Mark Isaacs is a writer, community worker, adventurer, campaigner for social justice and author of The Undesirables: Inside Nauru (Hardie Grant, 2014), an account of his work with asylum seekers inside the Nauru Regional Processing Centre. Mark has written for publications including Foreign Policy, World Policy Journal, Huffington Post, VICE and New Matilda. He continues to work […]
by Mark Isaacs
- By Mark Isaacs, author of The Undesirables: Inside Nauru
- With a moving foreword by Tim Costello
“Mark Isaacs’s insight into the events that led up to the riot and fire at the Nauru refugee detention centre, and its aftermath, should concern every Australian. This book is graphic evidence of dark practices directly linked to Australia’s immigration and border protection policies. It is a shameful story that needed to be told. Mark Isaacs has rightly taken a stand against a policy of secrecy and lack of scrutiny that may have hidden the truth forever.” – Tim Costello, CEO, World Vision Australia
In Nauru Burning: An uprising and its aftermath, Mark Isaacs goes behind the veil of secrecy around Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres to reveal a climate of fear and hopelessness, culminating in the riot and fire which destroyed much of the Nauru regional processing centre in July 2013. The book reveals how the tinderbox ignited and examines the investigation into who was responsible. It is the story of the fight of the men in detention to prove their innocence, and of the workers who tried to help them.
Ultimately, it is a comment on the lack of accountability and oversight for service providers in the deliberately remote and closed environment of Australia’s offshore detention centres.
Do more with this book:
Some of the men in detention regularly harmed themselves: they burnt themselves with cigarette butts, they cut themselves with razor blades, they sewed their lips together with blunt paper clips. They told me they would prefer to do this rather than hurt anyone else. One man remained inside his room for 40 days, sleeping on blood-stained sheets, wrists scarred, a tombstone etched into his wall, an epitaph reading ‘seven months ago dead’.
One of the well-respected religious figures in the camp suffered a psychotic episode and was eventually sent to Australia for psychiatric treatment. Acts of violence occurred between the men detained in the RPC, with reports of harassment, bullying, and physical and sexual violence. Some men claimed that other asylum seekers threatened them with sexual and physical violence if they didn’t cause trouble in the centre.
Prior to 19 July 2013, there were just three ways of leaving the island: you could voluntarily return to your country of origin; you could be transferred to Australia for urgent medical care, usually in the form of psychiatric treatment; or you could take your own life. The first suicide attempts began just three weeks after the first men arrived in the centre. Deterrence in offshore detention centres is a system designed to erode hope and while it is difficult to capture the futility of detention centre life it is easy to account for the results that futility produces. The longer the men spent in those conditions, the more their mental health deteriorated, and the more violent their attempts to give themselves a voice became.
In the ten months after the centre first opened, there were two major violent incidents, often referred to as ‘riots’. These incidents involved a very small percentage of men detained within the RPC. The first of the two incidents occurred in September 2012 in reaction to a group of Iranian men being told that their RSD processing would take three to five years.
Both incidents were preceded by weeks of tension that created a pressure cooker-like atmosphere. At the time we called the escalating severity of incidents ‘the cycle of violence’. These two events should have acted as warning signals to the authorities.
My colleagues and I had been predicting a tragedy would occur in the centre for a long time. When I left the Nauru RPC in June 2013, the mood in the centre was heating up.