HEADLINE: Government to investigate detention center abuse claims
BYLINE: MIKE CORDER
DATELINE: SYDNEY, Australia
Claims that authorities tried to cover up allegations of child abuse at a remote detention center for illegal immigrants will be investigated,the government announced Wednesday.
The decision to appoint an independent investigator follows harsh criticism of authorities who run the Woomera Detention Center in South Australia state.
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock appointed former Foreign Affairs Ministry bureaucrat Philip Flood to head the inquiry.
Two nurses from Woomera have alleged that management of the detention center deliberately suppressed evidence that a 12-year-old boy was raped by his father earlier this year.
Refugee support groups welcomed the investigation but called for a wider
probe into detention conditions and the government's way of dealing with illegal immigrants.
''When asylum seeker children arrive in Australia without proper papers, we mandatorily detain them in isolated detention centers run by a private prison company,'' said Louis Schetzer, director of the National Children's & Youth Law Center. ''Woomera is the 21st century equivalent of throwing people into a prison hulk.''
Ruddock said the inquiry would deal with the role of both the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and the private company that manages the center, Australasian Correctional Management.
''Mr. Flood will also be asked to make recommendations on any area where he believes processes need to be improved,'' he said.
ACM is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Palm Beach, Florida-based Wackenhut Corrections Corp.
A spokesman for the company said it was banned under its contract with the Australian government from making any comment about operations at Woomera.
Ruddock has said previously that the claims already had been investigated and has denied any cover-up.
South Australian police and family services officers also are investigating claims children were sexually abused at the troubled detention center.
In the last year, the remote center housed at a former missile testing range in the South Australian desert about 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) west of Sydney has been rocked by riots and hunger strikes sparked by complaints over conditions.
Hundreds of asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, who entered Australia llegally are housed in the center.