Australia needs 'audit of its soul' after leaked reports reveal scale of refugee child abuse

Protesters have frequently drawn attention to conditions on Nauru.Reuters

Human rights campaigners have responded to revelations of the appalling abuse of children at one of Australia's offshore detention camps with calls for a radical reform of its refugee policy.

Among them is pastor and justice activist Jarrod McKenna, who told Christian Today that the revelations meant Australia must "take an audit of its soul".

Australia has a draconian refugee policy that sees would-be asylum seekers fleeing repressive regimes held in two offshore centres, one of them the remote Pacific island of Nauru. It has been repeatedly criticised by the UN among other organisations.

Now more than 2,000 leaked incident reports from the camp have been published by The Guardian. They reveal assaults including sexual assault and self-harm. According to the Guardian, the files paint a picture of "routine dysfunction and cruelty".

It says children are "vastly over-represented in the reports", with children featuring in more than half of them, though children made up only 18 per cent of detainees on the island during the period covered.

Among other incidents reported, a guard threatened to kill a boy. Others slapped children's faces. A guard laughed at a girl who had sewn her lips together.

There are seven reports in the files of sexual assault of children, 59 reports of assault on children, 30 of self-harm involving children and 159 of threatened self-harm involving children.

McKenna told Christian Today: "$1.2 billion of our taxes are going into a system we can no longer deny is abusing children who are needing safety. Pause for a moment and let that sink in. Let it bring you to your knees in prayer for these children.

"Australia, fun-loving-easy-going-sun-and-surf-Australia, is spending over a billion dollars in locking up people in situations of systematic abuse when they were simply seeking safety. This must end. Now. Matthew 25 makes it clear, Jesus comes to us as the refugee and, not only has Australia rejected him, we have turned away as the abuse is ongoing. As a nation we must repent."

He encouraged campaigners to use the hashtags #naurufiles & #DonDale – the latter referring to the youth detention centre in the Northern Territory where abuse was also uncovered.

"Without naming this any talk of who we can be is just a cover up," McKenna said. "As a nation we need a conversion to compassion and decency. We must, '#BringThemHere'."

The Australian government's Department of Immigration and Border Protection said in a statement: "The documents published today are evidence of the rigorous reporting procedures that are in place in the regional processing centre - procedures under which any alleged incident must be recorded, reported and where necessary investigated.

"Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations or uncorroborated statements and claims - they are not statements of proven fact."