Salvos Worried About Nauru Chaos


Leaked documents from the Nauru processing facility reveal the early chaos of Australia’s controversial offshore detention centre.

Salvation Army Operations Meeting Minutes from 12 September 2012 to 21 September 2012 show the Salvation Army’s own views about the management of the facility. The documents, which were obtained by New Matilda and Detention Logs, reveal:

  • Salvation Army staff were not initially trained to cut-down or hold detainees who are hanging themselves and instead must call for security.
  • Poor communication between the Immigration Department and the Salvation Army, with one detainee left entirely off a flight manifest.
  • An outbreak of dysentery led to toilets being quarantined.
  • Staff were told to carry sticks to defend themselves against dog attacks.
  • Wilson Security Services have broached the idea of introducing “weapons” to the facility.

View the full meeting minutes here

From the very first day’s meeting it’s clear the Salvation Army faced problems in Nauru. The document describes how two female staff members from the Immigration Department and Wilson Security were attacked by dogs on the way to the Menem Hotel.

“People are advised to carry sticks in the interim as a deterrent,” the minutes read, under the section relating to “Workplace Health and Safety Incidents.”

But more concerning is the initial absence of medical supplies: “First commercial flight came in last night adequate medical kits did not come. IHMS to liaise with Canberra regarding priority of uplift otherwise they will procure their own transport as cargo is a priority.”

The daily meeting minutes are broken down into “sectional reports” from the organisations that work on Nauru: the Australian Defence Force, the Salvation Army, Transfield, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), the Immigration Department and Wilson Security Services.

The following day, on 13 September, an outbreak of dysentery by local guards who have been subcontracted by Wilsons led to the Salvation Army quarantining toilets:

“1 male ‘Stirling’ security guard contracted dysentery and used the ADF Female toilet. This had to be closed down due to hygiene. There are 2 quarantined toilets provided. There is currently a dysentery outbreak in the Mening Suburb of Nauru. No security personnel from this area will be employed until the outbreak is contained. If any personnel contract dysentery they are not to enter the OPC. They are to remain at the hotels and inform IHMS.”

As the week continued the relationship between the Salvation Army and the Immigration Department was already becoming strained, with last minute changes to flight manifests and one detainee not even appearing on a list with a group of detainees sent to Nauru on 21 September:

“There was one processing glitch where one person was not on the list but DIAC is following up on this. It was mentioned that perhaps there should have been an email from DIAC regarding the arrival of this group. There was no confirmation until 4pm on 20/09/12 when the manifest came through.”

“This was also the first indication of 2 kinds of ethnic groups which made things difficult. DIAC expressed that things changed very quickly at the last minute regarding the manifest.”

The Immigration Department’s concern about journalists’ presence at the facility is also revealed in the documents, with Salvation Army staff even advised to avoid discussing the facility in public places and Immigration staff keeping track of journalists’ cars.

In the DIAC service provider update on 16 September 2012 the minutes state that “more media will be arriving on Monday. Staff are to be aware and not to discuss ‘Topside’ in public areas. There are NO current plans for media to come onto the site.”

A further report on 20 September 2012 says that “security to evaluate times and plans for tours to minimise media involvement. Annette advised the need to be cautious so that media do not jeopardise the processing of residents and their families. DIAC public affairs dealing with the media. DIAC to inform Wilson’s regarding other media on the Island and details of there (sic) vehicles.”

The Immigration Department and its contractors have been criticised for their heavy-handed approach in dealing with journalists. Over a hundred of the reports compiled by Detention Logs relate to journalists’ presence at detention facilities around Australia.

Another leaked document also shows that Salvation Army staff were also not initially trained to deal with self-harm attempts by hanging. Instead, an internal policy manual explains how if a detainee is found hanging themselves, they have to find a security guard first to cut them down.

A document titled “Interim Procedure Suicide by Hanging” says, “Clients found to be hanging are to be afforded immediate attention and medical assistance within our scope of ability in the interim to prevent injury or death.”

“While there is no ‘cut-down’ ability in place for The Salvation Army Personnel will operate the following procedure.”

View the suicide by hanging policy document here

The documents then goes on to list a seven step process:

  1. As unobtrusively as possible go immediately to the closet Security staff person
  2. State “CODE BLUE”.
  3. Advise them of the precise location needing assistance to attend.
  4. Call the Salvo’s Duty Officer: 558 0090
  5. The Duty officer will attend immediately to provide support while arranging for another Salvo team member to take over the shift ASAP
  6. The Salvation Army will then focus supporting any clients who may be aware and encourage them to move away from the area
  7. Other Salvo team members on duty will be directed by the Duty Officer to be available for witnesses to the suicide or other tent occupants for support and debriefing

Serco Client Services Officers at mainland facilities are all trained to deal with hangings by detainees, and it’s unclear whether Salvation Army staff are now trained in cutdown procedures.

The Salvation Army advised New Matilda that all our questions for this story should be directed to DIAC.  “All question of an operational nature are an issue for DIAC. Questions about operational matters like this need to be directed their way.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Sandi Logan, said that “the department is satisfied that the arrangements in place for both itself and its subcontractors are appropriate”.

Do you have more information about the Nauru detention facility? Contact

If you need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If you need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Luke Bacon, Paul Farrell, and Lawrence Bull are the co-founders of Detention Logs, a project designed to bring accountability to Australia's immigration detention network.