'Nauru Files': Allegations of Abuse of Asylum Seekers on Remote Island Shock Australia

The leaked "Nauru files" and a report by advocacy groups allege rampant abuses.

Nauru is an independent country northeast of Australia with a population of approximately 10,000 and a special economic and political relationship with Australia. In 2015 the Australian government said it had paid Nauru nearly $29 million Australian dollars (over $22.3 million) in visa fees to keep asylum seekers and refugees at the detention center, according to the Australian Parliament's website.

The Nauru detention center, which is run by the nation's government with support from Australia and third-party contractors, made headlines earlier this year when an Iranian refugee succumbed to his wounds after he set himself on fire as a form of protest. A few days later, a Somali refugee was left in critical condition after she also set herself alight to protest the strict policies for asylum-seekers, The Associated Press reported. She survived.

Refugees on Nauru often face delays or denial of medical care, even for life-threatening conditions, according to the report.

The report claims that sexual assault, violence and harassment are also widespread.

HRW and Amnesty International allege that the abuses have gone on unchecked because of how difficult it is to access the remote island. "Journalists in particular face severe restrictions on entry, with an $8,000 non-refundable visa fee and a protracted application process," the report states.

The Australian government blatantly ignores the on-island abuses in order to deliberately deter refugees from arriving to the country by boat, HRW and Amnesty International allege in the report.

“Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel in the extreme,” Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom."

Michael Bochenek, senior counsel on children’s rights at HRW, added, “Driving adult and even child refugees to the breaking point with sustained abuse appears to be one of Australia’s aims on Nauru.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it was "gravely concerned" about the allegations in the documents leak, and called for "immediate solutions" in Nauru.

"Although UNHCR is not able to verify the individual incidents raised by the reports, the documents released are broadly consistent with UNHCR’s longstanding and continuing concerns regarding mental health, as well as overall conditions for refugees and asylum-seekers on Nauru," the UNHCR said in a statement Wednesday, adding that delays in action are "exacerbating human suffering."

The Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection responded to the Nauru files in a statement saying, "Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims -- they are not statements of proven fact."

The government agency went on to say that all refugees living in the community are encouraged to report criminal incidents to the Nauru Police Force and that many of the matters remain under investigation.

"The Department currently has no evidence to suggest that service providers have under-reported or mis-reported incidents in Nauru," the agency continued.

The agency added: “It also takes seriously its role in supporting the government of Nauru to protect children from abuse, neglect or exploitation.”

Peter Dutton, the Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, downplayed the legitimacy of the Nauru files, telling a local Australian radio station, "Some people have even gone to the extent of self-harming and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia. Certainly some have made false allegations."