Unaccompanied minors released from detention centres on Nauru and living among the community are today fearing for their lives after a series of violent attacks over the weekend which saw at least four young teens hospitalised, as tensions between islanders and asylum seekers escalate.
New Matilda has learned four underage asylum seekers were hospitalised on Sunday night after being attacked while returning to their accommodation from a day at the beach.
Asylum seekers involved in the incident, aged between 15 and 17, told New Matilda a group of Naruan men pulled up to them on two motorbikes as they made the two hour walk back to their housing.
The men are believed to have been intoxicated and began ridiculing the boys.
“They were swearing; fuck Afghanistan, fuck your religion, fuck refugees,” one of the boys told New Matilda.
According to the boys involved, the men stole and destroyed several phones, before attacking them.
“They punch me, they slap me – I was wearing a singlet, they broke my singlet,” one boy said.
“They gave us warning say ‘we will kill you’, and that time I felt very scared, no one can help us, and I don’t have a phone.”
“Everywhere was dark, they were big, big men.”
Multiple death threats were made.
“They [said]that Save the Children [an NGO working on Nauru]and Immigration are not able to protect you from us. This is our country and we can do what we want,” another boy interviewed by New Matilda said.
The violence forced two of the boys to flee to the beach, while the remaining two escaped to a separate location.
New Matilda understands the boys were eventually able to contact Save the Children employees. They were located by staffers, before being contacted by Australian Immigration officials and local police, and then taken to hospital.
One boy’s injuries were serious enough to result in an overnight stay.
Before being found, the boys hid behind a large rock on the beach.
“Same as Afghanistan, it’s not safe here. I was very scared,” one said.
“We came from Afghanistan for peace, not for fighting, not for beating.”
Dianne Hiles, Chair of asylum seeker advocacy group ChilOut, criticised Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison for sending children to Nauru.
“We’ve had concerns all along about the conditions in which people are being held on Nauru,” Ms Hiles said.
“The whole ethical responsibility for the state and wellbeing of these young people rests with our government. They’re financing the situation; they’ve set it up.
“Whatever the reason for the attack, these boys have been injured and there has been a huge failure in protecting them. Whoever the guardian is has not been able to keep these boys safe.”
Morrison is the legal guardian of all unaccompanied minors in Australian immigration detention, but abrogates that duty once children are moved to Nauru, as is standard practice under Australia’s current policy of offshore detention and processing.
New Matilda understands it has now been exactly one month since all unaccompanied minors held in detention on Nauru, numbering just under 30, were released from closed detention into the community.
They are being housed in three separate areas spread across the island.
Initially overjoyed to be free after a lengthy period of detention on Christmas Island and then Nauru, the group’s morale has collapsed after realising the inadequacies of settlement on the tiny island nation.
The unaccompanied minors have been provided with a small allowance on which to live each week, but say it is inadequate.
Travel around the island is hampered by a lack of buses. Water shortages are frequent, forcing minors to replenish toilets with seawater.
Their release has also increased tensions with locals and asylum seekers are reporting frequent abuse and threats, including during shopping visits and travel around the island.
“The young people, the old people, when they are driving and we are walking they are showing the middle finger to us,” one asylum seeker said.
“We need to escape and ignore… it’s very, very painful. Someone is doing something very bad and you’re not able to do anything.”
A group of locals has been established to assist the asylum seekers settle, and provide a point of contact.
Tensions inside the detention centre have also been high in recent weeks with reports of self-harm surfacing after it was announced asylum seekers on Christmas Island may be eligible for Temporary Protection Visas in Australia, while those already transferred to Nauru will not.
The new settlement deal with Cambodia has also inflamed the situation.
Like all asylum seekers settled on the island, the unaccompanied minors will eventually be moved on as Australia’s deal with Nauru only guarantees them a place on the island for five years.
There are reports of separate incidents of unprovoked violence against unaccompanied minors on the island, but New Matilda has not been able to independently verify them at this stage.
Afraid for their immediate safety, young asylums seekers say they remain very frightened, and are pessimistic about their future.
“Now we don’t know where we should go. We came from Afghanistan to save our life, now we don’t know where to go from Nauru to save our life,” one said.
The teenager made a plea to all Australians.
“Please, you can’t play with our future, you can’t play with our lives. [The Australian government] are playing now. I want to feel safe, just, I want to see my future bright, not like here.”
Hiles said the situation was an indictment on Scott Morrison.
“Young Hazara boys in particular are at huge risk in Afghanistan. Apart from being a persecuted minority, they are actively sought out and killed and they’ve usually lost family members,” she said.
“They come here, they generally qualify for protection, but we continue to choose to make life as harsh as possible for them.
“We should not be treating young boys like this.”
Save the Children provided the following statment a short time after deadline:
Save the Children is appalled by any instance of assault on refugee children in Nauru. Unaccompanied child refugees are some of the most vulnerable – far from home, family and friends, many already witness to horrors no child should go through. These children deserve every protection that can be offered.
Save the Children is working flat out to provide the best possible support to the children in our care. However, Nauru is a small and remote island nation with a small population and limited resources, and Save the Children maintains it is not a sustainable solution for refugee children, particularly those unaccompanied by any family.
New Matilda is seeking comment from Minister Morrison’s office.
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