Aust inquiry hears of damning claims on Nauru asylum camp
An Australian senate inquiry into serious allegations and conditions at the Nauru detention centre has heard medical staff were told not to report psychological health problems suffered by asylum seekers.
An Australian Senate inquiry into serious allegations and conditions at the Nauru detention centre has heard medical staff were told not to report psychological health problems suffered by asylum seekers.
The inquiry was launched following the release of the Moss Review, which detailed allegations of physical and sexual assault of asylum seekers by guards and staff.
Mary Baines reports.
The former mental health director for International Health and Medical Services on Nauru, Peter Young, says there is an unwillingness by the immigration department to accept asylum seekers have genuine mental health issues relating to their time in detention.
PETER YOUNG: When it came to mental health issues, we were repeatedly told that when making recommendations about people's mental health and the harms that it accrued to their mental health in Nauru, that we should not say, it was unacceptable to put in reports to the department that people with mental health had been harmed by being in detention in Nauru.
SENATOR KIM CARR: Who said to you that you shouldn't put that into a report?
PETER YOUNG: The department's chief medical officer.
SENATOR KIM CARR: How often did that occur?
PETER YOUNG: Several times.
Dr Young told the inquiry the immigration department has a reluctance to send asylum seekers to Australia to get medical care because it undermines the process of offshore detention and allows them to have access to lawyers.
He says medical recommendations were frequently delayed or not accepted by the department, and medical staff were asked to change reports.
PETER YOUNG: If there was a case of a person that had a recommendation that they needed to be moved off the island and treated say within say 48 hours, and that period had expired, what would generally happen is that we would be asked to write another recommendation following that.
SENATOR KIM CARR: You say generally - how often did that occur?
PETER YOUNG: Quite frequently.
The inquiry also heard from two former Save the Children staff, Viktoria Vibhakar and Kirsty Diallo, who both raised concerns around the reporting of sexual assaults at the centre.
Ms Vibhakar says there are inadequate policies to prevent and respond to crimes against children on Nauru, even when children are identified as being at high risk of abuse.
She told the inquiry about an eight-year-old girl, with the pseudonym Mia, who had been sexually and physically assaulted at the camp.
"Although Mia had a father living in Australia able to care for her safely, she was detained for more than seven months after disclosing sexual assault. She eventually planned to take her own life. Despite the risk to her physical and mental health, and that she may have been subject to ongoing sexual assault that she was too afraid to disclose, the department of immigration and border protection did not remove her until her caregiver attempted suicide."
Ms Diallo says the immigration minister Scott Morrison and department were made aware of sexual abuse allegations of a child, but the government did not act.
"On the 16th of November 2013 a child was sexually assaulted by a government contractor. That information was investigated by Wilson Security and an incident report was completed. That was forwarded onto the department of immigration. And in December 2013 I asked the Save the Children manager, director, if that incident report had been forwarded onto the minister, I was advised that the minister had seen that incident report."
Ms Diallo says she was forced to conduct an assessment of the child under a tree.
"I was responsible for doing an assessment, a psycho-social assessment of the child after he had been assaulted and of his mother. I had to carry out that assessment in an open space under a tree in the camp because there was no private facilities to have that conversation with that child."
The inquiry also heard from the department of immigration.
Its secretary Michael Pezzullo denies Dr Young's allegations the department rewrote medical recommendations which advised an asylum seeker be treated in Australia.
"People are transferred medically either to Australia or to other places and generally speaking, the clinical advice is taken. We certainly have quite a number of family groups, children, adults here in Australia so I don't understand how it is that the claim can be made that we don't accept advice around transferring people from Nauru, equally where it's possible to augment or increase medical capability on Nauru, we will."
Mr Pezzullo was also asked about what the inquiry called disturbing allegations about the conditions of the camps - including that detainees lived in mouldy tents, and had no adequate access to sanitary products, shoes, water, medical care and beds.
He says the department will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the Nauru detention centre this year, but could not give an exact figure.
"We provide effectively a hospital that would do very well in a small Australian country town, the sort of 24/7 medical care would be frankly well regarded in any remote rural location. As to allegations that people are without shoes or beds, unless I can be presented with the specifics, my instinct is that that cannot be right as the centre is well provided for and well provisioned."
The department said of 50 abuse cases on Nauru referred to local police since September 2013, five charges have been laid and two convictions recorded.It said a number of cases are still under investigation but could not reveal how many. It could also not say how many of the cases involved children.
The Senate committee is expected to reveal its finding this month.
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