Australian panel urges kids' removal from refugee camp hit by rape claims

Australia's Nauru detention center has been criticized by human rights groups and compared to a 'concentration camp'

A high-ranking panel of Australian lawmakers has called on the country's government to expedite the removal of children from a refugee detention center on the island nation of Nauru amid allegations of widespread child rape and sexual assault. A Monday report by a Parliamentary select committee set up to investigate the claims found that the Nauru camp is "not adequate, appropriate or safe for the asylum seekers detained there."

The report also called for a deeper investigation into claims of abuse taking place at the detention center.

But separate attempt by the Australian government to offload refugees held at Nauru to Cambodia may be stymied by an announcement from Phnom Penh stating Monday that it did not intend to accept any more asylum seekers from the South Pacific detention center.

Australia has vowed to stop refugees sailing from Indonesia and Sri Lanka and landing on its shores, instead intercepting boats and shifting the people to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The Nauru camp in particular has been condemned by rights groups who say a litany of abuses has been committed against refugees housed there.

As of December 2014 more than 2,000 asylum seekers were housed in the Papua New Guinea and Nauru camps, Amnesty International has estimated. The conditions at the Nauru camp have been described as horrendous by international observers, as well as nurses and doctors who have worked with refugees. In 2013 a nurse who had spent three weeks at Nauru described it as similar to a "concentration camp."

A March 2015 independent report by former government official Philip Moss uncovered reports of at least two women housed at the Naura center being raped. Moss also reported that many people housed at the camp feared for their physical safety.

Some of those interned at the Nauru camp have taken extreme measures to protest the circumstances under which they're held. In 2013, camp residents rioted; on other occasions, some have engaged in hunger strikes, swallowed razor blades and sewn their lips shut.

Australia and Cambodia agreed last September that some refugees from Nauru would be resettled in Cambodia in exchange for Australian aid, but only four ever arrived.

"We have no plans to receive more refugees from Nauru," Cambodian Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak told Reuters.

"With the situation of our country like this, we can't receive hundreds or thousands of them. The less we receive, the better."

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop denied the deal had collapsed.

"Cambodia is committed to a regional solution and has committed through a memorandum of understanding with the Australian government to resettle some asylum seekers who are found to be genuine refugees," Bishop told reporters in Sydney.

"It wishes to harness the skills of foreign workers and in this way, they can resettle people into Cambodia and help boost their GDP."

Rights groups have condemned Australia for trying to resettle refugees in poorer countries like Cambodia, which is frequently in the spotlight for human rights abuses and with an economy less than one percent the size of Australia's.

As part of the deal announced last year, Cambodia will get 40 million Australian dollars ($28.56 million) in additional aid regardless of how many asylum seekers it takes in.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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