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UN voices concern about child abuse in Australia refugee center

Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The United Nations human rights body has voiced concern about reports of abuse in the Australian-run offshore detention facility on the Pacific island of Nauru.

Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), expressed the concern at a UN briefing in the Swiss city of Geneva on Friday.

On Wednesday, the British Guardian daily published over 8,000 pages of files it said were leaked from the Nauru detention camp, detailing widespread sexual assault, child abuse, self-harm and suicide attempts among refugees between May 2013 and October 2015.

“We are extremely concerned about the serious allegations of violence, sexual assault, degrading treatment and self-harm contained in more than 1,000 incident reports from offshore processing centers on Nauru, many of which reportedly involved children,” Shamdasani said.

She further noted that many of the allegations contained in the leaked documents are “sadly” consistent with the findings from regular visits by UN experts to Nauru in recent years.

The picture taken on April 30, 2016 shows protesters during a vigil in Sydney for a refugee who died after setting himself on fire on the Pacific island of Nauru. ©AFP

Numerous asylum seekers in Nauru are suffering from severe mental health problems, the UN official said, warning that the situation “has become increasingly dire and untenable” in the island.

She also urged a systematic and proper investigation into the case, stressing that those responsible for the appalling incidents should be held accountable.

“We call on Australia and Nauru to expeditiously end the immigration detention of children, and urge the authorities to institute human rights-compliant alternatives,” Shamdasani added.

The Australian government has been under fire in recent years both at home and abroad for its strict immigration policies and treatment of refugees, among them the keeping of asylum seekers in offshore centers in inhumane conditions.

Australia stops asylum seeker boats from reaching its shores and denies resettlement to those arriving by sea even if they are found to be genuine refugees. It turns back refugees to their country of departure or sends them to the impoverished island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea as well as on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

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