On 10 August 2016, the Guardian published a cache of 2116 leaked incident reports written by staff in Australia’s offshore processing centre for asylum seekers on Nauru. The reports span the period May 2013 to October 2015.

The leaked cache has been dubbed the Nauru Files.

Analysis of the files reveals that:

  • more than half of the incidents reported in the files involved children;

  • the files contain seven reports of sexual assault of children, 59 reports of assault on children, 30 instances of self-harm involving children and 159 instances of threatened self-harm involving children;

  • incidents were classified as minor, major or critical depending on their severity; and

  • Wilson Security, the company contracted to provide security services at the centre on Nauru, regularly downgraded the classification of incidents.

The source of the leak remains unclear. Save the Children, a charity contracted to provide welfare services at the centre during the period covered by the Nauru Files, denied that it had leaked the files.

The political response to the publication of the files has varied. 

Immigration minister Peter Dutton claimed that some of the reports reflected “false allegations” by asylum seekers attempting to get to Australia. Mr Dutton also criticised The Guardian and the ABC for the way in which they reported the allegations, saying that their approach “has been to trivialise the very serious issues by trying to promote the 2,100 reports as somehow all of those being serious when they’re not.” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the reports would be examined to determine whether any of the complaints had not been properly addressed.

The Labor Party called for the government to revisit a proposal for an independent children’s advocate. Labor also moved to establish a Senate inquiry into abuse at the offshore processing centre, while the Greens renewed their call for a Royal Commission into abuse in offshore detention.

Nauru’s President Baron Waqa also responded to the files, saying that asylum seekers are encouraged by activists to fabricate reports of abuse, and that Australian MPs and the media were treating Nauru like an ideological “punching bag”. Mr Waqa claimed that Nauru had tried to address the allegations in the past and had discovered that “a lot of them were just made up”.

Commentators have questioned whether Mr Dutton’s dismissal of many of the files as false allegations reflects a culture in which sexual assault victims are often considered to be unreliable or untrustworthy. Others have argued that the Nauru Files might signal the beginning of the end of offshore processing, as public sentiment turns against the dangerous circumstances to which asylum seeker women and children are exposed in detention.


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Last updated 4 September 2016