International advocacy group Save the Children will no longer provide services for refugees settled on Nauru, New Matilda has learned.
The charity group has worked with the Department of Immigration in relation to a number of service provision agreements in recent years but has been in open conflict with the Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison throughout 2014.
New Matilda understands that Save the Children will continue providing services within the Australian run detention centre on Nauru, where recent Department figures reveal close to 1,100 people remain interned.
However, the organisation will no longer provide support to asylum seekers who have been processed as refugees and released into the community – of whom there are a rapidly growing number.
On Friday questions put to the Department and the Minister’s office about why Save the Children had been stripped of their role and who would replace them did not draw a response.
Save the Children also failed to respond to questions.
Save the Children has played a significant role on Nauru in recent months as tensions between locals and refugees released from detention have grown.
When four unaccompanied minors were assaulted by locals angered at their presence in the community, Save the Children were one of the first respondents to the teens’ calls for help, and helped locate two young men.
Save the Children have also been working with other unaccompanied minors moved out of detention and into the community who were attacked at their dwelling.
Refugees released from detention into the community have, however, expressed concerns about the ability of Save the Children, Australian Immigration officials, and Nauruan police to keep them safe in the face of ongoing threats.
It is unclear who will replace Save the Children in delivering services to refugees settled in the community on Nauru.
The end of the agreement comes after a period of public conflict between Morrison and Save the Children, at a time when service providers contracted to assist with offshore processing have been forced to tow a difficult line.
On one hand they face public criticism for their involvement in the offshore detention regime and on the other, risk loss of contract or even criminal prosecution if their staff speak out publicly against the conditions on Nauru.
Tensions became visible in October after the Minister announced former Integrity Commissioner Philip Moss would head an inquiry into allegations of sexual assault on Nauru.
Morrison used the announcement to attack workers on the island allegedly participating in activism after a leaked report handed to The Daily Telegraph allegedly claimed there was evidence advocates on Nauru had coached detainees to self-harm.
Despite the Telegraph receiving a copy of the report, Save The Children told media at the time they were yet to see it, and that no explanation had been given to the organisation as to why 10 workers were removed from the island earlier in the year.
In an intriguing parallel, ABC news is today reporting leaked documents show the Immigration Department was angry at health services provider IHMS because of its perceived opposition to offshore processing, and advocacy on behalf of asylum seekers.
"IHMS are seen to be risk averse and advocating for transferees beyond the services IHMS is contracted to deliver,” the Department reportedly said.
Former IHMS staff testified at the Children in Detention inquiry, detailing delays in medical evacuations of patients, and frustration at being overridden by Department staff.
Former IHMS Director of Mental Health Services Dr Peter Young also told the inquiry that the Department had pressured IHMS to alter reports showing the extraordinary rates of self-harm among detainees.
Earlier in the week private providers Serco and IHMS received new five-year contracts from the Department.
Save The Children has long opposed offshore processing, despite its role in the process.
In a Q&A style section on the organisation’s website it says the following:
Haven’t you given the Australian Government the green light to send children to Nauru by agreeing to work there?
No. The Australian Government decided that all asylum seekers who arrive by boat, no matter what age, will be sent to the Australian Government’s Regional Processing Centres on Manus Island in PNG and Nauru.
Many advocates, lawyers and organisations are working hard to overturn this policy. While this occurs we cannot forget that there are children and families who need our support on Nauru to ensure they are safe, educated and the impact of detention is minimised. Supporting children is what Save the Children does every day in over 120 countries and where we add our value.
A search on the AusTender website reveals Save the Children holds at least one ongoing contract with the Department of Immigration, due to expire in October 2015.
Worth just under $100 million, the contract relates to “welfare and education services to transferees at regional processing countries (Nauru & Manus)”.
As no children remain on Manus Island, Save the Children has ceased providing support in Papua New Guinea.
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