Harrowing tales of alleged abuse and sexual misconduct are coming to light at an inquiry into an Australian-run detention camp for asylum seekers on the remote Pacific island of Nauru.
The alleged atrocities were committed by staff toward detainees in the offshore refugee processing center, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
A senior executive at Transfield Services, a security contractor that helps the Australian government assess refugee claims from detainees at the camp, told lawmakers she had heard of a number of serious “incidences” of harassment by staff at the center.
“Despite our commitment and our best efforts, some allegations of misconduct have arisen,” said Kate Munnings, Transfield chief executive of operations.
The firm runs the Nauru camp and another on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea under an Australian government contract.
The reports of abuse come as Prime Minister Tony Abbott pitches his hard-line approach to migrant trafficking as a model for Europe and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
The policy of intercepting boats and placing asylum seekers in offshore detention centers rather than processing their claims in Australia has been fiercely criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups, even though it has succeeded in stopping a previously heavy surge in the number of boat arrivals.
A former Nauru-camp doctor, David Issacs, said he knew of one woman who claimed to have been raped by a cleaner when she ventured out in the dark to use the camp’s toilet.
“She wept uncontrollably for 10 minutes when telling me her story, which I had no reason to doubt,” Issacs said, adding that he knew of others who had been offered perks such as extra shower time in return for sexual favors.
Abbott said Tuesday that Australia is working with the governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru to ensure better security guarantees for detainees while complaints are properly investigated.
One opposition party, the Greens, said the hearings confirmed the “seedy and toxic” atmosphere that pervades the government-run camps.
Australia deals with a relatively small number of asylum seekers each year compared with countries in the European Union, which is seeking UN approval for a tougher policy involving the use of naval assets to disrupt Libyan migrant-trafficking gangs.
Many Australians support Abbott’s policy of stopping asylum seekers entering Australia by boat, partly because it is aimed at preventing people traffickers profiting from what can be a perilous and sometimes deadly journey from ports in Indonesia and elsewhere.
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