25 Jul 2013

Salvation Army staffers say violence at Nauru camp inevitable

5:06 pm on 25 July 2013

A group of current and former Salvation Army staff say last Friday's riot at the Australian-run detention camp in Nauru was inevitable.

Mark Isaacs, who spent nine months at the camp, is the spokesperson for the group of more than 30 workers.

He told Don Wiseman that while the riot was shocking, it was caused by Australia's cruel and degrading policy of sending asylum seekers offshore to assess their claims for refugee status.

MARK ISAACS: These men have been living in a camp for 10 months. When they first arrived in Nauru they were living in tent accommodation. They were brought to Nauru under false pretences. Some of them were handcuffed when brought to Nauru. They've been living in a camp without any idea of when they'll be able to leave. They've been given some notion it could be up to five years that they'll stay there. They've been given no idea how they'll be processed or how long that processing will take, and even if they'll be approved as refugees. They don't know if they'll be resettled in Australia or in other countries. Living in this camp, the heat is extremely hot. When it rains the camp used to flood. There's been high incidences of self-harm and suicide attempts, and on top of that, these men have suffered psychological trauma from the incidents that these men have fled from in their home countries, and it's only compounded by the conditions in Nauru. So when you take into effect all these contributing factors, it makes it quite a horrible place to live, in Nauru. They've voiced their concerns several times in the past, they've had peaceful protests. They've had two incidents were men have risen up against the camp. And when you continue to keep these men in these conditions and not give them any notion of when they'll leave or what will happen to them when they'll leave, we believe that this kind of incident, on this grander, horrible scale, we obviously couldn't predict, but we believe that a tragedy of this magnitude was inevitable.

DON WISEMAN: Now, we know that a lot of them are facing the court in Nauru, but you doubt whether they'll get legal representation or proper legal representation.

MI: We highly doubt the fact that they're getting any legal representation whatsoever. We're also extremely worried that many of the men weren't even involved in any criminal activity, and were, in fact, fleeing from the fires that were started in the camp. On top of that, we fear that many of the men may be seriously injured in the aftermath of the riot.

DW: You want human rights groups to be sent to the island and sent there promptly.

MI: In the 10 months that I've been there, the only advocacy group that's been there to support them has been the salvation army, and the majority of their workers have been sent home from the island.

DW: So what? There's a very small Salvation Army presence.

MI: There's a very small Salvation Army presence there, and we don't think the men are getting the support that they need.

DW: You, yourself, how long did you spend there?

MI: I spent nine months in Nauru.

DW: Why did you leave?

MI: My contract finished with the Salvation Army at the end of June, and I resigned.

DW: Some would ask why you didn't speak out earlier.

MI: The Salvation Army workers and all workers on Nauru have signed deeds of confidentiality and contractual agreements to say that they won't speak out. There's a complete media ban on the island. So the majority of workers feel like if they speak out, there'll be retribution.

DW: Do you regret spending nine months there?

MI: No, definitely not. I found the work extremely fulfilling and I think the men that I worked with are beautiful and really motivating men. They've suffered a lot. And if I was given the time again I'd be back there working with them now.