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Child Welfare Campaigners Say There’s No One Left To Provide Independent Oversight On Nauru

Child welfare campaigners say there's no one left to provide independent oversight of the conditions in detention camps.

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Child rights agency Save the Children will be removed from the Nauru detention centre, after private contractor Transfield Services won a bid to run the federal government's offshore detention centres.

Flickr: greensmps

At the moment, there are 637 asylum seekers detained in Nauru, including 86 children. Save the Children has been providing them with education, child protection, welfare and recreation services on the island since 2013.

The charity currently employs social workers who handle case management, educators teaching the Queensland curriculum to children, and early childhood health specialists, as well as people running recreational services for the detainees.

But that role will be taken over by Transfield, when the current contract expires at the end of October. The new contract is reportedly worth several billion dollars.

Transfield has been running welfare services on Manus Island for the last 18 months, after the Salvation Army pulled out.

Save the Children put in a bid to continue providing welfare services with a different private contractor. They say they are disappointed with the government's decision.

Victoria Martin-Iverson / Refugee Rights Action Network / Via

"Save the Children is on Nauru because we believe that asylum seekers there need our help. As the time spent in isolation on Nauru and in detention increases, the protection of vulnerable children and adults becomes even more important," CEO Paul Ronalds said.

Ronalds told BuzzFeed News that his biggest concern is not so much about whether Transfield will be able to provide adequate services to asylum seekers, but that it will remove a mechanism for independent oversight of the centre.

He said that having Transfield as the sole service provider would only add to the powerful culture of secrecy that already exists.

"Save the Children has always worked constructively with the government, but we also provided an accountability measure. That's not a role that is in any way played by a for-profit contractor like Transfield," Ronalds said.

"With Transfield being in charge of all those things, asylum seekers will have nowhere to turn to inside the processing centre."

He admits that the advocacy work of Save The Children had been a source of ongoing tension with the government, but the agency always retained the right to continue doing it.


The good news for Transfield came on the same day as a scathing report from a Senate inquiry looking into conditions in the Nauru centre.

The inquiry heard evidence of human rights abuses, self-harm, neglect and poor living standards in the detention centre, and recommended a full audit of abuse claims.

Transfield Services gave evidence that there had been 67 allegations of child abuse in Nauru.

The Senate inquiry also revealed concerns about a lack of transparency and inadequate reporting procedures.

One of the recommendations from the inquiry was that the government should directly contract a non-government organisation (NGO) to provide welfare services to asylum seekers.

In addition, the Greens recommended that Transfield Services and Wilson Security be disqualified from holding any ongoing contract for services.

“It’s clear that the Nauru camp needs to be shut down before more damage is done, but at the very least the current contractors who are running the camp should be sacked,” said Greens immigration spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young.

The contract decision has been described as "extremely troubling" by Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.

@GillianTriggs / Via

In an interview with ABC Radio, Triggs said she was "deeply concerned", noting that Transfield Services had been forced to dismiss staff for poor conduct.

"The idea that [Transfield Services] should be granted another five-year contract in these circumstances is something that clearly needs to be reconsidered in light of the findings of the select committee," she said.

Immigration minister Petter Dutton and Transfield Services have been contacted for comment.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at

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