Nauru Riot Press Release


The Nauru Riot: Staff Condemn Cruel and Degrading Conditions

A Statement by Past and Present Salvation Army Staff Members

23 July 2013

In light of the recent events that have taken place in Nauru, a collection of former and current Salvation Army staff who have spent the last ten months working with asylum seekers at the Regional Processing Centres in Nauru and Manus Island would like to make a public statement.

For those of us who work and have worked in Nauru, this riot although shocking, was an inevitable outcome from a cruel and degrading policy. Since the opening of the Nauru Regional Processing Centre (NRPC) there have been incidents of unrest that have reoccurred in escalating seriousness. Salvation Army staff in Nauru have been predicting such a tragedy for a long time.

We have worked alongside these asylum seekers since the opening of the NRPC when the men were first housed in tents. Brought them pedestal fans when the temperature within their tents soared to over 50 degrees. Used buckets to empty rivers of rainwater when the same temporary accommodation flooded during the wet season. We comforted men who were brought to Nauru in handcuffs by the Australian government under false pretences. We watched their numerous peaceful protests against the uncertainty of their future. We saw the scars of self-harm, and suicide attempts. We tried to motivate the hundreds of men on hunger strike to eat again.

The asylum seekers have been given no idea of when their applications will be processed, or when they can leave Nauru. If they are found to be refugees, they do not know if they will be resettled in Australia or on the other side of the world. Meanwhile their families are left struggling in their home countries.

Countless men have suffered physically and psychologically. The mental health impact of detention in this harsh physical and policy environment cannot be overstated. The service providers in Nauru have been unable to prevent the marked deterioration in health in wellbeing. Previously healthy, resilient men have been worn down. We have witnessed a man scrabbling in the dirt, suffering a psychotic breakdown for several days without treatment, read another man’s suicide note apologising to his family, and seen countless others who suffered similar mental breakdowns. Thousands of tax-payers dollars have been spent on flying asylum seekers to the Australian mainland for medical treatment on ailments suffered in detention.

The asylum seekers have voiced their concerns over and over again only to be continuously ignored by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). Despite this constant degradation and suffering, we have witnessed the strength, humility and resilience of these people. We have seen men from all cultures pour their energy in to keeping themselves and each other alive and hopeful. The support and kindness that the men detained in Nauru offered to each other and the staff never wavered, even in the face of increasing injustice and frustration. There are countless examples of their good nature, not withholding the Tamils indicted in this current unrest. The Tamils who were always the men who put their arm around you in a friendly gesture and assisted in labour with no thought of reward.

The most recent incident in Nauru was not borne out of malice. It was a build up of pressure and anxiety over ten months of degrading treatment, and a planned peaceful protest that degenerated. It was a reaction to a refugee processing system that is devoid of logic and fairness. While we do not condone these actions and are horrified by what has happened, we can understand the frustration and the anger that led to such a demonstration. We would also like to offer our sympathies to the Nauruan people who have suffered during this period.

We have good reason to believe that those asylum seekers arrested and detained in Nauruan jail will not be provided with legal representation. It is likely that a large number of those men arrested in the riot did not in fact act criminally. As such we advocate for everyone to be treated as innocent until proven guilty in a court. This is especially pertinent given the comments of Minister Tony Burke already stating that visas may not be granted to those men arrested. We also believe that there are many injured men who are not receiving adequate medical treatment. We call for immediate action from human rights groups to be present in Nauru to assist those men in jail and those men who need immediate medical treatment.

We fear that their reputations and the reputation of all asylum seekers will be marred by an incident which was ten months in the making. For those people who sit outside of Nauru, who have never met an asylum seeker, it is easy to judge these men as dangerous, destructive or ungrateful. But anyone who has worked in Nauru will see them as the desperate souls they are. Fathers, sons, brothers, who are trying to forge a life for themselves and their family. Frustrated and down-trodden by the degrading bureaucracy implemented by our government.

For further information and interviews please contact:

Mark Isaacs

Jack Rabl, Amanda Lloyd Tait, Amy Marden, Darren Wyatt, Martin Reusch, Laura Button, Jennifer Dennis, Kai Noonan, 22 current and former Salvation Army staff members who wish to remain anonymous

§ 24 Responses to Nauru Riot Press Release

  • Thank you for expressing this so eloquently.

  • Bob Phelps says:

    Thanks for your commitment and bravery in telling the truth about the Nauru hell hole. Our shame!

  • anne louise says:

    There is very little information that comes out of detention centres to the public. (At least I have not seen anything which gives me much of an idea about the conditions in these places).

    Can you give us more information please?

    What is it that causes the psychiatric manifestations in the detainees?
    Is this what is happening in refugee camps around the world, or is this peculiar to Nauru?
    What is meant by degrading treatment? (I don’t understand whether it is that they are treated badly in their day to day lives, or other factors).
    Which organisation or agency is responsible for processing the detainees’ applications?
    How long does this processing usually take?

    Mention was made of the detainees being sent to Nauru under false pretenses. What were the pretenses under which they were sent to Nauru?


    • Marilyn says:

      The camps around the world are not closed prisons with people being trafficked there against their will like slaves of old.

      We are the only nation that does this sort of thing.

    • Peter says:

      Psychiatric manifestations are caused by the prolonged uncertainty and lack of meaningful activities combined with the asylum seekers past trauma and the prison-like nature of the camp. This is not happening in refugee camps around the world but in Nauru these factors are used to coerce people to return to the places they have fled from, and as a deterrent to others.

      Degrading treatment is being given no choices, being lied to about processes, being deprived of basic necessities (like shoes, water, soap), and many other petty processes that complicate and frustrate.

      Allegedly the Nauruans are responsible – but they have no infrastructure of staff. Really the Australian Government is in control but keeps an artificial distance to pretend that it is not.

      The camp has been operating for nearly two years and the first people processed are just starting to be released. This is despite it being set up to be an “open centre.”

      Detainees were lied to when boarding planes on Christmas Island so that they would cooperate. It is a lie to call them transferees and to say they would be staying in an open centre, they are lied to about their rights and lied to about Australia’s capacity to force then to return. This is all designed to force them into “voluntarily” returning. Lying to detainees is standard practice and is called “soft messaging” by the department.

  • Ben says:

    Mark, thank you for exposing the truth, a commodity currently in desperately short supply within Australian federal politics.

  • colin penter says:

    Mark, thanks for posting this. This is an important statement. Just wondering? Are these official views of the Salvation Army or the views of individuals? If the latter, does the Salvation Army have an official position and why has it chosen not to speak out on these same issues? Your post raises serious questions about the responsibility of the Salvation Army as an institution, which must be held to account for its involvement in making possible the appalling situations you describe. In accepting hundreds of millions of dollars (for both Naura and Manus Island) the Salvation Army is surely complicit and has seriously damaged its reputation.

    • marki says:

      Hi Colin,

      This is not an official view of the Salvation Army. This is a statement made by a collection of former and present workers who felt that they needed to speak out. The Salvation Army have contractual obligations to fulfil with the Australian government which I imagine restrict what they may say publicly.

      • Marilyn says:

        The Salvos. should hang their heads in shame for agreeing to be jailors while then helping the victims of our prisons in Australia.

  • Lynne Black says:

    Thank you for telling it like it is in Nauru. It’s time we heard the truth about these places that come under the jurisdiction of our government. All too often we read about the terrible damage done by detainees to the facilities that house them, but how often do we hear about the terrible damage done to the human beings under our care? It’s time for the Australian government to step in and stop the systemic abuse of asylum seekers in its care

  • Thank you for this statement.
    Anyone involved in this protest should be given a bravery medal, for their selfless actions in defense of human rights, their own lives and those of other asylum seekers. They’ve taken bigger risks than most military personel ever do, and for the right reasons.

    • marki says:

      Hi Andrew,

      We by no means endorse the actions of those men who were involved in the riot, nor do we think these men should be rewarded for their actions. We simply want to explain the conditions that cultivated such anger, and wanted to protect the rights of all the men who were placed in jail cells in Nauru.

      • Marilyn says:

        They should be rewarded for burning death traps to the ground. They had no rights being sent there, how can you possible justify it on any level.

  • g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336a says:

    I think we should petition for a pardon for those involved in the riots

    • marki says:

      Again, we by no means endorse the actions of those men who were involved in the riot, nor do we think these men should be rewarded for their actions. We simply want to explain the conditions that cultivated such anger, and wanted to protect the rights of all the men who were placed in jail cells in Nauru.

  • Cait Storr says:

    Thank you for bearing brave and heartbreaking witness to what is being done in our names.

  • Jonathan Joyce says:

    Sadly, we have sat by and passively watched acts of protest and failed to see them for what they really are – desperate appeals for help.
    The inmates of Nauru are powerless, but we who imprison them aren’t. Thank you for being the voice for the voiceless; may all of Australia join with you!

  • Pauline McKenzie OAM says:

    Thanks mark. I have just cut and pasted this and sent it to our local member Catherine King MP. Don’t get your hopes up that you will hear from her!

  • emily says:

    Much respect and solidarity to all you who are working in such difficult conditions and witnessing such terrible human conditions. I hope that yourselves as individuals seek and receive the support that you need also in witnessing and living among such trauma. Even more respect for speaking out and giving the humane perspective to such a dastardly politicised response to a global and regional humanitarian situation.

  • Breina says:

    Thanks for this eloquent report on the state of Nauru, but what about Manus Island? When will we be reading about the children kept there?
    I can’t get my head around detention, what do the detainees do all day? I’m lead to believe ‘absolutely nothing’, which is horrifying and no-doubt a huge contributor to the mental health issues developing.

  • Barbara says:

    Thank you for your report, it is only by listening to people like yourselves, the situation can be restructured and managed to a standard, that adds to the detainees health and wellbeing, while they are waiting for the issue to be resolved. Why are these people not managed by the local Nauru council to carry our local daily jobs? So they can be part of village life and included in the fun. and helping with fishing and learning new crafts, as the Naureans ( or whatever plural is) As far as leaky tents etc, what is the matter with getting help from them for building projects, It sounds as they are being quarded like common criminals? Shouldn’t established trouble makers be sent away, because they will ruin the reputation on Nauru for the others. Islanders are usually so kind and gentle or tough when absolutely necessary I wonder what format you guys had to fit into re day to day activities and freedom and etc. This is the real fish bones of the day to day story. For it to be improved you need to lay out the usual day and how many people etc are in charge etc and in charge of what etc and what sort of people are in charge Are they behaving like prison guards or. are they managing well, and getting a bad result anyway? The day to day management needs to be under the microscope and no one can get to the story of what is happening???

  • Naomi says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Dark times ahead with the continued inhumane conditions that our government is continuing to put these very vulnerable people through! Sad times indeed! My thoughts and prayers go out to all the men, women, and children locked up in these centers!

  • Jesse James says:

    The whole situation is as unbelievable as you have stated. To think that we, as Australians, allow this to happen is dispicable!
    If there is anything I can do to help these people please let me know.
    I am outraged and dismayed at this behaviour!
    I feel totally helpless to do anything about it, my thoughts are with them.

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