Deputy editor Michelle Pini spoke with Nauru child support worker Leah Gough about the circumstances which led to 103 Nauru and Manus Island doctors, teachers and case workers to speak out.
LEAH GOUGH is keen to ensure the key message about Nauru and Manus Island is communicated:
“The situation is dire. The only solution is to bring them [the asylum seekers] here immediately.”
Leah is no stranger to horrific situations — she is a senior child support and protection worker with Save the Children and worked with domestic violence cases prior to signing up to work in Australia’s offshore refugee detention system. She has worked on both Manus Island and Nauru.
“My first experience of Manus Island … I would describe these centres as 100 per cent inhumane by design. These camps are designed to cause suffering. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Last night, IA received a statement from the 103 Manus Island and Nauru staff titled, 'This is critical: 103 former workers speak out in response to proposed senate inquiry'.
Professional workers including doctors, teachers, case workers, managers and social workers and other contracted workers with first-hand experience across both Manus Island and Nauru Regional Processing Centres, have signed the statement which demands that the asylum seekers held there are brought here immediately:
Chris Lougheed, Deputy Education Manager with Save the Children, who personally reviewed and submitted a great many incident reports such as those published in the Nauru files, condemned the Minister [Dutton's] claims that the reports were "hype" and demanded he took responsibility.
'These reports are accurate observations written by experienced professionals. People are in immediate danger. Too much time has already passed. The Australian government must take responsibility and bring them here immediately.'
Every day I was there on the island I focussed on what I could do. We [the aid workers] all did. But we couldn’t do anything about the biggest problem, which is the detention itself. We were powerless to fix it.
Every day I was there I prayed I would be out of a job.
Following on from the release of leaked Nauru files, which detail the inhuman conditions of detainees as well as pressure for a Senate Inquiry into Nauru, Leah (who has spoken out anonymously in the media before) says:
"For the first time since I arrived on Nauru I feel we might be close to the tipping point. Public opinion is shifting. People aren’t buying the lies and spin. And there is strength in numbers."
The establishment of a Senate inquiry into the conditions will not be enough according to Leah and her colleagues.
Shivani Keecha, who was the Coordinator of Save the Children’s Child Protection team on Nauru until October 2015, also wants to see immediate action taken:
This cannot continue. I worked on Nauru while several previous investigations and inquiries were held. Nothing changed. It was already too little too late. We don’t need more evidence. We know these centres cause unacceptable harm. We need to bring these people to Australia and start the process of rebuilding their lives.
Leah says three years in detention is beyond what any child can be expected to endure. As aid workers, staff worked for three week intervals and had three weeks respite from the camps.
"It says a lot that we were looked after but we're all still so affected. Those people have no respite. Every human being has a breaking point — the trauma is irrevocable."
Although the aid workers know they could be prosecuted and gaoled for speaking out under the Border Force Act, Leah says:
Another Senate Inquiry is not enough. It has just gone beyond what we can accept as human beings.
As a group we’ve focussed on how we can best be a voice for these refugees and we have decided we can live with the consequences [of prosecution] but we can't live with the consequences of staying silent.
We'd all be happily prosecuted — it’s just gone on too long. I don’t think any of us are going to stop now until Nauru and Manus Island are closed.
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