The Nauru files: cache of 2,000 leaked reports reveal scale of abuse of children in Australian offshore detention

The Nauru files: cache of 2,000 leaked reports reveal scale of abuse of children in Australian offshore detention

Organisation: Guardian Australia (Australia)

Publication Date: 03/08/2017

Size of team/newsroom:large


The Nauru files, an investigation based on a leaked cache of 2,116 documents from inside Australia's secretive immigration detention network, shattered the secrecy around the immigration detention system and revealed the devastating scale of trauma and abuse of asylum seekers in Australia’s care. In addition to detailed reporting based on analysis of the documents, The Guardian built a sophisticated online visualisation that created an immersive experience for readers to search and explore every single incident report published. The creation of this database made it possible - for the first time ever - to be able to analyse the harm caused to asylum seekers held on Nauru. Shockingly, analysis of the files showed that children were vastly overrepresented in the reports, with more than half of incidents involving children. The database was the result of months of painstaking work collating and carefully redacting the 2,116 incident reports, which totalled more than 8,000 pages. The original incident reports themselves have also been published, to allow readers to see firsthand what the guards,caseworkers and teachers on the island saw and observed. It’s the single largest publication of leaked materials ever made public in this way by a news organisation in Australia, presented in a compelling online visualisation.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

The investigation put the detention centre on Nauru back on the national agenda and renewed debate about how to resolve the political impasse for the asylum seekers there. It was followed by media outlets across Australia and around the world. Richard Flanagan, the Man Booker prize winner, said of the Nauru files: “I suspect they will continue to be read in coming decades and even centuries when the works of myself and my colleagues are long forgotten.” The files sparked a wave of protests across the nation, including readings from the files outside the Australian high commission in London. Among the immediate responses were more than 100 former staff speaking out about the immigration detention system, and an offer from the Western Australian government to resettle asylum seekers held on Nauru. The series delivered a parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s response to allegations of abuse and assault inside the Nauru detention centre, a private member's bill from Labor to introduce a children’s advocate at the centre and renewed attention from the royal commission into child abuse into Australia’s immigration detention system. Guardian Australia presented the files in a bold and ambitious way, publishing a database of 2,116 incident reports – more than 8,000 pages in total – to bring voices to life and give the public access to firsthand reports. It created a sophisticated online database that allowed readers to search and explore every incident report, with names redacted to safeguard individuals on the island. The stories were presented with style, care and conviction and may have made a decisive contribution to a major human rights debate in Australia.

Technologies used for this project:

Database and visualisation: Javascript, various libraries Data analysis and cleaning: Python (Pandas), OpenRefine
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