Australian inquiry told of abuse in Nauru immigration camp

SYDNEY (AFP) - Asylum-seekers are living in mouldy tents with little privacy on the Pacific island of Nauru, with women and children at risk of sexual assault, according to submissions to an Australian inquiry.

The Senate inquiry, which held its first public hearing on Tuesday, is looking into recent allegations about conditions for would-be refugees on Nauru, including of sexual and physical assault.

Australia refuses to accept asylum-seekers arriving by boat, instead sending them to camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG) for resettlement, despite strong criticism from rights groups.

In one submission to the hearing, a doctor who assessed children on the island said living conditions were unsafe and put vulnerable women and children at "considerable" risk.

Guards were able to enter tents "unannounced any time" while one woman told the doctor she had been raped when she went to the toilet - up to 120 metres away from some tents - at night.

"She told me that since the rape, one guard had offered her extra shower time in return for sexual favours," David Isaacs, the doctor, wrote in his submission, adding that a different guard had offered the woman marijuana in return for sex.

The independent Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said it had extensive dealings with people transferred to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment and many were traumatised.

"Parents tell us that their children are incontinent and talk in their sleep constantly," its submission said. "They say that the children have nightmares and refuse to sleep alone."

Yet another submission, from the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre, revealed that a boy had begun to self-harm and talk about suicide and his mother believed he had been sexually assaulted.

The government has accepted all recommendations from a recent report into allegations at the centre which it commissioned, and has stressed that it will not tolerate the abuse of asylum-seekers.

The hearing in Canberra was prompted by the report, which found that many detainees were anxious about their personal safety and that assaults among asylum-seekers were under-reported.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the government was doing everything it could to help Nauru and Papua New Guinea to run good centres.

"And in the end it is the responsibility of the governments of Nauru and PNG to maintain order in these centres, to ensure that the ordinary law of the land is upheld, to ensure that basic human decency applies here as it should apply everywhere," he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees last year slammed the facilities on PNG and Nauru, saying they failed to meet international standards and amounted to arbitrary detention.