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Australian Immigration Minister: Asylum-Seekers Make Up Abuse Stories to Get Into Our Country

Australia's immigration minister claims some of the Nauru reports were likely made up.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 12:  People take part in the European Wide Day of Action to Welcome Refugees  on September 12, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced an additional 12,000 places for Syrian refugees on September 9, 2015. The extra permanent resettlement places will almost double this year's refugee intake, however protesters are calling on further allowances from the Federal Government in addition to the closure of offshore processing centres in Nauru.  (Photo by Luis Ascui/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 12: People take part in the European Wide Day of Action to Welcome Refugees on September 12, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced an additional 12,000 places for Syrian refugees on September 9, 2015. The extra permanent resettlement places will almost double this year's refugee intake, however protesters are calling on further allowances from the Federal Government in addition to the closure of offshore processing centres in Nauru. (Photo by Luis Ascui/Getty Images)

Just one day after the Guardian leaked some 2,000 documents describing rampant child abuse and poor living conditions at the controversial detention center on the island of Nauru, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton had an easy explanation for the accusations: they’re made up.

“Some people have even gone to the extent of self-harming and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia, and certainly some have made false allegations in an attempt to get to Australia,” he told Australian 2GB radio on Thursday. He also said that the Guardian report, which reveals large-scale abuse and lack of oversight, has “been reported on before.”

His radio appearance was the first since Wednesday’s leak, which put pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government to address the privately run detention center on the tiny island on Micronesia, just northeast of Australia, which human rights advocates have repeatedly called to be closed.

Every asylum-seeker who seeks refuge in Australia is detained and held off-shore, either on Nauru or on Papua New Guinea, while their claims are processed. The Guardian created a database of the leaked reports, which were written by staff members on Nauru and in some cases include physical descriptions of children’s wounds. Other incidents highlighted in the report include asylum-seekers attempting self-harm, and children reporting to detention center staff that they are traumatized from the experiences that landed them on Nauru to begin with, which usually included cross-ocean treks.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Australian Immigration Department pointed to the newspaper’s leaked testimonies as evidence that the reporting system in place is working, and that some of the claims should be brushed to the side.

“Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims — they are not statements of proven fact,” the statement said. “The Australian government continues to support the Nauruan government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru.”

Humanitarian advocates disagree. Both UNICEF and the U.N.’s top human rights agency, UNHCR, have called for all refugees to be removed from the offshore detention centers. And on Wednesday, Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, called for an Australian royal commission to investigate the allegations if there are “matters in which Australia is internationally responsible.”  

Still, Dutton insisted Thursday that the allegations reported to staff professionals on the island need to be taken with a grain of salt.

“I won’t tolerate any sexual abuse whatsoever,”  he said. “But I have been made aware of some incidents that have been 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.”

Photo credit: Luis Ascui/Getty Images

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