ... he would set himself on fire.'
In April 2016 the Nauru Settlement Clinic child and
adolescent psychiatrist had a phone call with a psychiatrist at the RONH who
reported 'a psychotic episode' and commenced him on anti-psychotic
medication. The psychiatrist writes that he discussed this with the medical
team who requested offshore management for close monitoring of suicidal
ideation, and treatment by a speech pathologist. No documentation of a
transfer request by senior medical officers is found in his file.
On the 4th of July 2016 (name redacted) is referred by
an IHMS psychiatrist for transfer to Australia or a third country for
inpatient treatment ('which has an accessible hospital providing child
psychiatric specialist services with capability, expertise and experience
with childhood psychosis') of a presumed first episode depressive psychosis
(despite this being the second documented event). He writes that (name
redacted) 'was found by his father having tried to hang himself from a fan
with a computer cord' and hearing voices telling him to kill himself. This
referral was updated further on the 7th of July and the
psychiatrist writes that '(name redacted)'s mental condition is reported to
have further deteriorated over the last day with ongoing psychotic
symptoms...receiving psychiatric care requires time and forward planning to
ensure bed availability. IHMS are requesting urgent approval to allow for
forward planning of ongoing management.' He was finally transferred to
Melbourne on the 9th of July 2016, three months after the first
psychiatrist highlighted suicidal risk and need for inpatient treatment.
DFR argued that this case study demonstrates a child with a treatable
surgical condition and preventable comorbid mental illness, whose care was 'not
effectively escalated so that he now suffers severe mental illness with
psychosis and is of high suicide risk':
The committee considers that this is an example of a child with a
treatable condition, whose circumstances have presumably worsened because of
the lack of timely and appropriate care.
Like the AMA, DFR raised concerns about the process by which medical records
could be obtained, in order to facilitate independent medical scrutiny.
It explained that DFR requests medical records from IHMS pursuant to Freedom of
Information legislation, and submitted that, 'Frequently these requests are not
It explained that the longest time DFR has waited to receive medical records
has been 300 days, with two cases involving a wait of 270 days. It stated that
DFR has made 50 complaints to the Office of the Australian Information
Commissioner (OAIC) since 30 June 2013. DFR highlighted the following example
of a significant delay in receiving a child's medical records:
One of the paediatric cases where [DFR] has not received the
clinical file 135 days since the OAIC complaint was made, involves a child with
an infectious disease (Schistosoma Japonica) which [DFR] was informed was
inadequately treated. The infectious disease poses both a serious risk to the
child's growth and the public safety of all those in close contact on Nauru.
IHMS has been informed of this and has still not released the medical file.
IHMS submitted that in each of the complaints which DFR had referred to
the OAIC, the Commissioner had found in IHMS' favour.
DFR also submitted that the department has recently denied a number of
requests for medical records on the basis that the signatures on the consent
forms did not match the signatures on departmental records. DFR stated that 'it
has taken 70 days (10 weeks) for DIBP to review these signatures and inform
[DFR] of their concerns'.
DFR argued that the manner in which healthcare services are provided to
patients, particularly suicidal and other at-risk patients, is problematic.
It highlighted differences between the care provided to people in Australia who
are deemed to be at risk of harming themselves or another person, and the care
provided to the same individuals in RPCs. DFR explained that under the
Australian mental health legislation, treatment options for patients who
are at risk of harming themselves or others include involuntary detention and
hospital admission. It also noted that the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW)
'explicitly outlines that individuals should receive effective care with the
least restriction of their liberty, interference with their rights, dignity and
self-respect'. It explained that those Australian patients would also have the
right to appeal a decision made under the Act, and seek representations from a
lawyer, psychiatrist and liaison or advocate. It argued that, by contrast,
patients deemed to be at a high risk of self-harming in an RPC are often placed
under 24-hour watch by security guards.
Stanford Law Clinic interviewees echoed concerns about health services
They alleged that, at the time of their detention, the Nauru local hospital was
unsanitary and had no medical specialists, and that many requests for medical
assessment would not be answered for months.
One interviewee said that he had been in detention on Nauru for 10 months and
suffering from a hand condition. He alleged that the ailment went untreated,
his muscles began to wither, and he eventually lost the use of his hand.
Several incident reports in the Nauru files likewise indicate concerns
on the part of refugees and asylum seekers about the healthcare services being
provided at the Nauru RPC, including a lack of trust in those services. These
include allegations of being turned away by health services,
allegations of health service workers not providing assistance,
and concerns about IHMS showing pregnant families inaccurate images of PNG
Several reports indicate particular concerns about women giving birth in Nauru
Child welfare and protection
As set out above, the committee noted extensive allegations of self-harm
by children, and allegations of abuse towards children by RPC staff members.
The committee also considered further evidence from both primary and secondary
sources in relation to the safety and wellbeing of children in the Nauru RPC
and the Nauru community.
In September 2013 there were 173 refugee and asylum seeker children
living in Nauru.
Numerous allegations of improper conduct in relation to children in the
Nauru RPC, and of an unsafe environment, have been detailed in evidence
presented to the 2014 Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) The
Forgotten Children report,
the 2015 Moss Review,
and the 2015 select committee.
The select committee concluded that 'the Nauru RPC is neither a safe nor an
appropriate environment for children'.
The evidence received by this committee is consistent with this conclusion. In
both the Nauru RPC, and the wider Nauruan community, the welfare of asylum
seeker and refugee children falls well below an acceptable standard.
Amnesty International submitted that on several occasions, authorities
on Nauru have engaged in inappropriate practices in relation to children. It
alleged that in 2015 the Nauru Police Force hired a convicted paedophile as a
reserve officer, and that a young girl had been questioned by police twice
without a child protection specialist having been present.
In May 2016, the department's Child Protection Panel (Panel) noted
concerning incidents involving RPC staff and children. The Panel stated that in
2014 an employee driving a bus with school aged children pulled over, pointed a
cricket bat at a teenage boy and told him to shut up and get off the bus. This
incident ended when other staff physical intervened and escorted the employee
off the bus and removed the bat.
The Panel also noted an incident during which a security guard grabbed a child
by the hair and collar and dragged them for 20 metres.
The Panel identified several areas of concern with regard to the
involvement of staff in incidents involving children. These included
opportunistic assaults on children, (particularly at night),
a failure to maintain professional boundaries (including exchanging personal
details with children, attempting to connect with them on social media, and
making explicit and unwelcome sexual overtures),
and staff reportedly under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Several incident reports contained in the Nauru files reflect these
concerns, detailing allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse against
children. These include allegations of physical and emotional abuse by parents
towards their own children,
fears from parents about not being able to cope and hurting their children,
and children asking for their parents not to be told of particular incidents because
they would be hit.
There are also incident reports detailing parents assaulting other children
allegedly because the child in question had hurt their own child.
There are also allegations of children assaulting other children,
and of sexual assault against children.
Further incident reports, in addition to those outlined previously,
detail allegations of improper conduct by Wilson Security staff members towards
In one particularly concerning incident, a mother reported that her husband and
son had been in a car with a security guard, and that her son said the guard
had put his hand up his shorts and played with his bottom.
She reported that her husband 'removed [his child] from the middle of the car
and placed [redacted] on his lap but did not say anything as he feared the two
[security] officers in the car with him'.
One former teacher on Nauru outlined particular concerns about the care
provided to a group of unaccompanied minors.
The teacher explained that 29 unaccompanied male children had been transferred
to Nauru by February 2014, and were kept in isolated areas of the RPC with
restricted mobility. They explained that a number of the boys had self-harmed
and attempted suicide while in the 'closed detention environment'.
They submitted that in October 2014, the boys were released into the Nauruan
community in three separate accommodation complexes, one of which was isolated.
The teacher advised that the boys were immediately targeted, and the victims of
theft and assault. The teacher also submitted that upon their release into the
community, the boys were assured by the Nauruan Government that they would have
access to the Nauruan education system. However, the teacher alleged that the
boys were barred from enrolling in the local high school. The teacher alleged
that despite approaching the department for assistance, 'none of the
unaccompanied refugee minors were given the opportunity to obtain high school
The committee also heard concerns about a widespread lack of school
attendance among refugee and asylum seeker children. Amnesty International
submitted that when refugee and asylum seeker children were first transferred
from the RPC school to the local Nauruan schools the rate of attendance was 60
HRW submitted that within six months this had fallen to just
5 per cent,
with one service provider on Nauru confidentially advising Amnesty
International that in September 2016 no refugee or asylum seeker children were
attending local schools.
Bullying and harassment of refugees and asylum seekers in the local schools by
and students has been reported.
Incident reports indicate that some children have threatened suicide if forced
to attend the local schools.
Incident reports also indicate allegations of inappropriate conduct by
In one incident, a child told a Save the Children worker that he and others at
Nauru College did not want to attend school because the local boys were
touching the girls, and had threatened them with a knife.
On 4 April 2017, in response to a question from the committee about
school attendance in Nauru, the department advised that it does not have any
data about the rates of school attendance at local Nauruan schools. It stated
The full integration of asylum seeker and refugee children in
the local education system was agreed between the Department and the Government
of Nauru in May 2015. This integration was designed to facilitate greater
self-agency; and promote social connectedness for refugee and asylum seeker
children and their families with the local community.
School attendance data is therefore a matter for the
Government of Nauru.
The department advised that it would send a request to the Government of
Nauru for information about school attendance rates.
The department also explained that it has expended $8.4 million
constructing a new facility at the Nauru Primary School, and has a contract
with the Brisbane Catholic Education Office (BCEO) to provide education
services on Nauru, at a total cost of $10 million.
Papua New Guinea
While the committee heard a number of concerns about the Manus Island
RPC, there is less information available when compared to the Nauru RPC.
The committee heard evidence concerning the suitability of facilities
and services at the Manus RPC, as well as allegations of widespread poor mental
health, poor health services, and a lack of safety in the PNG community. The
suitability of facilities and services at the Manus Island RPC were also discussed
extensively by this committee in December 2014.
As set out in Chapter 1, since April 2016 the Manus RPC has been
described as being an 'open centre',
and in March 2017 was declared to already be 'closed',
(despite the fact that it is still operating, and the contracts of service with
Broadspectrum, IHMS, Wilson Security and other contractors are still
However, the UNHCR submitted that overcrowding, a high number of guards,
perimeter fences, and the use of communal tents means that the conditions in
the RPC remain indistinguishable from the previous detention arrangement.
It reported that when it visited the Oscar and Delta compounds of the RPC in
April 2016, recognised refugees were allocated just 1.68 square metres per
person—being half the minimum amount of space required under international
It cautioned that the risks to public health and mental health in these
conditions were 'considerable', and submitted that the lack of personal space
increased the possibility of abuse.
Stanford Law Clinic interviewees echoed these concerns about a lack of
space, alleging that staff members had crowded 50 people into one tent.
interviewee alleged that, while most men were required to sleep in bunk beds,
the top bunk was so close to the roof of the tent that it would press against
the ceiling and get so hot that most men would simply sleep on the floor.
The men also described food rotting quickly in the high heat, and the
infestation of food with insects.
These claims reflect similar evidence presented to the committee in December
Interviewees also alleged that websites were blocked within the RPC, including
blocking of websites which would offer legal services.
High levels of self-harm and poor
The committee heard strong evidence indicating that asylum seekers and
refugees in PNG experience poor mental health at an extremely high rate, and
that rates of self-harm are similarly high.
HRW explained that when it visited the Manus RPC in 2015 it met
individuals who cut themselves, hit their head against the wall, refused to go
outside, and refused to speak to others for months.
When the UNHCR visited later in
April 2016, its medical experts interviewed 181 asylum seekers and refugees
(being 76.8 per cent refugees).
At the time of the study, the median period of time in detention was 31 months.
The UNHCR found that 88 per cent of interviewees suffered from a depressive,
anxiety and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),
and described the prevalence and severity of mental disorders among the refugee
and asylum seeker population as 'extreme',
The rates of caseness for depressive or anxiety disorders
and/or PTSD in the asylum-seeker and refugee population in the Manus Island RPC
or ELTC are amongst the highest recorded rates of any surveyed population. They
are many-fold higher than in mainstream Australian populations and higher than
that recorded in asylum-seeker populations living in the Australian community.
Healthcare facilities and services
The committee heard evidence of serious concerns about the adequacy of
health care services available to refugees and asylum seekers in PNG. Many of
these concerns were reported on by this committee in December 2014.
Both the AMA and DFR raised a number of concerns about health care
treatment based on health records which they had scrutinised.
For example, the AMA provided a number of, what it described as,
concerning case studies from patients on Manus.
a 70 year old Rohingya asylum seeker detained in the Manus RPC
was a patient in the Port Moresby Hospital for seven months, where he received
little treatment. He had been diagnosed with a heart condition and high blood
pressure, with symptoms including swollen feet and legs, and an inability to
walk or stand for longer than a few minutes. He was then returned to the RPC
and waited 20 days for a doctor's appointment. The AMA advised the department's
Chief Medical Officer Dr Brayley, that without treatment the patient was likely
to die. The AMA was subsequently advised that a request for the man's medical
transfer to Australia 'should have been put in train last week by IHMS'. At the
date of writing the submission the AMA stated that it was not aware of where the
man was located or any other details about his care.
a man who had undergone testing at the Port Moresby Hospital was
returned to the Manus RPC because the hospital did not have the facilities to
treat the patient further. The AMA was advised that a neurosurgeon had advised
that the patient would require a blood test which could only be completed in
Australia, as well as an investigation by a neurosurgeon. The AMA stated that
it had been confidentially advised that the patient was provided with a teleconference
with an endocrinologist located in Australia who, having not seen any of the
patient's medical records and without asking him to explain his symptoms,
prescribed the patient a twice weekly medication for two years.
a man allegedly sustained a head injury at the Manus RPC, and
subsequently lost consciousness twice over the following 38 hours.
The AMA stated that a neurosurgeon advised that the patient required a brain
scan and possibly an MRI. The AMA stated that the department advised it that the
patient 'is not prescribed any regular medications [and] no recent health
issues have arisen'.
DFR raised similar concerns in relation to a number of cases of which it
a man who arrived in the Manus RPC with no documented
pre-existing physical or mental illness who presented, over the following two
years, with intermittent concerns about deteriorating health, including
untreated dental pain, undiagnosed hand pain, and worries about his family back
home. In August 2015 he was transferred to the transit centre and saw a series
of doctors 'without formal diagnoses made for his physical ailments'. In
May 2016 a psychiatrist recorded that he 'now suffers from reactive depression
with self-harm intent'. An advocate made a referral to DFR on
17 May 2016, because the man had expressed a desire to self-immolate. On 26 May
an urgent request was sent to IHMS for his medical file. DFR made multiple
attempts to access his file, and then made a complaint to the OAIC pursuant to Freedom
of Information Act 1982. After making the complaint, DFR received the man's
medical file on 25 July 2016. The last documentations on the file following the
psychiatrists report in May, were entries from 2 June to 14 July, where 'the
mental health team report he did not attend his appointments'. DFR stated that
'there is no documented effort made by health workers to determine why despite
a high risk of suicide'.
a man who developed PTSD following the Manus RPC riots in
February 2014, and who witnessed the murder of Mr Reza Barati and was himself
assaulted, developed nocturnal enuresis. DFR stated that this was attributed to
the man's PTSD, and no investigation into possibly organic causes was
conducted. DFR stated that in November 2015, an attending IHMS doctor noted a
plan to arrange a urology teleconference. An external referral for a urology
review was completed on 5 December 2015. DFR stated that, according to the
man's medical record, 'he has not received further specialist assessment
despite recommendations by IHMS doctors'.
a man in PNG was experiencing chronic back pain. In 2015, an MRI
indicated a 'significant abnormality'. A neurosurgeon recommended surgical treatment.
On 22 February 2015 an Australian neurosurgeon recorded that he had discussed
the man's situation with 'senior Neurology colleagues' in Melbourne, as well as
'senior administration'. He recorded that they were 'happy to provide the
requisite high level of care needed' by the man given his 'medical and surgical
circumstance'. DFR stated that it has been advised that the man did not receive
surgery. DFR also stated that it requested the man's medical file in June 2016,
and this request was rejected by the department on the basis that a signature
was missing 'on a portion of the form unrelated to his consent'. DFR stated
that it sought legal advice, that indicated the initial consent form was
adequate under FOI laws. It stated that a further consent form was sent in
August. It advised that three months later, in November, the records were
received, however they only documented the man's records up to December 2015.
Stanford Law Clinic interviewees made similar allegations of wide ranging
health problems, including widespread depression, physical degradation, weight loss
and constant pain.
One described the poor treatment he received after contracting malaria,
and another described a spinal injury which he suffered in the riots of 2014,
which he explained had impacted the use of his hands, and would limit his
mobility and career prospects.
There have also been a number of deaths at the Manus RPC. In February
2014, Mr Reza Barati (aged 23) was beaten to death in the RPC by RPC staff
members during a riot. His death was the subject of a substantial inquiry by
In August 2014, Mr Hamid Khazei (aged 24) died after having presented to the
Manus Island medical clinic with a fever and chills. He had been first
evacuated to Port Moresby for treatment, and then to Australia, where he died.
His death is currently the subject of an inquest in the Queensland Coroner's
Court. On 22 December 2016, Mr Faysal Ishak Ahmed (aged 27) collapsed in the
Manus RPC. He was evacuated to Australia for treatment on Friday 23 December, and
died the following day. Mr Ishak Ahmed's death is also the subject of an
inquest in the Queensland Coroner's Court.
The department stated that Mr Ishak Ahmed had died 'from injuries suffered
after a fall and seizure'.
There are, however, reports that Mr Ishak Ahmed had been unwell for some time.
Mr Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee on Manus Island, posted to Facebook on
23 December 2016:
Just now a plane took an
injured Sudanese refugee to Australia. He was so sick for more than six months
and IHMS did not care about his pain. Last night he collapsed in Oscar prison
and injured his head seriously, it was not the first time that he had fainted.
A few days ago the refugees wrote a complaint against IHMS about his situation.
The following day, having been advised of
Mr Ishak Ahmed's death,
Mr Boochani posted:
Faysal wrote about his heart
problem and headaches. Many times Faysal collapsed and all of us here knew that
he was seriously sick for more than 6 months. More than 60 people wrote a
letter to IHMS and explained to them how Faysal is sick and has constant headache
and heart problem but they did not care. Every day Faysal went to
medical asking for help. They did not help him. A few days ago a nurse in IHMS
told Faysal that he was fine and didn't need medical treatment.
Another detainee, Mr Abdul Aziz Adam, was reported to have said that
Mr Ishak Ahmed sought treatment every few days for ailments including stomach
upsets, high blood pressure, fevers and heart problems, and that the staff
would tell him 'you don't have anything'.
The department advised the committee that a medical evacuation by Air
Ambulance was recommended for Mr Ishak Ahmed at 1.10 am on 23 December 2016,
and that Air Ambulance landed in Brisbane with Mr Ishak Ahmed at 11.36 pm that
As discussed above, the UNHCR visited the Manus RPC in in April 2016 to
conduct a mental health study, which concluded that the prevalence and severity
of mental disorders was extreme.
It stated that this study found that individuals who had previously sought
medical treatment were finding the services to be unhelpful, and were disengaging.
It also stated that individuals indicated that the Overseas Services to
Survivors of Torture and Trauma (OSTT) service was helpful, but only a small
number of people could receive treatment because of capacity constraints.
The UNHCR submitted that individuals who went untreated would experience
'significant morbidity and potentially mortality from suicide and it is likely
will require considerable treatment to regain premorbid levels of functioning'.
It argued that 'it is not apparent that currently health services recognise or
are adequately treating these patients placing them at further risk of
It also advised that 'such treatment services do not exist within the
mainstream PNG health system':
[T]he type, extent and severity of these mental disorders is
unprecedented within the Papua New Guinea health system...Papua New Guinea mental
health services are structured to assess and treat low prevalence illnesses
such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and substance related disorders. There
is no current skills capacity within Papua New Guinea public mental health
services to address severe-post traumatic stress disorder and current
resourcing will not be able to cope with the surge of cases with major depression.
Conduct of RPC staff
The committee heard allegations about abusive and improper conduct on
the part of Manus RPC staff. Allegations of unlawful and improper conduct on
the part of staff members were also outlined extensively by the committee in
December 2014, in its inquiry into the matters surrounding riots in the Manus
RPC in February 2014.
The department explained that there are currently two service providers
engaged by the department to provide services at the Manus RPC: Broadspectrum
(which is contracted to provide garrison and welfare services until 31 October
2017), and IHMS (which is contracted to provide health services until 30 June
Wilson Security then provides its own services and subcontacts to three further
local providers. It advised that at 7 November 2016, it directly employed 283
expatriate safety and security personnel, and through subcontracting
arrangements with three local security service providers, indirectly engaged
569 local personnel.
Ms Jessica Bloom, a former employee on the RPC, submitted to the
committee that, in her experience, any staff members who deviated from using
language which dehumanised the detainees was 'instantly suspect' and would be
questioned and monitored by others for not having 'professional boundaries'.
She stated that despite attempts by management to ensure that staff referred to
detainees by their names, they would generally be referred to by their boat
She also alleged that refugees and asylum seekers would be taunted, provoked
and humiliated by Australian staff members,
pushed and subjected to verbal abuse including calling them 'rag heads' and
and physically crowded by guards and sexually assaulted. 
The UNHCR similarly submitted that refugees and asylum seekers in PNG
are the victims of bullying, intimidation and harassment.
It explained that when its experts visited the Manus RPC in April 2016, most of
the men interviewed described the impact of witnessing or having been involved
in the assaults on refugees and asylum seekers at the RPC in 2014:
They described these experiences as 'terrifying' and 'horrific',
resulting directly in post-traumatic stress disorder or catalysing pre-existing
traumatic memories into post-traumatic stress disorder according to the medical
It explained that the medical experts had noted that a significant
number of asylum seekers and refugees reported experiences of bullying and
intimidation from staff members, which 'has resulted in them being frightened,
withdrawn and submissive in their interactions' with staff.
Interviewees of the Stanford Law Clinic likewise made allegations of
physical abuse from staff members. Interviewees alleged that during the Manus
RPC riots a man had been kicked repeatedly in the back causing his disks to
fracture, and another man being beaten so severely on his arm that a bicep
Another interviewee alleged that guards would punch and hit refugees and asylum
seekers held in detention, without consequence.
Dr Barri Phatarfod of DFR, and Dr Steven Faux, described to the Clinic the case
of a man with a broken cheekbone, who had been refused medical treatment for a
number of days, which resulted in the—easily preventable—loss of his eye.
The department submitted that there is no evidence that the practice of
referring to asylum seekers by their boat identification number 'exists
currently'. It stated that a service provider had apologised for doing this,
and asserted that the practice has not reoccurred.
Safety in the local community
The committee heard evidence of concerns about the safety of refugees
and asylum seekers on Manus Island, and the wider PNG communities.
HRW submitted that refugees and asylum seekers in PNG are very concerned
for their safety, and rarely leave the Centre despite now having the freedom to
It also submitted that these fears were contributing to an unwillingness to
consider settling in PNG, with some refugees describing settling in PNG as
'unthinkable' and 'terrifying'.
Mr Daniel Webb of the HRLC witnessed a violent attack against two Afghan
Hazara refugees on Manus Island, one of whom was beaten until he fell
Ms Elaine Pearson of HRW submitted that several of the 25 refugees who had
moved to mainland PNG to work and live, had returned to Manus because they felt
unsafe, were the victims of crime, or faced problems in the workplace.
One man reportedly became homeless after settling in mainland PNG.
HRW also submitted that refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island are not
allowed to engage in paid employment there, because PNG officials had only
agreed to host the detention centre there, not integrate refugees.
HRW also highlighted discrimination against gay asylum seekers and
refugees, arguing that they are shunned, and have been subjected to assault and
Same-sex relationships between men are a criminal offence in PNG, being
categorised as acts of 'gross indecency', punishable by imprisonment for up to
PNG law also criminalises all sexual acts which are 'against the order of
nature', the maximum penalty for which is imprisonment for up to 14 years.
The committee also noted a number of widely reported incidents
indicating instances of neglect among refugees living in local PNG communities.
On 19 February 2016, it was reported that a young refugee named Mr Loghman
Sawari, who had left the Manus RPC, had faced serious difficulties living in
the local community.
Mr Sawari, who had originally been wrongly transported to Manus Island as an unaccompanied
minor, was reported to have been one of the first refugees to be released from
RPC detention. It was reported that he moved to Lae (the second largest city in
and provided with a construction job and housing.
It was reported that Mr Sawari's employment and housing did not last, and he
was found to be sleeping rough on the streets of the city. Mr Sawari reportedly
alleged that he had been paid less than other workers, and that the medical
expenses which he had been promised as part of his resettlement were not
provided. One month later, it was reported that Mr Sawari had been taken into
police custody for trying to climb the fence to return to the Manus transit
centre, after having been refused re-entry to the centre.
Mr Sawari reportedly advised that the following morning, PNG immigration
officials offered to help him return to his home country.
Phosphate mining and cadmium exposure in Nauru
The committee received evidence of concerns about the implications of
exposure to phosphate mining in Nauru, including exposure to cadmium.
As set out in previous inquiries, the Nauruan environment was damaged by
extensive phosphate mining throughout the twentieth century. In 2013, the
Nauruan Government explained that phosphate mining had had serious impacts on
In addition to the damage done to the land surface, the
mining has created its own pollution, particularly cadmium residue and
phosphate dust. The pollutants from the mine have infiltrated into the natural
environment of Nauru. The phosphate dust pollutes the air and reduces the
quality of water in certain residential areas which has had a negative impact
The environmental disaster caused by the mining impacts all
sectors of development. Rehabilitation of the mined phosphate lands is a
prerequisite for improving food and water security and the well being of the
people of Nauru.
The Nauru RPC sits at the centre of a phosphate plateau, and is
surrounded by ongoing phosphate mining operations.
Cadmium is an element found in the earth's crust and, to a lesser
extent, in rocks and soil. The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies
cadmium as a human carcinogen, which has toxic effects on the kidneys, and the
skeletal and respiratory systems.
It explains that cadmium can be ingested through the consumption of
contaminated foods, and inhaled by workers 'in the non-ferrous metal industry'.
WHO also notes that in the human body cadmium has a half-life of between 10 and
35 years, and that accumulation of cadmium in the body may lead to:
(generally irreversible) renal tubular dysfunction;
disturbances in calcium metabolism and the formation of kidney
the possible development of Itai-Itai disease (which is
characterised by osteomalacia, osteoporosis, the fracture of bones, and kidney
potentially lethal acute pneumonitis with pulmonary oedema;
potentially chronic obstructive airway disease;
lung cancer; and/or
the potential development of cancers of the kidney and prostate.
The WHO recommended a number of measures to decrease exposure to
cadmium, including ensuring that cadmium emissions from mining and the use of
phosphate fertilizers and cadmium-containing manure be reduced as far as
In 2005, Professor John Morrison and Dr Harley Manner conducted a study
of Nauruan soil.
This study explained that approximately 100 million tonnes of phosphate
material has been removed from the Nauru atoll, leaving over 80 per cent of the
island 'a dolomite pinnacle-dominated karrenfeld'.
The study found that cadmium levels in Nauruan soil were 'well above global
In 2012, the department commissioned an environmental due diligence
report to be prepared in relation to Nauru.
On 24 July 2014, this report was partially published pursuant to a Freedom of
The report, prepared by Sinclair Knight Mertz (SKM), assessed only the topside,
black soil and staff housing sites on the island.
It noted that:
a report commissioned by the Republic of Nauru in 1996 found that
'further studies need to be carried out regarding the extent of the threat of
cadmium disposal to human health and the environment';
in 2004, the Republic of Nauru had identified cadmium sludge as a
threat to the quality of groundwater resources, among other threats including
metals associated with blasting and mining, asbestos, ordinance compounds and
other materials associated with historical bombing, and sewage overflow;
phosphate dust including cadmium was at risk of being deposited
into clean water storage or storm water drains, or inhaled, contributing to
possible health risks;
SKM recommended that the department maximise 'separation between sources
of phosphate dust emissions and habitable areas within the regional processing
centres and consider planting tall vegetative screening around project sites'.
SKM also highlighted the inadequacy of waste management infrastructure
in Nauru at the time of the assessment, stating that this:
...combined with extensive cavities associated with the karstic
limestone landform is likely to have contributed to uncontrolled disposal of
wastes, including potentially hazardous wastes such as asbestos building
materials, fuels, oils, grease and possibly mining wastes (e.g. cadmium
sludge). The type, quantity and location of such wastes is unknown but the
presence of such wastes within the project sites cannot be ruled out at this
IHMS advised the committee that it had raised the question of cadmium
exposure with the department. Dr Kalesh Seevnarain, Senior Health Adviser with
IHMS, stated that IHMS had been made aware of 'high levels of cadmium on
Nauru', and had been engaging with the department over the past few months in
relation to this.
He explained that IHMS' recommendation to the department 'would have been to
further investigate what those levels really are and to then understand what
the impact might be on health'.
He also confirmed that a recommendation had been made to the department in
relation to this.
The department characterised this contact as IHMS having provided
'information about the risk of cadmium exposure to human health', and stated
that IHMS had advised that they were not aware of any environmental threat from
cadmium to the 'island population'.
The department submitted that 'Management of cadmium risks across the
island is a matter for the Government of Nauru. The Department has no legal
authority to act on this'.
It also stated that in relation to the RPC it had incorporated 'dust
suppression' measures in its construction program, and noted that domestic
water on Nauru is provided via reverse osmosis of sea water, thereby
alleviating the risk of cadmium contamination via water.
The committee received evidence of refugee housing located immediately
adjacent to active phosphate mining activities.
The committee asked the department whether any refugee or asylum seeker
accommodation facilities, or any other RPC facilities, are located near active
mining operations in Nauru. The department responded that no 'regional processing
facilities' are located within the 'immediate vicinity of any active mining
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page