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Commission releases report on transfer of asylum seeker families

Graphic: Detainees stand with their faces against the wire fence

The Commission's President said the conditions in which families were detained on Nauru posed grave risks to their physical and mental health.

The practice of sending to Nauru families with young children who arrived in Australia seeking asylum is the subject of an inquiry report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, tabled in the federal Parliament.

Mr Richard Lancaster SC, as delegate of Commission President Rosalind Croucher, found that the regional processing centre on Nauru was not an appropriate place to send families with young children.

President Croucher said the report makes for disturbing reading.

"The conditions in which families were detained on Nauru posed grave risks to their physical and mental health," she said.

The report found that the accommodation of families in vinyl marquees on the phosphate plateau of central Nauru failed to provide them with sufficient protection from heat, rain and risk of serious disease, including dengue fever. Some families had been transferred to Nauru during a dengue fever epidemic.

While the focus of the inquiry was on the families compound at the regional processing centre, single adult women were also transferred to Nauru and faced similar conditions.

"As Australia had effective control over the day-to-day operation of the centre, the conditions in the centre were the responsibility of the Australian Government," said President Croucher.

"The Government should not have transferred people to Nauru while it knew that these risks existed."

The report also found serious breaches of the human rights of a pregnant woman who needed a medical transfer to Australia due to a complicated pregnancy. Her transfer was delayed until she was almost 35 weeks pregnant, contrary to departmental policy and the advice of treating doctors.

"While the regional processing centre on Nauru has now been decommissioned, the report provides a stark warning should similar regional processing arrangements be contemplated in the future" said President Croucher.

This inquiry commenced almost five years ago in response to complaints by three families with children under six years old who had been transferred to Nauru.

In his report, Mr Lancaster expressed his concern at the time taken by the Department of Home Affairs to respond to these complaints, which caused significant delays to the inquiry process.

The report is available on the Commission's website.

Date: 12 September 2019

Source: Australian Human Rights Commission

Image credits

  1. Detainees stand with their faces against the wire fence - Australian Human Rights Commission