Former Nauru camp volunteer releases damning book
A former Salvation Army worker who provided welfare services at the Australian-run asylum seeker detention centre on Nauru says the situation of hopelessness at the camp was so bad he had to speak out.
A former Salvation Army worker who provided welfare services at the Australian-run asylum seeker detention centre on Nauru says the situation at the camp was so bad he had to speak out.
Mark Isaacs has just launched his book, The Undesirables, in which he reveals that he was sent to Nauru within a week of signing up with little training.
Mr Isaacs worked on the island between October 2012 and June 2013 and told Jamie Tahana that conditions at the centre were harrowing.
MARK ISAACS: As far as they knew, they were never going to get out and there was nothing to suggest that they would because in the whole time they were there was very little progress in terms of processing for refugee status, so very quickly there emerged, things like mental harm, suicide attempts, it took three weeks for the first suicide attempt to occur, there were hunger strikes and thirst strikes and peaceful protests and even a man lost his mind and had a out of psychosis and plenty of incidence of depression. So from a very early stage we could see it happening and it only got worse and worse throughout the time I was there. One particular man spent 40 days in his room without leaving and on his wall he had penned a tombstone which said: 'I died the day I arrived in Nauru'.
JAMIE TAHANA: For you, who had had no real experience of that, how harrowing was it for you to see it?
MI: It is funny to take a step away now, I think there were a lot of incidences where I was really emotionally affected by what I saw by dealing with things like talking to men about their suicide attempts or dealing with the anger and the injustice and the grief and I think my colleagues and the workers really relied upon eachother to overcome these traumatic experiences. So, it still affects me in some way but thankfully through writing this book it has helped me come to terms with things and it has given me some kind of objective to use these traumas in a positive way and what is interesting is that while on the island you actually become numb to all, you become quite emotionless and robot-like.
JT: What kind of counselling or treatment did these people have for their mental breakdowns and illnesses we are seeing here?
MI: I mean there were health services on the island through the international health and medical services but I think it was limited in what they could do and in the resources they had and the staff they had. I can't think on the top of my head of the exact number of doctors and psychologists but it would not have reached double figures and that is for over 400 men and I think at one point there was only one or two psychologists. So to try and see all these men and come up with effective treatment for them is a very difficult job for a small amount of staff and on top of that one of the mental health counsellors from a torture and trauma organisation told me that there is not much you can do in terms of treating rehabilitation of trauma when people are being re-traumatised at the same time.
JT: Now, the book, you have written this as a form of therapy for yourself. Has it worked in a sense?
MI: Well, it started as a form of therapy and when I came home from my first rotation I was getting barraged with these questions and people asking me about it. There was one particular friend who kept asking all these odd questions and wrong questions so I showed him my writing and I hoped to kind of shut him up [laughs] and when he read it he suddenly seemed to understand what I had been through and understand what was going on in the camp and I realised that maybe this could be a great way of communicating this world which noone else had a view into and so once I had seen that I started flushing it out and making it more of a book and by the time I had finished I had a body of work that I thought I might be able to get published.
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