Australia Should Be As Outraged By the Nauru Files As We Were About Don Dale

An op-ed by Eva Orner, who spent two years dissecting Australia's offshore detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island for her film Chasing Asylum.
August 11, 2016, 12:00am

A child held on Nauru. Image from Chasing Asylum.

The Nauru Files are the biggest leak to date from Australia's offshore detention camp on that tiny Pacific Island. The files document endless incident reports of alleged assaults, sexual assaults, and self-harm. What's most horrifying about the leak is that many of these incident reports involve children. Often very young children.

I spent two years of my life making Chasing Asylum, a documentary about our offshore detention centres on Nauru, and also Manus Island.

In secretly obtained footage, smuggled to me from sources I cannot name, I saw asylum seekers self-harming and stitching their lips together. I saw children locked away indefinitely in mouldy tents. The guards who are meant to protect these people are hostile, threatening, and abusive.

WATCH: An Exclusive Clip From Chasing Asylum

Something happened when I was making this film that I've never spoken about before. But seeing the scale of sexual assault on Nauru that's laid out in these incident reports, seeing how these women who report rapes in the camps and aren't believed, I feel I have to say something:

I have met some of the women who were brought to Australia from Nauru pregnant—some have had abortions, some had their babies here. These women live alone or with their babies, isolated, in the outer suburbs, in constant fear they will be returned to Nauru. Some are the victims of rape. Our government ministers suggest these women's stories of being raped by local Nauruan men are made up.

But I have met some of these babies. They do not look like their mothers, they look Nauruan.

Making Chasing Asylum, we also spoke to former employees who'd worked on Nauru. They were completely traumatised by the abuse they witnessed: sexual abuse, self-harm. It's been just over a year since the Border Force Protection Act made this a criminal offence. Any employee who speaks publicly about the camps, leaks documents, or films faces a two-year jail term.

I always wonder, if the government really believes it's not so bad inside Nauru and Manus, why the secrecy?

At great personal risk, these ex-employees told us about seeing kids banging their heads against walls. Really young kids exhibiting oddly sexualised behaviour, often a symptom of sexual abuse. Kids in the camp would also refer to one another by number not name.

These are not allegations: There is proof. There are reports of cigarettes being traded for sexual favours. Of guards allowing asylum seekers to take longer shower times, if they are allowed to see their children naked. There has been a murder, death from medical negligence, and deaths from self-immolation.

We know what is really happening on Nauru and Manus. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Moss Report, the UN, and others have documented them. Time and time again. Yet nothing changes.

WATCH: VICE Talks to Eva Orner

The Prime Minister and our government are saying very little in response to the leaked files from Nauru. "The matters that are referred to here in these incident reports will be reviewed," Malcolm Turnbull told Guardian reporter Paul Farrell, who broke the story. "The Government of Nauru and their police force… have responsibility for responding to them and dealing with them."

The Australian Government spends $1.2 billion per year of taxpayers' money running Nauru and Manus. If we are footing the bill, how is it the Nauruan Government that is responsible? If the government wants to retain the power to tell New Zealand that they cannot resettle these refugees, they cannot pretend we aren't running the show. The reality is, Australians are human rights violators.

We are told that all of these incidents laid out in more than 2,000 documents are just alleged incidents. There is no proof, we are told. But there is proof.

And that's the most extraordinary thing about the Nauru Files leaked by The Guardian. The fact that we know what is going on, in our name, and we do absolutely nothing. We let it happen.

Eva Orner is the director of Chasing Asylum. For screenings, to host a screening, or to take action go to