In the dead of night, a baby bundled in a white rug is held tightly as her parents are forced to walk across tarmac in Nauru back to the island’s controversial detention centre. The five-month-old baby was born to Nepalese asylum seekers who are part of a group of eight secretly escorted from the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation at 4.30am on Thursday back to the Pacific island where they will live in large tents.The grainy picture was obtained by refugee advocate Pamela Curr, who says 20 officers entered the Melbourne immigration facility in a “military-style operation” to return the asylum seekers to the island. It is understood the baby and her family had been in Australia for a number of months.
The Darwin barrister representing the baby, Mark Thomas from John Toohey lawyers, says he was not told about the removal of the child until the family had reached the island.
“It is a fundamental breach of natural justice,” he said. “It is appalling conduct by the government.
“They grabbed her and took her away.”
Mr Thomas said there was now no possibility of Federal Court action given the family are in Nauru.
The baby is one of the first of those born after December last year to be sent back to Nauru. They were not included in a deal struck by former immigration minister Scott Morrison and Senator Ricky Muir that Mr Morrison would allow a number of women to remain in Australia with their babies in return for his support to sweeping changes to the Migration Act.
Earlier this year, a damning report found women had been sexually abused on the island and guards were trading contraband such as cigarettes in exchange for sexual favours.
In a submission to the ongoing inquiry into conditions on Nauru, a former senior child protection worker for Save the Children, Viktoria Vibhakar, has claimed children as young as two are being assaulted in the open centre.
On one occasion an eight-year-old child made more than one allegation that she had been sexually assaulted in the Nauru centre, but would not say who had abused her, the submission says.
“Although the alleged sexual assault allegations were reported to [the Immigration Department] in January 2014, Mia remained in the Nauru detention facility for more than seven months,” Ms Vibhakar writes in her submission.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said: “We do not comment on operational matters”.