Conditions on Nauru 'like a concentration camp' | Connect Asia

Conditions on Nauru 'like a concentration camp'

Conditions on Nauru 'like a concentration camp'

Updated 6 February 2013, 15:10 AEST

A concentration camp filled with despair paid for by Australian taxpayers.

That's an insider's view of the offshore immigration detention centre on the remote Pacific island of Nauru.

Veteran nurse Marianne Evers has broken her silence about working at the Nauru facility after resigning in disgust late last year.

She says she witnessed misery and self-harm every day among the mainly Sri Lankan detainees and was told disturbing stories of sexual assaults on vulnerable young men.

Presenter: Karen Barlow

Speakers: Marianne Evers, nurse; Sandi Logan, Immigration Department; Alex Pagliaro, Amnesty International

KAREN BARLOW, REPORTER: Marianne Evers has been a nurse for more than 40 years and is a trained counsellor. Attracted by flexible hours and travel, she started working in Australia's immigration system just over a year ago and the Dutch-born Australian citizen signed up for a six-week stint at Nauru last November.

MARIANNE EVERS, NURSE: I knew that conditions weren't ideal, but conditions were less than ideal. In fact I would describe them as appalling.

KAREN BARLOW: In hot and humid conditions, 400 single male asylum seekers, more than half from Sri Lanka, have been living 16 men to a tent.

MARIANNE EVERS: Well, it is just a desperation that I can't get out of my head, of all of them. You know, I've seen people crawling on the floor like animals, and, "Please, let me die," you know. These pictures don't leave you.

KAREN BARLOW: The veteran nurse says she witnessed and help treat cases of self-harm and attempted suicide.

MARIANNE EVERS: I saw people hang themselves. I think in the three weeks that I was there there were three or four hangings that I witnessed and I don't think that has stopped since. These people are desperate.

KAREN BARLOW: And Marianne Evers says medical staff told her there were other disturbing incidents at the camp.

MARIANNE EVERS: I have never actually witnessed that, but there have been rapes, as I have heard. I have never actually witnessed that, so I cannot confirm that or deny that.

KAREN BARLOW: What have you heard?

MARIANNE EVERS: That there were gang rapes. But I cannot elaborate on that.

KAREN BARLOW: OK, but you're hearing that from other staff?

MARIANNE EVERS: Yes, from other people.

KAREN BARLOW: That's news to the Immigration Department, which tonight says it wants all allegations of criminality reported to local authorities.

SANDI LOGAN, IMMIGRATION DEPARTMENT: I question why this person has waited until now, if in fact there's anything to this claim.

KAREN BARLOW: Marianne Evers worked for three weeks at the centre. Around the time she resigned, she says two mental health workers also quit. The veteran nurse has also worked at the Curtin, Yongah Hill and Darwin detention centres. She says all are not easy places, but Nauru is by far the worst.

MARIANNE EVERS: I actually liken it to a concentration camp, but the Australians don't have the guts to kill these people and put them out of their misery, because miserable it is.

SANDI LOGAN: I think invoking concentration camp is a disgrace, to be quite honest with you. I don't think anyone should be throwing terms like concentration camp around with such abandon. Look, we understand that the temporary facility, part of which is now transitioning to permanent facility at the Nauru regional processing centre, is in a country that is hot, that is humid, but that the level of care that is being provided for the 450 men currently there is a very good level of care and it is important that we recognise this is consistent with the policy that the Government has announced around no advantage.

KAREN BARLOW: But Marianne Evers assessment is also backed by Amnesty International.

ALEX PAGLIARO, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Well, I've been to most of the remote detention centres in Australia and Nauru is by far the worst conditions I've seen Australians hold asylum seekers in.

KAREN BARLOW: It's been five months since the first asylum seekers were sent to Nauru, but the immigration processing by the island nation has not begun. Amnesty says a sense of uncertainty and despair pervades the camp.

ALEX PAGLIARO: What we saw in - you know, without being mental health professionals - but on the face of it they were in different stages of mental distress. They were confused about why they had been sent to this place, they were confused about how long they would be there and they were distraught that no-one could give them any answers about these questions that were so vital to their lives.

KAREN BARLOW: The Immigration Department says a timetable to set up processing is a matter for the Nauruan government.

SANDI LOGAN: We are charged with the responsibility of looking after them, caring for them, feeding them, accommodating them, providing them with a range of facilities, both in Nauru and at Manus Island and we remain committed to that.

KAREN BARLOW: By speaking out, Marianne Evers has breached a confidentiality agreement and knows she'll never work in the immigration system again.

MARIANNE EVERS: I wouldn't be human if I didn't breach it, in my view. Because you can't treat people like that, like, you cannot.

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