Leaked documents published Wednesday reveal extensive details about the harsh conditions faced by asylum seekers who have tried to reach Australia by boat and are being held on the remote Pacific island of Nauru.

More than 2,000 incident reports, written by detention-center staff members and published by The Guardian, describe episodes of violence, including sexual assault, and self-harm. Most of the cases involved children, the newspaper said, although children made up just 18 percent of the people in detention at the time of the reports. The files extend from May 2013 to October 2015.

While the difficult conditions in the island nation have long been known, the documentation will give new evidence to opponents of Australia’s policies toward asylum seekers.

Under those policies, migrants who try to reach Australia by boat without a valid visa are held offshore in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Even if given refugee status, they are prevented from resettling in Australia.


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The Australian authorities say such tough measures are necessary to discourage attempts to make the risky voyages by sea, which have sometimes ended in mass drownings. The number of attempted boat arrivals has declined sharply since the Labor Party government of Julia Gillard revived a program of offshore detentions in 2012, and the policy is maintained today under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of the conservative Liberal Party.

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Human rights advocates and some Australian politicians say the policy is unnecessarily harsh and puts vulnerable people at further risk of physical and mental harm.

Among the episodes outlined in the documents are multiple cases of people cutting themselves; security officers propositioning and harassing female detainees; and one instance of an officer putting his hand into a boy’s shorts during a car ride. According to that report, the boy’s father, who was also in the car, pulled the boy away but did not say anything to either of the two Nauruan officers present for fear of their reaction.

The documents spurred renewed criticism of the detention policy. “These files paint a disturbing picture of continuing abuse on Nauru, especially abuse of children,” Elaine Pearson, the Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a written statement.

She said that just as revelations of the abuse of juvenile detainees in the Northern Territory of Australia set off an investigation in July, the Nauru leaks should prompt steps to end the abuse of people there.

Mr. Turnbull said at a news conference on Wednesday that Australia would “continue to support the Nauru government to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees on Nauru.”

He added that the documents would be reviewed to see whether “there are any complaints there or issues there that were not properly addressed.”

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection of Australia said all of the cases had been forwarded to the Nauru police for investigation. “The documents released this morning are historical in nature and have been the subject of previous reporting by the department in relation to the overall number of recorded incidents over time,” the department said in a written statement.


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“It’s important to note many of these incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations,” it added.

Advocacy Groups Allege Abuses on Nauru

A report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Australia appeared to be subjecting migrants to abuses at an offshore processing site as "a deliberate policy to deter further asylum seekers from arriving in the country by boat."

By MEGAN SPECIA and SHANE O’NEILL on Publish Date August 4, 2016. Photo by Torsten Blackwood/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Watch in Times Video » embed

Later Wednesday, a group of former employees for the aid organization Save the Children who had been stationed at Nauru when the reports were written said in a statement that many other reports from that period had apparently not been released. A former teacher for the group, Jane Willey, said the leaked material was “just the tip of the iceberg.”

“The content of these reports does not surprise us,” Alyssa Munoz, a former child protection worker for the organization, said in the statement, which was also published by The Guardian. “It is simply the documentation of the extreme harm caused to children that we saw every day.”

The former staff members, who said they were not the source of the leaks, have called for the offshore detention to end and for the asylum seekers and refugees to be transferred to Australia.

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There are 442 people living in the Australian-run processing center at Nauru, according to the most recent government figures released at the end of June. More than 500 other asylum seekers, including people who have been granted refugee status, live outside the center on the eight-square-mile island.

The asylum seekers come from several countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia. The program on Nauru cost Australia $314 million last year, according to Amnesty International.

Cambodia has taken a handful of the refugees from Nauru, but Cambodian officials have called that initiative a failure, with some people returning to their home countries and others seeking to move elsewhere.

A recent report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, based on visits to Nauru by investigators from the two nongovernment organizations, said the mistreatment of migrants at the offshore processing centers appeared to be by design rather than accident.

“The fact that the number of serious incidents has not declined but continued steadily, and in some cases escalated, is further proof that the failure to address abuses is a deliberate policy of the Australian government to deter further boat arrivals,” Ms. Pearson said on Wednesday. “Australia’s policy of deterrence is premised on making people in offshore locations suffer.”



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