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Australia to Probe Child Refugee Abuse Claims

FILE - Exterior view of government offices of the small island nation of Nauru. Australia has flooded Nauru with money since 2012, when the island became a key plank in its controversial policy of dealing with asylum seekers.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Friday announced an independent inquiry into allegations that Nauru Offshore Processing Centre guards have abused women and child asylum seekers.

According to Canberra officials, at least one refugee advocacy group, Save the Children, which has support staff located at the Australian-funded facility on the South Pacific island-nation of Nauru, claim that female asylum seekers were forced to have sex with guards before being allowed to shower.

There are also counter-allegations that the charity workers have been encouraging children to harm themselves as part of a ploy to be evacuated from the island in order gain access to the mainland.

These accusations will be investigated by an independent panel organized by the government, which will be expected to probe allegations of sexual abuse by guards at the facility, along with allegations that charity workers coached asylum seekers to harm themselves and orchestrated detainee protests on Nauru.

According to a report by The Guardian, Morrison's acting department head, Phillip Moss, will personally lead the probe.

Detainees on Nauru have repeatedly protested Canberra’s plans to deny them resettlement visas and return many to Cambodia. Last year, detainee riots caused $60 million in damage to the facility, whose operation has been subject to intense criticism by international rights groups for years.

According to Morrison, recent protests included "tactical use of children ... to frustrate the ability of those who work at the center to deal effectively and safely with those issues."

Australia sends all asylum seekers arriving by boat to detention camps based in Nauru or Papua New Guinea. In September, Canberra announced a multi-million dollar deal with Cambodia to transfer refugees from the camp on Nauru, a decision criticized by rights groups who insist that Cambodia, one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, is not capable of resettling refugees.

For more than a week, activists have reported a series of suicide attempts at the remote detention center.

“The truth is that cases of child self-harm on Nauru are a reality," said Save the Children Australia's Paul Ronalds, who strongly rejects claims of coercion and deception.

"The Australian government's announcement in relation to Cambodia and in relation to temporary protection visas has significantly increased tensions on the island and led to increased self-harm and other unfortunate behavior,” he said.

The recent protests follow Australia’s decision not to allow detainees on the Pacific Island to apply for temporary protection visas.

Canberra officials have said that while they acknowledge the protestors’ frustrations, they will not change their mind.

According to a fact sheet published by Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, 1,162 asylum seekers were being held at Nauru Offshore Processing Centre as of May 2014.