Call to shut down Nauru camp after rape, suicide attempts

THE Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has called on the Nauru government to shut down its asylum seekers' camp amid harrowing accounts of a rape, suicide attempts and appalling conditions.

The taskforce says it has received  a desperate series of letters from asylum seekers jailed in Nauru that detail the horrendous conditions they are living in and their intent to end their lives.

The Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, Dr Peter Catt, said he has never read such accounts.

He has called on the Nauruan Government to close the camp and send the asylum seekers immediately back to Australia.

"We have 13 letters which detail everything from unprosecuted rape to a plea from disabled parents who can't care for their children.

"Some of the letters are also from people who have been found to be refugees. These people know they'll be moved on eventually by the Nauruan Government so see no reason to continue living", he said.

Misha Coleman, executive officer of the Taskforce said that " when I first received the letters, I couldn't get past one from a woman who had sent me her Last Will and Testament.

"I've seen and experienced some horrific things in refugee camps around the world, but something about receiving someone's Will just made me weep. I lie awake at night thinking about this poor soul".

The harrowing letters detail:

1.       The alleged rape of a single mother (allegedly witnessed by two people) and the subsequent release, without charge, into the Nauruan community of the man who allegedly perpetrated the rape after having a positive Refugee Status Determination;

2.       Inadequate access by children and parents to drinking and bathing water, coupled with filthy bathrooms, which leads in turn to infections which, especially in women, can lead to infertility;

3.       Expired and rotten food given to children and the other detainees, causing gastroenteritis;

4.       Children and pregnant women describe the cuts and "burning" of their feet, and joint pain, due to the viciousness of the hot gravel and rocks they are forced to walk on due to inadequate footwear;

5.       Children who are "hunger-striking" - the letters describe three children and four adults who have sewn their lips together;

6.       Severe and acute weight loss;

7.       Children who have significant untreated health issues, including those illnesses related to exposure to phosphate dust;

8.       Absence of support for children with behavioural problems, and the degree to which this long-term detention contributes and causes behavioural disorders in children;

9.       A joint letter outlining an intent to die rather than being sent to Cambodia;

10.   Seven children who have tried to commit suicide;

11.   Fourteen adults who have tried to commit suicide;

12.   Heat stress/exhaustion;

13.   Infestations in the tents of rodents, spiders and other vermin;

14.   Inability of disabled asylum seeker parents to care for their children and lack of support for the disabled;

15.   Intent to suicide in the form of a Last Will and Testament; and

16.   Pleas for help to be provided to the pregnant women who are detained in the camps.

Sister Brigid Arthur, vice-chair of the Taskforce, said "the abuse and neglect outlined in the letters is very consistent with what I've been told by the asylum seekers I work with every day."

"We are sharing this information with the broader community because we must not allow God's children to be treated in this way. If we do not condemn this treatment, we are effectively condoning it."

Dr Catt said "we have called on the president of Nauru to act to prevent any one of these asylum seekers or refugees from falling into such a state of destitution that they would commit suicide.

"We have also informed the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration, and Save the Children of our concerns for these people."

The original letters were all in the asylum seekers own languages, and have been informally translated.

The Taskforce has since had a sample of the letters translated by a certified translation service in Melbourne, to ensure the veracity of the original translations.

They have also now been forwarded to the Moss Review.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed to Fairfax Media he was aware of the rape allegation, but would not say whether the man was now living in the community.

"The allegation against the transferee was referred to the Nauruan police," Mr Morrison said.

He also said the allegations had been forwarded to the Moss review, which is currently investigating a series of sexual assault allegations from the centre.

A spokeswoman for the Nauruan government confirmed that police were investigating a "range of allegations", including the woman's rape claim.

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