Asylum seeker advocates have accused the government of “blatantly ignoring” warnings about the poor conditions faced by asylum seekers on Nauru after moving a group of children back to the island.
The removal took place less than a day after the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Forgotten Children report.
Advocacy group ChilOut said a small number of children had been moved to Nauru on the Friday and Saturday following the report’s release, despite the fact it found “children detained indefinitely on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress”.
ChilOut campaign coordinator Claire Hammerton told New Matilda her organisation was horrified the move had taken place.
“Children who were taken from Bladin Point Detention Centre were not provided with notice – they were removed from the centre, put on a plane and deported back to a place that has caused them serious mental and physical harm,” Hammerton said in a statement.
“These families were denied the opportunity to seek legal assistance, or to speak to the members of the community in Darwin who have offered them tremendous support during their time in Australia.”
Asked how many children had been moved to Nauru since the report’s release, as well as why they were removed, the Department of Immigration referred New Matilda to Minister Peter Dutton. His office had not responded to enquiries at the time of publication.
New Matilda understands the children and families transferred to Nauru were all subject to offshore processing and had been previously detained on the island. Asylum seekers are often moved from offshore centres to Australia for medical reasons or to give birth, but are generally returned after.
A submission to The Forgotten Children report from ChilOut noted that the poor conditions on Nauru have also caused some mothers to be temporarily relocated to Australia to enable them to have abortions.
“In all four cases, the women have expressed that if it were not for their immigration detention on Nauru, they would very much want to have these babies,” the submission said.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young criticised the decision to move the families back to Nauru, as well as the circumstances of their removal.
"Just days after the report was handed down the Abbott government has transferred children, some as young as four, to the hell-hole on Nauru,” she said in a statement.
"The Forgotten Children report said the extreme abuse in detention camps meant all children should be released within four weeks. Far from releasing these children, the Abbott government's shameful response has been to ship more kids offshore."
Much of the report’s most serious criticism was directed at the ongoing policy of transferring asylum seeker children to Nauru, a policy backed by the Labor Party.
“The Commission finds that Australia transferred children to Nauru regardless of whether this was in their best interests, in breach of article 3(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” it said.
Aside from the severe heat and poor conditions in detention, the Nauru processing centre has been plagued by allegations of sexual assaults, which are currently being investigated by former Integrity Commissioner Philip Moss.
The government has guaranteed it will make at least part of the report available online.
Fairfax media today reported 116 children remain detained on Nauru.
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