Nauru search rule changes makes sexual harassment official

| December 21, 2015 | Reply

Reports of women asylum seekers and refugees being sexually harassed while being searched on their way into RPC3, the camp accommodating families and single women, have emerged from Nauru.

At least two of the searches, one conducted on 6 December and another on 11 December have been the subject of official complaints, and the guards involved have been identified. Refugee women on Nauru believe at least another five or six women have been subjected to the abusive searches since the rule change.

No explanation has been given for the rule change, but the women involved believe that the guards are searching for smart phones, but also for perfume and lighters. Food and fruit brought from outside the camp is also confiscated.

Around 4pm, Sunday 6 December, a married Iranian female asylum seeker was returning to RPC3 having attended church. She was searched by four Wilson guards, two women (believed to be Australian) and two men. The two female guards eventually forced her to remove her shirt in view of the male guards standing a short distance away.

Three days later, after lodging a formal complaint, she was visited in her tent by Wilson’s Security officials who told her that there were new rules regarding searches and that the guards could “touch their bodies.”

On the night of 11 December, around 11pm, a single Iranian woman was stopped at the RPC3 gate by a group of Wilson Security guards, five men and one woman. The female guard was an Australian national.

When the woman entered the gate, a male guard searched her with a security wand. According to the new rule, apparently put into force around 6 December, a woman is required to spread her legs and her arms for such a search.

This process has been an excuse for intimidating and abusive behaviour since it was implemented. Male guards have made the searches intrusive and threatening. The wands are waved between the woman’s legs and often waved repeatedly over her breasts.

The humiliating and threatening elements of such searches are obvious, even if such searches are conducted by female guards in the presence of male guards.

On the night on 11 December, the lranian woman was alone. She refused to spread her legs or arms for the male guard. Her refusal then bought a demand from the female guard, who told her she would have to lift up her T shirt and bra “because maybe you have something.” This was done in front of the male guards.

After she had lifted her T shirt and bra, the female guard told her you have to go to a small room and remove all your clothes. The woman refused to go into the room, but did hand her ID to the female guard.

However, when she tried to leave, a male guard stood in her way, repeating that she had to go into the small room at the guardhouse and remove her clothes. Anxious and frightened at the whole situation, she refused but was forced to push past the male guard to leave the area.

This asylum seeker, a previous victim of sexual assault and harassment inside the family camp, was visited by Wilson’s officials who confirmed the new rules that allow body searches.

A few days after the search and after she had made an official complaint, the Iranian asylum seeker told the Refugee Action Coalition, “I was very embarrassed and humiliated [by the searches],”

On 18 December, this woman was asked to provide a second statement to two Wilson’s investigators who refused to give her a copy of the statement, although one of them said he would report to ‘his boss in Sydney’.

Despite the official complaints, the search regime is still in place. At the second interview the Wilson official confirmed that there are new search rules and repeated that she must spread her legs and arms to be searched, and that if the guards believe you ‘have something’ they can conduct a body search.

“These instances of reported abuse on Nauru at the hands of Wilson guards are particularly shocking given the scale of abuse that has been uncovered and confirmed by previous Australian government and Senate inquiries. That a government contractor could put new search rules in place that allow for the continued abuse of vulnerable women on Nauru is inexcusable,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“It is impossible to describe the distress of the women who are subject to the demeaning and intrusive searches. It does amount to officially sanctioned sexual abuse.

“It makes a mockery of the idea that the detention centre on Nauru is an ‘open centre.’ It also makes a mockery of Malcolm Turnbull’s government’s supposed concern with violence against women – when the government turns a blind eye to the abuse of female asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru.

“It is urgent that the new search regime is immediately ended. The searches have added an additional threatening dimension to detention on Nauru which is already overshadowed by violent sexual attacks outside of the detention centre.”

For more information, contact Ian Rintoul mob 0417 275 713.


Category: Press releases

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