A trauma expert who has worked in the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami and the Bali bombings says the conditions at Australia’s offshore detention camps are the worst he’s ever seen.
Psychologist and trauma expert Paul Stevenson, who was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his work after the Bali bombings, was deployed to Manus Island and Nauru 14 times between 2014 and 2015. His job was to care for the mental health of the detention centre security guards.
Mr Stevenson has written an open letter for The Guardian Australia exposing the appalling conditions at the centres.
“In my entire career of 43 years I have never seen more atrocity than I have seen in the incarcerated situations of Manus Island and Nauru.
In my entire career of 43 years I have never seen more atrocity than [at] Manu Island and Nauru
The letter has been released as Channel 9’s Current Affairs programme is due to screen an episode offering “unprecedented access” to the detention centres, which are closed to the media. Current Affairs claims the show will ‘stun’ Australia.
“Every day is demoralising. Every single day and every night. ……And it’s that demoralisation that is the paramount feature of offshore detention. It’s indeterminate, it’s under terrible, terrible conditions, and there is nothing you can say about it that says there’s some positive humanity in this. And that’s why it’s such an atrocity."
According to Mr Stevenson, “hanging and choking and head-butting and swallowing pills and nails and detergent and all that … goes on as a matter of course.”
According to The Guardian Australia, children regularly witnessed their parents self-harming.
Mr Stevenson says conditions at the detention centres are so appalling that recent self-immolations – where two refugees set themselves alight in desperation - “definitely” to be “expected”.
“This is what detention does to people,” Mr Stevenson says. “It turns them against themselves to use themselves as currency. And that’s a very very significant level of traumatisation, when somebody does that. All they have is their own body to negotiate with. If we’re in any way supporting the development of that very, very mentally unstable phenomena we need to do something about that.”
During Mr Stevenson’s time at the centres, six children attempted mass suicide, one woman tried to kill herself seven times in five weeks and a three-year-old was allegedly molested by a guard.