June 30, 2015 | ABC News
Desperate and dispirited asylum seekers at the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru formed “suicide pacts”, identified themselves as numbers instead of by name, and were treated like animals by some guards, according to accounts by two social workers who worked at the centre.
“There was single adult female.. there was a group of teenage girls, there was a group of fathers, there was a group of mothers,” said Natasha Blucher, a case worker who personally signed 10 reports alerting centre management to the pacts.
Ms Blucher and another former social worker, Michelle Groeneveld, were among 10 Save the Children staff ordered to leave Nauru last October when former immigration minister Scott Morrison claimed they encouraged refugees to self-harm.
A Government review dismissed the claims, but none of the workers at the centre of the storm has spoken publicly until now.
Ms Blucher said she often clashed with guards about the practice of identifying inmates as numbers.
“Most of the time it wasn’t toxic but then sometimes … I would challenge them on things that they were doing or ask them to stop treating people with disrespect or ask them to stop referring to people by their boat IDs,” she said.
Ms Blucher said she believes the practice demoralised and degraded people: “So, something that people would constantly say is, ‘they think we’re animals, they’re treating us like animals’.”
Sinister stories have already emerged about the sexual exploitation of inmates by guards.
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
Ms Blucher described an atmosphere where local Nauruan staff saw the camp as a showcase for bride shopping.
“They would say things like, ‘hey baby, come and sit on my knee’,” she said.
“They would peer into their tents, they were trying to set it up for when they got outside and they could have a relationship, and the women found that very, very threatening.”
Ms Groeneveld argues the Australian Government was deliberately cruel and did not meet needs on purpose.
“It’s very obvious in that environment that the Government do not want to give any comfort or make anything comfortable at all,” she said.
Social workers were constantly reporting abuse
By late last September, as some asylum seekers on Nauru were planning to kill themselves, the Government decided to sack some Save the Children case workers.
In leaked documents, one official described the public sacking of staff as a “circuit breaker”.
I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence – a boiling pot of despair.Michelle Groeneveld, Save the Children staff
Ms Blucher has come to see the dismissal as an act of intimidation.
“I was just constantly challenging when I felt that people were not being respected or that where somebody’s safety was at risk,” she said.
Ms Groeneveld had a similar view.
“I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence — a boiling pot of despair,” she said.
“We were constantly reporting inappropriate behaviour of guards towards children.”
The Senate inquiry into allegations over Nauru received a submission from Wilson Security, denying wrongdoing.
Ms Blucher believed Australia’s detention camp on Nauru had become the bitter harvest of successive governments — intentionally cruel to force asylum seekers to give up their claims.
“Even if it works to stop the boats, it’s not worth it,” she said.