Australia’s immigration department is moving ahead with plans to close the school at the Nauru detention centre, despite no clear child protection framework at local schools outside the centre and concerns that child asylum seekers may be subject to corporal punishment.The closure of the school in Regional Processing Centre 1 has sparked concerns in the department and has distressed asylum seeker children and their parents on the island.
The four schools asylum seeker children are to be moved to are the Yaren primary school, Nauru primary school, Nauru college and Nauru secondary school.
Asylum seekers in the detention centre were only notified of the closure over the weekend. All child asylum seekers aged seven to 17 will be moved to local schools, while a small group of children under seven will stay at the detention centre.
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Notification of the closure has sparked protests, threats of self-harm and several incidents of self-harm from children as young as five.
Local schools in Nauru still practise corporal punishment, and former Save the Children case worker Viktoria Vibhakar has previously raised concerns about child asylum seekers being beaten with a wooden ruler.
A letter from one five-year-old asylum seeker obtained by Guardian Australia said: “We all boys from secondary class made in the school … we plained that we are all going to protest without eating and without going to RPC 3. We all ask that we speak with immigration, but immigration didn’t care about us.”
“I was so upset at that moment, and I was nervous so I drunk cleaning liquid. After that IHMS and mental health came immediately. But I told them that I didn’t like to take treatment.”
The asylum seeker eventually accepted treatment, but continued to express concerns.
“If nothing happen on Monday again I will do some thing, because I don’t care about my life.”
There are currently no child protection protocols in local schools on Nauru, and many schools are significantly under resourced
Guardian Australia understands that caseworkers on the island are preparing for further deterioration in the mental health of child asylum seekers during the transition. There are currently over 60 children who attend school at the detention centre.
The parents of child asylum seekers on the island who have been to orientation days at some of the schools told Guardian Australia they were disgusted by the condition of the schools.
The parent of one primary school student who was taken to the local schools as part of an orientation told Guardian Australia: “Dirty, not safe. Toilet not flush. Dirty, no water, no paper.”
Asylum seekers who visited the Yaren primary school said there was no running water in the toilets, or doors in the bathrooms. Some also raised concerns about safety. One primary school age asylum seeker said it was not safe at the local school she saw.
The quality of teaching at the local schools is also considered to be poor, with many teachers possessing limited English skills.
The transition to the local schools has been planned by the immigration department, with Save the Children playing a role in the transition. Brisbane Catholic Education provided educational assessments.
Child asylum seekers on the island have previously raised concerns about the change and have written letters to the immigration department. Truancy rates at Nauru schools are extremely high, at around 60% for children aged over 15.
A spokeswoman for the immigration department said: “Integration of asylum seeker children into local schools is consistent with both open centre processing arrangements and education opportunities already accessed by refugee children in Nauru.
“Transition to local schools will minimise disruption of an asylum seeker child’s education in the event that they are found to be owed Nauru’s protection and therefore are required to enrol in local schools.
“Transition planning is underway between the respective governments. There are no imminent plans to close the RPC school.”
The spokeswoman declined to respond to questions about whether the department would intervene to prevent child asylum seekers being subjected to corporal punishment. “School governance arrangements are a matter for the government of Nauru,” she said.