A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Fear of assault and bullying rife among detainees on Manus Island, reports reveal

ALLEGATIONS OF sexual assault and bullying among asylum seekers have been commonplace at the Manus Island detention centre, according to documents seen by The Citizen and supported by the comments of former employees. The alleged victims include asylum seekers who claimed to be children.

Minutes of weekly meetings attended by representatives of the various organisations working on Manus Island over 2013 and into this year, include reports that asylum seekers were physically intimidated and sexually assaulted, and felt unsafe, particularly around the camp’s bathrooms.  

The minutes make reference to “clients” having experienced inappropriate touching and sexual advances that warranted their removal from their compound.

They record instances in which asylum seekers were threatened with rape and physical assault by other detainees, subjected to sexually explicit remarks, indecent exposure and stalking.

A Pakistani man reported other asylum seekers had intimidated him in the bathrooms and made offensive gestures with their naked bodies. He said he felt “unsafe in the compound especially around the bathroom areas”.  

Minutes dated May 1, 2013 reveal that a representative of the security firm G4S admitted it was “difficult to police what clients are doing around the camp”, when referring to asylum seekers’ safety concerns.

A September 2013 G4S ‘Security Risk Assessment’ of camp activities planned for the Islamic festival of Eid-al-Adha, shows that security staff believed sexual assault between asylum seekers was a possibility due to  “service provider complacency”, “lack of training” and the risk that workers might “disregard [their] professional boundaries”. The planned activities included prayer time, music played through an iPod, shared meals and a film based on the life of Mohammed.

The document also identifies as possible consequences of the risk: “serious physical and or psychological injury, loss of reputation, adverse media attention”.

“[A]dverse media attention” is also mentioned as an undesirable consequence of suicides in the camp during the festival.

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Asylum seekers who complained of sexual assault or intimidation inside the camp were sometimes moved between compounds, but it was rare for action to be taken against alleged perpetrators, the former Manus employees told The Citizen.

They said that security staff would often turn a blind eye to likely sexual assault by claiming the sex was probably consensual and that the people involved were gay. They did not believe this to be the case.

Minutes of meetings held between March 2013 and January this year show that many asylum seekers continually complained that the bathrooms were unsafe, and that they feared being assaulted while using them.

Concerns about alleged intimidation and other offences were reflected in the minutes dated March 20, 2013 in which G4S note that it would ensure security staff were “not only watching but also listening for verbal abuse of clients in secluded areas like the bathroom”.

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But little improvement was recorded. Minutes dated May 1, 2013 record a representative of International Health and Medical Services, the contractor responsible for the health care of the detainees, as saying: “In general there are some clients reporting feeling unsafe and experiencing intimidation.”

Meeting minutes also document individual cases in which asylum seekers, including teenagers, expressed fears for their safety.

They show that staff believed that an Afghani male, who claimed to be just 16, had been sexually assaulted.

The minutes note that “[t]here have been allegations that [he] could be the victim of sexual assault inside the centre”, and that the teenager “stated he had a fear of going to the toilets due to safety concerns”.

While the young man had denied being assaulted, the IHMS believed there was the “potential he may not be disclosing information”.

The minutes recorded that staff had seen him appearing “frustrated and panicked” and concerned for “his safety and welfare in the centre”.

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The minutes from a management meeting the following week reveal that the Afghani male told a care worker he had “not yet been raped”, but if he was not “taken out of Manus something will happen”.

The teenager is next mentioned in minutes six weeks later, in which it is suggested that workers “encourage [him] staying within a group and not be on his own”.

Another Iraqi asylum seeker, registered as 19 but claiming to be 17, reported feeling threatened because men in his compound wanted to have sex with him. “You are on our list,” he claimed they had told him, reported in the minutes of a meeting on November 6 last year.  

The wide-ranging allegations of harassment and intimidation at Manus Island are recorded across various documents seen by The Citizen.

Allegations of sexual abuse were investigated in 2013 by Robert Cornall, the same senior retired public servant whose report on fatal riots at the detention centre was released earlier this week.

In his September 2013 report, Mr Cornall found that allegations aired on the SBS program Dateline and reported in The Age were not substantiated. In particular, he found that claims particular transferees had been sexually abused, raped and tortured with the full knowledge of staff were not true.

However, the documents and minutes of meetings seen by The Citizen show that allegations persisted. Asylum seekers continued to report unwanted sexual advances and fear of sexual assault until at least January this year with a 19-year-old Iraqi asking to be removed from his compound after reporting difficulty sleeping and having become increasingly irritable.

The man had just started taking sleeping tablets and had ongoing thoughts of self-harm in the light of continuing harassment. He had previously spent time in a different compound in a bid to escape his harasser. According to the files, he asked the visiting psychologist “that he be able to have some respite anywhere, as he is exhausted and feels that his resources are depleted”.

In an earlier documented case, a G4S Officer Report Form dated May 11, 2013 notes the claims of a 20-year-old Iranian man about another man, 27, who was allegedly “stalking and harassing him again”. The documents report claims that the young man was being touched against his will while working out at the gym and was being followed to the toilet and shower block. 

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The young Iranian wanted the perpetrator to be moved away from him and out of Oscar compound.

However, a case manager proposed that the victim be transferred, despite this meaning he would be separated from his family and friends. The report shows that the young Iranian relied on his “cousin and friends to support him, although he was scared”.

Minutes dated June 6, 2013 reveal that a man exposed himself to a 17-year-old Sri Lankan boy. A week later, staff reported a change in the boy’s behaviour. He was angry and had begun fighting with other boys in the compound.

In another case, a Pakistani asylum seeker, claiming to be 17, was recorded in March as saying he was “scared of other people because they can do anything to me”.

Two months later he reported other asylum seekers had intimidated him in the bathrooms and made offensive gestures with their naked bodies. He said he felt “unsafe in the compound especially around the bathroom areas”, according to minutes dated June 6, 2013.

They add that the man reported “other community members making sexually explicit comments”, and claim he was would “not shower until his buddy is available” due to fears for his safety.

These minutes also show that despite G4S staff members being instructed to patrol the bathroom areas more frequently, asylum seekers reported they were “often not present”.

Minutes of a meeting held a week later record that the young Pakistani man had shown a worker bruises on his arm, claiming someone in the compound had tried to grab him. The bruises were severe enough to be visible a week-and-a-half after the alleged assault.

The former employees interviewed by The Citizen said that when they arrived on Manus Island they were informed by other workers that rape, self-harm and attempted suicide were normal and simply a “part of the system”.

The former employees said that an asylum seeker had informed them that a Myanmar man, believed to be about 18, was being raped regularly in the bathrooms. 

About The Citizen

THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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