Australian authorities have rejected a report that detailed alleged cases of sexual abuse against refugees in an Australian-run off-shore detention center, accusing the asylum seekers of making false allegations of sexual harassment.
The British Guardian daily on Wednesday published 8,000 pages of files it said were leaked from the Australian-run refugee detention camp on the remote Pacific island of Nauru, detailing more than 2,000 cases of sexual abuse and misconduct against refugee children and women in the camp between May 2013 and October 2015.
Reacting on Thursday, Peter Dutton, the Australian immigration minister, said the refugees and asylum seekers had lied about being victims of sexual abuse at the site.
“I have been made aware of some incidents that have reported false allegations of sexual assault, because in the end, people have paid money to people smugglers and they want to come to our country,” Dutton said.
“Some people have even gone to the extent of self-harming and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia. Certainly some have made false allegations,” he said.
In response to Dutton’s comments, Hayley Ballinger, a child protection worker at the Nauru detention center, said that it was an “absolute insult” to suggest that refugees had lied about abuse, which she said has now been widely documented.
“All of the statements speak for themselves. Certainly, the clients I saw there suffered and they really suffered. And this stuff really, really did happen. We witnessed it first-hand,” Ballinger said.
The revelations regarding the Australian-run Nauru detention center have drawn widespread criticism at home and abroad mostly from human rights bodies, which say Canberra is deliberately making refugees suffer in offshore facilities to discourage new arrivals.
Australian Human Rights Watch (HRW) Director Elaine Pearson slammed Canberra’s detention policy as “inhumane and irresponsible,” saying the Guardian files painted a “disturbing picture” of the abuse on Nauru.
The rights group has demanded that Australia immediately remove refugees from Nauru.
According to a joint report by Amnesty International and HRW, nearly 1,200 men, women and children, who sought refuge in Australia but were forcibly transferred to the remote island of Nauru, suffered “severe abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect.”
A medical report by the Australian Human Rights Commission has further said that 95 percent of the children held in such detention centers showed risks of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Australia has taken a tough stance on refugees and asylum seekers, detaining them on the impoverished Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea as well as on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.