Living conditions at the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru
The committee received substantial evidence during its inquiry
concerning living conditions in the Regional Processing Centre (RPC). Asylum
seekers presently or formerly in the RPC related their concerns at the low
standard of conditions afforded to them. Submissions received from former
contractors also detailed concerns over the living conditions.
This chapter will address the evidence received by the committee
regarding living arrangements for adults, children and families; and the provision
of services and facilities.
As noted in Chapter 2, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration
and Border Protection, Mr Michael Pezzullo, advised the committee that the care
and welfare of asylum seekers within the RPC was the responsibility of the
Nauruan Government, noting that the Nauruan Government manages and runs the RPC.
While the department advised that they neither run nor manage the RPC on
Nauru, the evidence shows that the department has in-depth involvement in
oversight of contracted service providers, including funding and complaints
handling, and exerts a significant amount of control over the daily operations
of the RPC on Nauru.
Department of Immigration and Border Protection responses to questions
A series of questions asked of the department regarding the facilities,
amenities and accommodation at the RPC failed to elicit informative responses.
The committee considers the answers provided to these questions to be
For example, the department was asked by the committee to provide
information on the accommodation at the RPC, including specific data relating
to type and size. The department's response did not provide any information to
Please provide the following information:
The accommodation capacity at the Nauru Detention Centre and
any subsequent changes to that capacity since 1 January 2014, including
accommodation type and average square metre allocation for each asylum seeker.
There is sufficient accommodation capacity at the Regional
Processing Centre on Nauru.
Further, the department declined to provide the committee with plans of
the RPC which included staff quarters on the grounds of 'operational security
The department also declined to provide the committee with documents relating
to the decision to halt construction on RPC 2 and RPC 3, citing that they were
deliberations of the government and could not be provided.
The committee sets out the conclusions it has drawn in relation to these
matters in Chapter 5.
Provision of and responsibility for marquees
Throughout its inquiry, the committee has sought to determine where the
ultimate responsibility lies for the provision and maintenance of the white
vinyl marquees currently used for accommodation in the RPC.
In a response to a question on notice, the department noted that the
white vinyl marquees used for accommodation and facilities in the RPC were
procured and installed by Transfield Services, that the department does not
have oversight of Transfield Services' sub-contractual arrangements, and that
Transfield Services purchased the marquees on the department's behalf.
However, Transfield Services put to the committee that the provision of
infrastructure, including marquees, was a matter for the department, and that
the 'decisions on specifications were made by the department'.
Transfield Services further noted that while they procured the majority (120 of
140) of the marquees, twenty were purchased directly by the department.
Transfield Services procured the marquees from Barlens to
replace the army style tents that were erected following the destruction of the
demountable buildings in July 2013. Other quotes were sought at the time though
only Barlens could supply the required quantity in the timeframe requested by
The remaining twenty marquees were procured directly by the
Department. Our understanding is that these were purchased from Toll.
When the discrepancy in these answers was brought to the department's
attention, the department reiterated that it considered Transfield Services
best placed to provide all advice relating to the 'procurement, provision,
installation, maintenance and oversight' of the marquees at the RPC. The
department stated that '[w]hile the Department advised Transfield that marquees
could be used for accommodation, Transfield undertook the procurement and
installation of the marquees and associated infrastructure'. The department
confirmed that it had, separately, purchased 20 marquees from Toll in August
The committee considers this to be evidence that the provision of
infrastructure, and responsibility for it, is unclear, with both the department
and Transfield Services referring the committee to the other to seek further
information. The committee notes that the twenty marquees purchased directly by
the department were not referred to in the department's initial answer about
procurement of marquees. The committee has sought to clarify responsibility for
the marquees in order to establish important facts around the standard of
living provided to asylum seekers in the RPC, but this has been frustrated by a
lack of clear lines of responsibility.
The RPC comprises three sites which provide accommodation: RPC 1, which
provides accommodation for staff and service providers; RPC 2, which provides
accommodation to single adult male asylum seekers in dormitory style sleeping
arrangements, and RPC 3, which provides accommodation to single adult female
asylum seekers and families.
Transfield Services advised that the marquees currently used for accommodation
in RPC 2 and RPC 3 were made of flame retardant material, with particle board
The exterior of the marquees (the walls and roof) is made
from Flame Retardant Vinyl, being a layered polyester yarn fabric coated on
both sides with PVC flame retardant (Vinyl) and varnish. All marquees also have
a solid floor made out of commercial grade particle board flooring, supported
by treated pine bearers.
RPC 1 currently accommodates 'up to 850 staff and service providers in
permanent modular accommodation', and has facilities for both staff and asylum
seekers. The department advised that the site also includes a 'managed
accommodation area for high-risk transferees'.
Single adult male asylum seekers are currently accommodated in RPC 2, in
white vinyl marquees measuring 10m x 12m in three compounds. The department
advised that each marquee is capped at a capacity of 22.
Much of the evidence received by the committee related to the conditions
in RPC 3, which currently houses families and single adult female asylum
seekers in white vinyl marquees measuring 10m x 12m in six compounds. The
marquees are divided using vinyl walls. Families with children under the age of
four are accommodated in air-conditioned marquees.
According to a submission received by the committee, RPC 3 is located in a
depression 'much lower in elevation than any of the surrounding areas'.
Ms Natasha Blucher, a former Save the Children Australia employee, described
the physical environment of RPC 3:
The effect of the topography of the area is such that heat is
contained in the depressed area where the client accommodation is located.
There is limited wind and breeze due to surrounding raised pinnacled areas. The
result is a very intense and persistent heat with little reprieve.
The committee sought clarification as to why children over the age of
four were not able to be placed in accommodation with air-conditioning. The
department provided the following response: 'With advice from service
providers, the Government of Nauru determines operational matters'.
The committee considers this to be an entirely inadequate response to the
The committee received a large volume of evidence that the living
conditions in the RPC on Nauru were of a lower standard than would be accepted
in Australia, and had an unacceptable lack of privacy and poor hygiene.
For example, letters written by asylum seekers which were received by the
committee referred to respiratory complaints arising from exposure to high
levels of phosphate dust.
The living conditions were noted by a number of submitters to be hot,
humid and crowded.
The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) informed the
committee that asylum seekers were concerned about high levels of heat inside
the marquees, and a lack of privacy and cleanliness.
The presence of mice, rats and other pests such as mosquitos was also noted by
Transfield Services administers both scheduled and responsive cleaning programs.
They noted that the maintenance of the vinyl marquees and monitoring of
mosquitoes is challenging owing to the tropical conditions experienced on the
Several submitters raised concerns that low standards of maintenance and
hygiene in the accommodation areas were having a detrimental impact on physical
and mental wellbeing.
The Refugee Action Collective of Queensland (RAC-Q) told the committee that
substandard living conditions, stress and anxiety were leading to poor health,
with high rates of 'diarrhoea, mosquito related illnesses, vaginal fungal
infections, coughs [and] dizziness'.
Mr Lee Gordon, Head of Nauru Programs from Save the Children Australia,
told the committee that the environment was a factor for physical and mental
I think it would be fair to say that, in the regional
processing centre, we are dealing with a range of incredibly traumatised people
who are often extremely stressed. I think conditions of hardship where tent
conditions are hot, where there is a lack of privacy and where you may not be
able to sleep contribute to stress and I think makes a situation where
self-harm or other types of antisocial behaviours are very possible. So I do
think it is a contributing factor.
Save the Children Australia recommended the installation of
air-conditioning, saying that it would 'reduce family tensions, improve
students' ability to learn and enable a range of recreation activities to be
When asked what priority was being given to improving physical comfort
for asylum seekers, such as the provision of air-conditioning, the department
provided the following response: 'Such matters would be subject to agreement by
the Government of Nauru and the appropriation of additional capital funding'.
The presence of mould on the inside of
the white vinyl marquees used for accommodation was raised by submitters, some
of whom linked its presence with eye infections and skin complaints.
One submitter said that:
Throughout the time that I was
employed at the Nauru RPC, I observed large quantities of mould on tents,
including the tents that asylum seekers lived in. The mould was black and so
pronounced that people would actually write things on the outside of the tent
in the mould, similar to the manner that some people write on dusty cars in
Transfield Services advised the committee that all marquees in the RPC
are affected by mould to varying degrees, which for a period was treated with
'bleach wash downs':
This improved the situation for a period though mould
typically reappeared within a few months. In or about May – June 2014, it
became clear that bleach wash downs were not a viable permanent solution.
Installation of air-conditioning units, improvements to ventilation and
a more thorough cleaning regime are being carried out by Transfield Services
and the department.
Three major avenues for the removal of mould are being pursued by Transfield
Services, including a 'Procedure for Mould Decontamination' and a 'Mould
Remediation Plan' including:
a systematic interior and exterior cleaning regime using a
'specialised chemical', the cleaning or replacement of floor and roof panels
and the application of a regrowth inhibitor;
an industrial high pressure steam cleaner; and
a dedicated supervisor for the Mould Remediation Plan.
Transfield Services told the committee
on 20 July that 91 tents had been cleared of mould, but acknowledged that there
was potential for the mould to return, 'probably [in] 12 months plus'.
Access to water
Access to water was raised as an area of concern by submitters, who
noted that there is no running water in the accommodation marquees and that
obtaining water was difficult for some asylum seekers.
The Nauruan Government have said that access to water and sanitation on
the island is 'challenging', and noted that most households rely on rainwater
storage. The Ministry for Commerce, Industry and Environment in Nauru said that
the ability to sustain water demand during times of drought is an important
The department advised that RPC 2 and RPC 3 are self-sufficient in water
and that a major upgrade of water infrastructure on Nauru has been funded by
In June 2014 the Department and the Government of Nauru
reached agreement to enable the upgrade of the Nauruan Utilities Corporation
water production infrastructure. The Department committed significant capital
costs to upgrade the Nauru water supply to ensure water security for the
Regional Processing Centre.
The arrangement includes the upgrade of infrastructure and
the ongoing payment of all operational costs for the new units. As part of the
scope, two new reverse osmosis water production units, a decant standpipe, new
sea water intake pumps and backup generators were installed.
Submissions from asylum seekers formerly or presently in the RPC on
Nauru referred to water restrictions impacting on their health and wellbeing
through restricting access to drinking water and water for showers.
The committee received letters from asylum seekers formerly or currently in the
RPC which referred to short shower times of two minutes or less, water
restrictions, and a lack of warm water.
A submission from Ms Alanna Maycock and Professor David Isaacs
highlighted the health risks involved when drinking water cannot be accessed:
Gastroenteritis is common and potentially dangerous. Parents
complain they have been unable to access water at night when their children
have vomiting and diarrhoea. They are rightly concerned about the risks of
Ms Cindy Briscoe, Deputy Secretary, Immigration Status Resolution Group,
Department of Immigration and Border Protection, acknowledged that restrictions
on water had happened when machine maintenance was occurring:
There are occasions where restrictions are placed on the
water when maintenance is happening with those machines. At all times, there is
ample bottled water made available... We have recently upgraded the water
capacity from 300 kilolitres to 2.2 megalitres per day.
While the committee heard that bottled water was not allowed or provided
inside the RPC,
the department has advised that bottled water is available every day to asylum
Lack of privacy
The Moss Review noted a number of concerns raised about the low level of
privacy afforded to asylum seekers, and the detrimental effect that was having
on mental health and relationships.
The apprehension about personal safety and the concern about
privacy arises from high density accommodation in mostly non-air-conditioned,
soft walled marquees in a tropical climate.
Issues relating to a lack of privacy were raised by submitters, who
noted that tents housing multiple families were delineated by plastic sheeting
walls, which afforded an inadequate level of privacy.
Much of the evidence related to RPC 3, which accommodates families and single
adult females. The effects of a lack of privacy on mental health and personal
safety and security were noted by submitters.
Ms Viktoria Vibhakar, a former social worker with Save the Children
Australia, told the committee that the inability for asylum seekers to lock
their accommodation led to a breakdown in privacy and security:
One of the difficult things in the Nauru detention facility
is that people are held in extremely crowded conditions, they lack privacy and
they have accommodation that cannot be locked. So parents are unable to keep
intruders or people who would seek to do harm or sexually assault children from
entering their accommodation whether it be at night time or during the day
time—and that includes both Commonwealth contracted providers as well as anyone
else in the detention facility.
One submitter told the committee that privacy and security could not be
guaranteed owing to the nature of the marquees:
The board walls did not reach the top of the tent. Individual
partitioned sections did not have doors, and in lieu of doors, had tarpaulin
style coverings. Such an arrangement afforded little privacy and security, as
tarpaulin style coverings could not be secured.
Transfield Services told the committee that, in conjunction with the
department, the lack of privacy was currently being addressed as part of the
response to the recommendations of the Moss Review.
Transfield Services advised the committee that extra partitions were
being installed as a means to increase privacy:
We acknowledge that concerns have been raised regarding the
privacy of asylum seekers and Transfield Services is working with the
Department to address these concerns.
Transfield Services are working with the Department in
respect of the following improvements to accommodation which will enhance
personal safety and privacy:
ventilation via the provision of central duct air conditioning, fans (ceiling
fans for families and wall fans above the door for single adult males and
single adult females) and insulation;
screening (including floor to ceiling partitions) for families of 3 or more
persons such that their accommodation is transformed into studio living;
screening for single adult males and females such that marquee accommodation is
transformed into 2 person rooms with floor to ceiling partitions;
lighting in walkways, open areas, toilets, ablution areas and laundries; and
additional lighting in accommodation areas.
Transfield Services has also installed privacy walls in
response to specific privacy concerns where those have been raised from time to
time by individual asylum seekers.
The department noted that as asylum seekers were resettled in the
community, more space would be allocated to those within the RPC.
Provision of services and facilities
Services (other than medical care) and material goods are currently
provided by Transfield Services to all asylum seekers in the RPC on Nauru.
Although initially contracted to provide welfare services to single adult
males, their role has expanded:
Since being engaged to provide welfare services to single
adult males in February 2014, Transfield Services' service delivery model has
expanded to a fully integrated, welfare led model. This means that all
Transfield Services' service lines, including security, are managed by the
Transfield Services' Operations Manager and the application of welfare service
principles underpin all aspects of service delivery.
Submitters told the committee that the provision of goods was minimal,
and that the service providers were often slow to respond.
Ms Viktoria Vibhakar, a former Save the Children Australia employee,
told the committee that the provision of material goods was considered to be a
low priority at the RPC. She submitted that these lower priority issues
...adequate clothing and footwear, beds, changing out urine
stained sheets for children with bedwetting problems, providing appropriate
quantities of undergarments, a lack of toys for children, or addressing issues
with bullying/harassment within the detention facility.
The committee notes that the Nauru Regional Processing Centre Rules as set
out by the Nauruan Government prohibit the exchange of goods between asylum
seekers within the RPC:
3. Responsibilities of Asylum Seekers
3.1. At all times, asylum seekers residing at the Centre must:
3.1.8. not participate in any form of exchange or bartering
within the Centre. This includes the provision of gifts or any material goods
Provision of clothing and footwear
Access to clothing and footwear was referred to in a number of
submissions as being sporadic and minimal, with submitters also referring to
instances where clothing that was culturally inappropriate or an incorrect size
was provided with no chance of exchange.
It was noted by submitters that access to clothing and footwear had been
below acceptable standards during the period of The Salvation Army's management
of the stores:
It was rare for children to have appropriate footwear in the
RPC, and this was well known by all staff. Most children wore rubber thongs,
which were often broken or had holes in the sole. On occasion I witnessed
children with wire strapping the thongs to their feet.
The Salvation Army advised the committee that delays in delivery of the
goods were a problem, but noted that they were not responsible for procurement:
The Salvation Army notes that there were occasions on which goods would run out
and due to the remoteness of the RPCs there would be a delay
in the delivery of those goods to the RPCs. However, The Salvation
Army was not responsible for procurement of goods. This responsibility rested
with the security
and garrison service providers.
Transfield Services began to administer and manage the stores at RPC 2
and RPC 3 in February 2014, taking over the role from The Salvation Army.
Transfield Services told the committee that since their management of the
stores, they have tried to ensure fair and appropriate access to clothing. They
acknowledged that a significant number of outstanding requests required
attention when they assumed management:
...at the time of assuming responsibility for the stores in
February 2014, Transfield Services was provided by the outgoing service
provider [The Salvation Army] with a database of 571 outstanding requests for
clothing and other material goods. We implemented a number of measures
immediately to address these timeliness and efficiency of clothing distribution
and to resolve this large number of outstanding requests.
Transfield Services advised the committee that measures they had taken
included the establishment of a canteen in which 'items that had been incorrectly
issued' could be exchanged.
Save the Children Australia acknowledged that until February 2014, issues
concerning the provision of material goods had been 'particularly pronounced'
until they began to provide welfare services in RPC 3.
The committee sought clarification in relation to the issues with procurement
and provision of material goods. Save the Children Australia told the committee
that when the backlog of requests was provided to them, they worked to improve
the processes involved:
SCA prioritised the resolution of outstanding requests and
worked hard with Transfield to resolve them as quickly as possible. However, it
was clear that the process required significant improvement.
Save the Children Australia noted that Transfield Services is responsible
for the procurement and distribution of material goods, and since July 2014,
took up the recommendation of Save the Children Australia to establish a
canteen for asylum seekers to access material goods directly:
SCA urged Transfield to make material goods available to
asylum seekers from its canteen at RPC3, so that people could obtain these
goods directly. SCA considered that improving this service would remove SCA
from the process entirely, which would help to restore some self-agency to
asylum seekers, improve SCA's relationships with beneficiaries and free-up SCA
employees to focus on their core duties, being the provision of welfare,
education and recreation services.
The department declined to provide the committee with Ministerial
Submissions or Minutes to the Secretary concerning, among other things, a lack
of adequate clothing, footwear, sunglasses or sanitary products, advising that
'[t]he Department may not divulge advice provided to Ministers as part of
Since November 2014,
Transfield Services have implemented a 'Clothing Distribution Procedure' to
provide clothing and material goods to asylum seekers at various times:
The Clothing Distribution Procedure provides that asylum
seekers are to receive the minimum material items at intervals as follows:
Although the committee heard that access to basic material goods had
improved since Transfield Services assumed management of the stores, submitters
told the committee that the provision was still inadequate. One submitter noted
that '[r]equests for clothing (from Transfield logistics) were often ignored or
met with vague answers around lack of availability'.
Transfield Services advised the committee that asylum seekers who wish
to report stolen property must fill out a Request Form, after which, a Wilson
Security officer will undertake a search of the possessions of the asylum
seekers making the claim:
A Security Officer will conduct a search of the Asylum
Seekers belongings and assess if the items have been stolen and submit the
report...The Stores/Canteen Coordinator will review the Asylum Seekers property
inventory and determine if they will be allocated additional items. If it is found
that the Asylum Seeker has sufficient clothing still in their possession they
will not be issued with a replacement for stolen items.
Mr Tobias Gunn, a former Save the Children employee, told the committee
that no new or replacement shoes were available for asylum seekers between
February and June 2014 and that because of the physical environment,
inappropriate footwear such as thongs would wear out quickly:
The gravel is too jagged to walk on in bare feet, and the
thongs that were provided to asylum seekers wore out after only a few weeks. A
female asylum seeker told me that she was sharing one pair of thongs with four
women, and they would take turns wearing them to go to the toilet block or
Asylum seekers were repeatedly instructed to fill in a
request form for shoes, when it was known there were
none available. Clothes were also very limited during this time, and it was not
uncommon for men and women to only have only one change of clothes.
Former Save the Children staffer
Samantha Betts said that:
The issue of clothing is absolutely
horrendous. There were parents who actually had to cut holes in their
children's sneakers because their feet were growing too much and the shoes were
too small. Children would often ask us to help fix their thongs, which we tried
to do on several occasions—we got a bit ingenious with bread ties and bits of
The process for requesting and being granted
appropriate and sufficient clothing and footwear was said to be
inadequate by former employees of contracted service providers, who told the
committee that the process was confusing and arbitrary. Ms Blucher told the
committee that when appointments were given to asylum seekers to obtain
clothing, the clothing was often inappropriate, and there was 'no recourse or
ability to try them on'.
Ms Blucher gave an example of inappropriate clothing given to a female asylum
This woman had been sharing one pair of covered shoes with
her daughter since her arrival on Nauru. I attended the appointment with her
and she requested another pair of shoes. She was given a pair of large men's
shoes that were too big, and informed that they had no shoes of her size.
Transfield informed her that she should take these shoes and swap them at her
next appointment a few weeks later.
One submitter told the committee that sun cream and hats were not
available to asylum seekers,
however this was disputed by Transfield Services, who advised that these items
were provided upon arrival and then monthly:
All asylum seekers are issued with sunscreen
"Monthly hygiene pack". Extra sunscreen is available to purchase from the
canteen for 5 IAP [Individual Allowance Programme]. Every asylum seeker is also issued
with a hat and sunglasses when they first arrive in the centre in their "Welcome pack". They are able to exchange their hat, for free, if
damaged. If their hat is lost or stolen,
a request form can be submitted by the asylum
seeker for a replacement hat. Extra sunglasses are available for purchase
from the canteen for 10 IAP.
Unclean toilet facilities were noted by submitters, with references to
toilets in a state of disrepair or with poor hygiene.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told the committee that the lack of
clean toilet facilities was having an impact on the health and wellbeing of
asylum seekers, with long queues affecting the ability of all to use them:
Asylum seekers talk of the filthy toilets, which the children
don’t want to use. The toilets have no water and asylum seekers are not allowed
cleaning agents to clean the facilities by themselves. They talk of the
constant long queues for the toilet. Many women and children cannot wait and
have become incontinent as a result. They wear pads when they can get them.
Even the older children are wearing pads because they do not have enough
clothes to change if they get soiled.
Allegations of abuse and harassment occurring in the toilet facilities
are discussed in Chapter 4.
Information concerning the provision of food in the RPC was not readily
available from Transfield Services, although they did advise the committee of
the process for provision of meals to those unable to attend the mess:
Asylum seekers can access the mess at any time, 24 hours a day, to access beverages and snacks, such as tea, coffee,
cordial, and biscuits.
provides meals for asylum seekers who are unable to attend during the scheduled mess hours. This may be due to an attendance at an offsite excursion, a
medical appointment (as in the circumstances identified in the Submission), or other meeting at the site on RPC1.
Meals are facilitated by the Meal Request process. A meal request form is submitted and meals are provided
as requested. Transfield Services addresses and actions ad hoc and urgent requests
The committee notes the advice of the department that the Nauruan
Government has engaged three Operational Managers, whose role, in part, is to
'ensure that each person residing at the centre is provided with a range of things,
including...food that is adequate to maintain his or her health and well-being'.
Submissions from former employees of the RPC provided further
information about the process for food to be provided. Ms Blucher told the
committee that food was provided three times a day in the mess:
Food was provided to clients three times a day in the mess.
Upon entry, clients would queue and have their names ticked off.
Down the left hand side of the mess hall was a queue for
meals, which were located in hot boxes and served by staff...
Food generally consisted of two types of meat dish, one
vegetable dish and a dhal. There was generally rice available as well as a
simple garden salad. The food did not change very frequently. Often the meat
dishes were slices of some type of meat or sausages in thin gravy and some type
of meat stew in thin gravy. I often observed the meat stew to be the same as
the stew served at the staff mess the night before, but more watery. There was
normally a box with fruit in it, generally apples or bananas.
A number of submitters told the committee that access to food of an
acceptable standard was not provided, with submitters noting:
that food provided to asylum seekers was substandard,
unappetising and sometimes off; and
that some asylum seekers were not always able to attend the mess
at meal times or were required to queue for long periods.
Ms Charlotte Wilson, a former Save the Children employee, told the
committee that '[i]t was forbidden to remove food from the mess and this was
enforced by security'.
This rule was noted by other submitters.
According to submitters who had been employed in the RPC, the food
provided to asylum seekers differed greatly in quality to that provided to
This claim was disputed by Transfield Services.
Submitters told the committee that food that was rotten was served to
asylum seekers in RPC 3, with a former contracted service provider employee
noting '...when eating in the [RPC] 3 mess at lunch, I encountered mouldy and
rotten fruit being served many times. I never encountered this fruit in the
[RPC] 1 mess'.
Similarly, a former Save the Children Australia employee told the committee
that the food served to asylum seekers was unappetising and could be mouldy at
This has included wheels of processed meat cut into approx
2cm thick slices covered with red sauce as a protein option, staff being unable
to advise what ingredients where in hot dishes (including if the dishes
contained meat), sliced raw brown onions as a salad option, mouldy food in
bain-marie and stale bread.
The former Save the Children Australia employee told the committee that
the quality and appropriateness of the food was the subject of frequent
Asylum seekers would regularly complain that the food was of
poor quality, flavourless and culturally inappropriate, these complaints would
be made using the Transfield feedback mechanism, to visiting ICRC monitoring
delegations and to case workers who documented the complaints in individual
Transfield Services advised the committee that culturally appropriate
meals had been developed:
...we have developed specific Ramadan meal plans and service
delivery methodology and modified the program times for programs and activities
to take into account the religious customs during the Ramadan period;
Transfield Services noted that between 26 February 2014 and 25 May 2015,
41 complaints were made by asylum seekers with regard to the food provided.
When asked about the reporting of cases of food poisoning, Transfield
Services reported to the committee that they do 'not hold information relating
to any medical services'.
Education, recreation and welfare services to asylum seekers in the RPC
are provided by Save the Children Australia to 'asylum seekers, including children
and their families, childless couples and single adult women'.
The department advised that RPC 1 houses an education facility
'providing curriculum-based education services to school-aged children'
and education spaces in RPC 2 and RPC 3. A range of services are provided to
all asylum seekers within the RPC:
A range of educational and recreational activities are
available to all transferees at the Regional Processing Centre to support their
physical and mental wellbeing including learning numeracy, English, history,
art, and vocabulary, and participating in walking groups, sporting activity and
With regard to education for children, the department advised that:
A curriculum based education programme for school-aged
transferee children is delivered by Save the Children Australia, utilising
expatriate teachers qualified to Australian standards. All children have
educational goals tailored to their needs taking into account schooling
background, level achieved and English language skills. A comprehensive after
school and weekend schedule engages students in a variety of activities
including arts, crafts, social interaction, sport, music and family group
Save the Children Australia also provide educational programs for adults:
The establishment of an adult education program, including a
library facility, that is providing asylum seekers with opportunities to build
their English language and other vocational skills during their time in
Mr Lee Gordon, Head of Nauru Programs, Save the Children Australia,
spoke of the success of the education facility in RPC 1:
A key improvement that has occurred is the school, which is
located in compound 1. That is a dedicated educational facility which is
air-conditioned, and our teachers do terrific work there with students. That is
something which has been absolutely amazing, I think, for asylum seekers. It
has been a very positive, normalising influence on their experience in the
However, ChilOut drew the committee's attention to low levels of
educational materials and goods available to children in the RPC:
Basic educational items such as pencils, notebooks,
pencil cases, school bags,
water bottles and hats were not provided to children as part of funded services and Save the Children relied on donated
The media has reported that asylum seeker children of school age will no
longer be educated within the RPC, and will attend one of the four local
Concerns were raised in the media that asylum seeker children would be
subject to corporal punishment in Nauruan schools, however, Save the Children
Australia advised the committee that corporal punishment was banned by the
Nauruan Government 'in or about March 2015'.
Save the Children Australia told the committee that they supported 'a
renewed focus on the integration of asylum seeker or refugee children into the
Nauruan educational system'.
Save the Children Australia recommended that specialist training be
given to teachers in Nauruan schools to enable them to teach students who have
To mitigate displacement trauma, as experienced by asylum
seeker children in Nauru, Save
the Children recommends ongoing and intensive professional development for all
Nauruan teachers on teaching students with trauma backgrounds, with a view to
building skills of recognising and managing postsettlement behaviour in a
positive and constructive way.
The committee received evidence that, as the local schools are outside
of the RPC, the reporting of incidents related to asylum seeker children was
The committee also heard that conditions at local schools and treatment of
asylum seeker children were areas of concern, and caused anxiety among the school
Save the Children Australia responded to claims that incidents of abuse
occurring in Nauruan schools were not being reported:
...while reporting of incidents in the community is not
strictly required by the RPC Guidelines, SCA's practice is to report all such
incidents when it is made aware of them. It is important to note however that
while SCA and security staff have been present at schools that are attended by
asylum seeker children, those children are spread between a number of
classrooms, so service providers will not necessarily be made aware of every
incident that occurs.
The department advised the committee that an incident report would have
to be filed if an incident occurred with an asylum seeker who had travelled
outside the RPC.
This advice is at odds with the advice of Save the Children Australia, who, as
noted above, told the committee that incidents occurring outside of the RPC are
'not strictly required' to be reported.
The department advised that various recreation facilities are available
in the three RPC sites. RPC 2 has 'multi-use recreational facilities such as
multi-faith rooms, telecommunications, education spaces, a gymnasium and
volleyball areas'. RPC 3 includes:
[a] children’s playground and multi-use recreation facilities
including multi-faith rooms, telecommunications, education spaces, gymnasium
and synthetic playing field (soccer).
Transfield Services advised that a range of programs and activities were
being developed and run:
Since being engaged to provide welfare services, we have undertaken
a number of enhancements to programs and activities including an increase in
frequency, incorporation of asylum seeker feedback in the design and delivery
of programs and activities, new educational curriculums, the introduction of
asylum seeker led activities (including, for example, 'open mic' poetry night)
and more vocationally relevant programs and activities.
They noted that the programs were developed to respond to the various
needs of those attending:
The programs recognise the demographic, gender and cultural
needs of the asylum seekers in the centre by including education, religious,
recreational, sporting and excursion activities. In this way, we consider that
these programs support asylum seeker's rights of education, expression and religion.
Transfield Services drew to the committee's attention the significant
increase in engagement of asylum seekers that had occurred because of the
increased focus on recreational activities.
Save the Children Australia is responsible for the provision of
recreation services at the RPC and submitted that they deliver:
...a range of recreational activities that allow asylum seekers
to undertake sport, craft, excursions and a wide range of social activities
which help to keep these people engaged, assist them to develop new skills and
contribute to their overall health and wellbeing.
However, submitters told the committee that recreation activities had
been conducted in unsafe levels of heat,
with Mr Tobias Gunn, a former Save the Children Australia employee, telling the
The heat inside the recreation tent was of an unsafe level,
this was brought to the attention of managers who then, according to Senior SCA
management in Melbourne took the issue to Canberra, however it was rejected.
Mr Gunn further submitted that 'the department were knowingly putting
children at extreme risk of heat related illness' and that 'no follow up to
further investigate...the primary evidence the recreation team put forward was
Another submitter also told the committee that '[t]his was reported to DIBP and
recommendations were made to DIBP to install air-conditioning in the tent
however this was never resolved and air-conditioning [was] never installed'.
The effect of heat on the ability of asylum seekers to participate in
recreation activities was noted by Save the Children Australia.
The committee was also told that the location of the recreation tent
not child friendly;
often unsupervised; and
that single adult female asylum seekers were not able to access
Access to medical care
The Department has advised that medical care is provided by
International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), who deliver health services
for 'transferees and refugees settled in Nauru, including general practitioner,
nursing and mental health care services'.
They further advised that:
Transferees at the Nauru Regional Processing Centre have
access to clinically recommended care that is broadly comparable with health
services available within the Australian community. As with many remote
communities within Australia, everyday services are supplemented by visiting
health practitioners and a tele-health service.
General practitioner, nursing and mental health care clinics
are open at the Nauru Regional Processing Centre seven days per week. There is
also after-hours medical staffing to respond to medical emergencies. IHMS
staffing levels at the Regional Processing Centre are adjusted as required for
the number of transferees, taking into account the health needs of the cohort.
Within the RPC, medical facilities are located in RPC 1, RPC 2, and
IHMS advised the committee that they provide medical care throughout the
IHMS is contracted by the Department of Immigration and Border
Protection (DIBP) to provide health services across the detention network,
including at the RPC in Nauru. IHMS supplements this service with a specialist
provider network which it calls upon to provide specialist care and advice
IHMS advised that the services they provide are 'broadly comparable'
with services provided in Australia:
IHMS employs doctors, nurses, psychologists, counsellors and
administrators as well as other specialist health care professionals to ensure
that, as far as possible, the health care services received by Transferees are
broadly comparable with that available in the Australian community. This means that
transferees [are] reviewed at first by a nurse. They will give advice and
treatment, or they may refer the Transferee to a doctor or other health care
professional if required. If required, the Transferee makes an appointment to
see a member of the health staff during the published clinic hours for any
routine or non- urgent matters. If the matter is urgent the transferee will be
seen more quickly or immediately. If the Transferee is referred to another
health care professional, there is a waiting period which may be up to several
weeks or longer.
Transfer to Australia for medical
In the event of a serious medical condition, the person may be
transferred to Australia for healthcare:
Where health services for a serious health condition are not
available in Nauru through the IHMS or Nauru hospital, visiting specialists and
tele-health, the person will be transferred to Australia to access treatment,
along with family members, where appropriate. When the transferee is medically
fit, they will be returned to the Regional Processing Centre.
Mr Pezzullo advised the committee that more services would be provided at
the Republic of Nauru hospital when upgrades had occurred:
Health services on Nauru are being currently further expanded
to reduce the number of medical transfers to Australia. The priority services
to be provided are MRI and CT scanning capabilities, a full-time obstetrician
and a strengthened multidisciplinary mental health team able to provide
in-patient care. It is intended that all of these services will be provided at
the Republic of Nauru Hospital.
The Human Rights Law Centre told the committee that by transferring
asylum seekers to and from Australia for medical reasons, the department was
exerting a high degree of control over the asylum seekers in the RPC. They went
on to argue that this control could be interpreted to mean that Australia has jurisdiction
and therefore human rights obligations in relation to asylum seekers.
DASSAN submitted that asylum seekers from the RPC in Nauru who are in
Australia for medical treatment are fearful of their return to Nauru:
While in detention in Australia the major stressor on these
people is an intense fear of being returned offshore and an abject lack of
knowledge as to the time frame they will be in Australia.
Ms Viktoria Vibhakar told the committee that when asylum seekers are
medically evacuated to Australia for treatment, children are often separated
Claims of slow, inadequate
provision of medical care
Evidence to the committee suggested that when medical care is required,
it is often slow to be provided, and could involve asylum seekers queueing for
Submitters also told the committee that when medical care was provided, it was
Ms Alanna Maycock and Professor David Isaacs provided the committee with
comments and recommendations made by them to IHMS after their visit to Nauru.
In their submission, they referred to a culture of scepticism and mistrust of
patients, lack of respect shown to patients, and use of a boat number ID to
refer to patients instead of the patient's name.
The committee received evidence relating to the provision of:
medical care and screening for tuberculosis cases;
general medical services.
Evidence relating to these concerns was also accepted by the committee
on a confidential basis.
While these are clearly important matters, the committee considers that it
has not had sufficient time to give detailed consideration to the evidence it
received in order to report specific findings with respect to the provision of
these services. As an indication of the type of evidence received in relation
to medical services and the difficulties caused by the standard of medical care
available on Nauru, the committee has set out some of the evidence related to
the provision of perinatal and neonatal care below.
Perinatal and neonatal care
The committee was advised that primary care for pregnant women is
provided by IHMS, and that pregnant asylum seekers are medically transferred to
Australia to give birth:
As agreed with Nauru, pregnant transferees are currently
moved to Australia before 28 weeks gestation, to give birth, and are cared for
in-line with Australian community standards. Once clinically assessed as fit to
travel, transferees and their babies are to be transferred back to Nauru. IHMS
monitors the growth and development of children at the Regional Processing
Centre and treats any health issues that arise.
DASSAN submitted that the transfer of pregnant asylum seekers to give
birth in Australia, before transfer back to Nauru when the mother and baby are
fit to travel, was a source of stress:
While in detention in Australia the major stressor on these
people is an intense fear of being returned offshore and an abject lack of
knowledge as to the time frame they will be in Australia...This stressor
disproportionately affects asylum seekers who have been brought from Nauru to
The department confirmed in its submission that there were no provisions
in place for pregnant asylum seekers to give birth on Nauru:
The services and equipment that are required to allow pregnant
women to deliver babies on Nauru are in place, with the exception of ongoing
Nauru hospital obstetric and paediatric staff.
The department subsequently advised the committee on 17 July 2015 that
upgrades to neo-natal equipment had been made at the Republic of Nauru
Hospital, but due to the absence of a full-time permanent obstetrician at the
hospital, no asylum seekers had given birth there to date. The department
intended to fund a full-time obstetrician at the hospital from August 2015,
which would then provide for 'low risk transferee and refugee birthing on
Mental health services
Much of the evidence received by the committee which referred to
conditions and circumstances within the RPC touched on mental health issues.
The effect of difficult living conditions, poor resourcing, uncertainty about
their future, and a lack of personal safety and security on the mental health
of asylum seekers have been noted throughout the report.
The department advised that prior to transfer to the RPC on Nauru,
asylum seekers undergo a mental health screening which is part of a health
assessment. Once in the RPC, IHMS provides services:
Upon transfer to the Regional Processing Centre, IHMS
arranges specialist counselling with a subcontracted counselling provider for
those transferees who have accepted referral.
A psychological support program is also offered:
All transferees at the Regional Processing Centre are
supported under the psychological support programme policy, which is the key
policy for managing self-harm risk. The policy is based on the psychological
support programme in use at Australian immigration detention centres which in
turn has been developed and refined over time using extensive input from
The department noted that mental health screening may also be conducted
on fixed and responsive bases, with responsive screening activated when
concerns are raised through self-referral or through another party.
However, Ms Blucher submitted that the provision of mental health services
placed a higher priority on security than on care:
The overwhelming impression that I had while working in the
RPC was that issues stemming from mental health concerns, distress, confusion,
lack of understanding or fear were treated as 'behavioural issues' and that
managing the behavior from a security perspective took precedence over
addressing the underlying welfare concerns that were causing the behavior.
Republic of Nauru hospital
The Department has advised that, outside of the RPC, upgrades have been
undertaken on a ward and dental area of the Nauru hospital, and that asylum
seekers may access these services:
The Department funded minor upgrades to Ward 4 and the dental
area at the Nauru hospital to ensure these facilities are serviceable to transferees
and refugees who require medical care at the hospital. The repairs to Ward 4
included painting, fly screen replacement, refurbishment of the toilet and
shower area, new ceiling fans and gutter repairs. The repairs to the dental
area included replacement of a mouldy ceiling, painting and new
The department further advised of upgrades to equipment and supplies at
the hospital including a blood bank and neonatal equipment, in July 2015.
The capacity of the Republic of Nauru hospital to undertake surgery was
questioned by Dr Peter Young, who told the committee about a surgical procedure
conducted at the hospital which resulted in complications:
One of the most striking ones was a case of a botched surgery
that occurred in Nauru. There was a patient who had a procedure done at the
local hospital. There was a misdiagnosis in that case and there were very
serious post-surgical complications that occurred that resulted in the person
needing to be evacuated and spending time in an intensive care unit in
The patient in the example given by Dr Young was said to be an asylum
seeker within the RPC. However, the department advised that they were aware of only
one instance of a surgery which resulted in complications, where a staff member
of a service provider underwent surgery on Nauru in which:
...a small piece of surgical glove was left in the wound and
became infected. That officer was evacuated using commercial flight from the
island and underwent corrective surgery in Australia. It is the only case that
we are aware of.
A series of photographs of the Republic of Nauru hospital were provided
to the committee which showed rooms and amenities in a state of disrepair, with
inadequate safety precautions and unfinished renovations.
It is not clear whether these photographs were taken before or after the
upgrades referred to by the department.
Overall living environment: prison-like
A number of submitters and witnesses
offered the observation that the overall living conditions and environment at
the RPC were analogous to those of a prison.
Ms Samantha Betts, who had some
experience of working in prisons in Australia, told the committee that:
From a standard prison experience
of what I have experienced here in Australia, they are very similar. I found
the points system used for the canteen strikingly similar to an incarceration,
as was the physical nature of the standardised mealtimes and standardised
shower times—that sort of regimented living, I guess you would call it.
Ms Betts observed that the one key
respect in which the RPC was unlike a prison was that the detainees had no
knowledge of the length of their stay.
In a similar vein, former Chief Justice
Eames said that:
I have seen plenty of prisons and
as much as they have physical constraints they have an atmosphere about them of
control and removal of entitlements, and certainly in my walking around the
camp, seeing the demeanour and the interaction between the security guards and
the people detained in the centre, it just struck me like any number of prisons
I have seen.
The committee's findings and recommendations
regarding living conditions, including the provision of goods and
services to asylum seekers, are set out in Chapter 5.
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