[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Leaked documents about Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on the island of Nauru are “shocking and saddening”, the country’s Primate, Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier, said. The documents, which were published by the Guardian newspaper, “paint a picture of successive Australian governments abandoning vital moral principles and treating refugees with callous cruelty to send a message of deterrence,” Archbishop Philip said, adding: “It is always wrong to use people as a means to another end.”
The Guardian had been fighting for access to the documents under Australia’s freedom of information laws; but their release has been resisted by the government on national security grounds. But as the two sides wage a legal battle in the country’s courts, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection accidentally released the documents to the paper which has published an extensive series of reports.
Thousands of documents, covering two years of the detention centre on Nauru, contain harrowing accounts of detainees facing unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching, and demands for sex from security guards and officials; with many disclosing suicidal tendencies and showing signs of self-harm.
Archbishop Freier said that the Australian government “has done this under stringent secrecy, because it knows that most Australians would repudiate such appalling maltreatment.
“The Anglican Church of Australia, which already has several programs helping refugees, has indicated before that it stands ready to help in any way it can. I repeat this offer today.
“We have also repeatedly asked the government to end the cruel detention, especially of children, in these centres. It must act now in a morally responsible manner and move the asylum-seekers onshore.”
The Guardian reports that in May, a 23-year-old Iranian refugee, Omid Masoumali, doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in protest at conditions on the island. He died as a result of his injuries a few days later.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for refugees and asylum seekers to be kept in humane conditions off Nauru. ““The documents . . . are broadly consistent with UNHCR’s longstanding and continuing concerns regarding mental health, as well as overall conditions for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru.”
It said that there had been “a progressive deterioration of the situation” for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru since 2012 when it began regular visits to the detention centre.