Detention witness speaks of torment on Nauru
WHEN Mark Isaacs set foot on Nauru to provide humanitarian aid for asylum seekers two years ago, he had no idea how much it would change his life.
Hired off the strength of a single interview, the then 24-year-old joined other untrained Salvation Army contractors and spent eight months attempting to distract the men imprisoned in the poorly organised detention camps from despair.
In that time, one man was murdered at the camp, another had been dying due to medical negligence and there had been numerous suicide attempts due to mental illnesses brought about from camp life.
"At what point do we say, 'This is too cruel'?" Mr Isaacs asked at a forum organised by the Buddies Refugee Support Group at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
"Before arriving, we weren't really given any idea of what to expect," he said.
"There was the physical harshness of the detention centre, the remoteness, the lack of preparations and organisation of the camp, the temporary style of the accommodation, the heat and humidity and the tension of these people facing indefinite detention."
Mr Isaacs resigned from his position in June 2013 and became a whistleblower who has publicly spoken out against Australia's offshore detention policy.
He outlined his personal experience and the stories of the refugees he came to know in his book The Undesirables: Inside Nauru.
"I did sign a confidentiality agreement and I guess when working over there the whole purpose of the Salvation Army was to provide humanitarian support in a camp that was designed to create as awful an environment as possible, so we were already at loggerheads with the policy," he said.
"My support of them (refugees) was seen as dissent."
Mr Isaacs was appalled by a survey of 3000 Australians that showed 76% were calling for harsher measures for those who sought asylum on our shores, while only 20% of those could correctly identify why they sought refuge.
"As a civilised country, we need to come up with civilised solutions to this problem. It's not OK to treat people with cruelty and treat them as less than humans," he said.
Young Buddies convenor Anneliese Broadaway said she believed Australians were compassionate people, but needed to extend that to children and vulnerable people trying to seek refuge.
"The fact that Australia does detain children is always a bit of a light-bulb moment for people," Ms Broadaway said.
"The chance of a child having done something bad enough to be detained is just unfathomable.
"There is this sense of fear of refugees and those of us who delve deeper into this issue quickly realise there is no need to be afraid."
For more information, visit www.refugeebuddies.org.au