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He managed an offshore processing centre and says it's time to get kids off Nauru

Luke Richmond has never shared his experiences as a manager for offshore processing on Manus Island, until now.

I’ve never spoken publicly about my time on Manus Island. Even now, five years on, whenever Manus comes up, I immediately feel anxious, agitated and angry.

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All the stories you hear are real.

Pregnant mothers having miscarriages due to stress, hair and maggots in the food, not enough clothes and under-garments, asylum seekers using laundry detergent to clean themselves because there was no soap and water shortages on 50°C days.

Then there was the deluge of self-harm and mutilation. Hangings, sewing lips, hunger strikes, and asylum seekers jumping the centre’s fence to drown themselves in the surrounding ocean.

The most disturbing was when children could no longer go on. Cutting themselves and overdosing on pain killers to end it all.

I can relate to our new Prime Minister Scott Morrison – he recently shared at a Lifeline event, “I dropped to my knees in tears” over refugees. He said he had “sat in the middle of a camp in Myanmar with thousands of Rohingya refugees but also Burmese refugees”.

I can relate, because in the months before I went to Manus, I had been working on the Thai-Burma border. In Mae Sot, I heard stories of unimaginable horror and torture from women’s groups that I dare not repeat. A military junta controls that country with gruesome brutality.

Even with the terrible conditions on Manus, while I was there it was impossible to shake the experiences from Mae Sot out of my mind.

But, here’s the thing about offshore processing. One of the stated reasons for Australia doing it is that it acts as a deterrent. We want offshore processing to be so bad, that the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and military juntas are seen as a better option for people to go back to. This is utterly atrocious.

It’s no surprise that children are ‘begging to die’ on Nauru and have been diagnosed with ‘resignation syndrome’. With International Organisation for Migration agents encouraging refugees to go back to their original country, we have manufactured a place where children have been so brutalised, they are simply no longer able to function.

But we no longer need Nauru. Whether you support it or not, the policy of ‘turn backs’ has effectively stopped the boats from arriving in Australia. Scott Morrison can rightly display the trophy in his office that boasts ‘I stopped these’. So, what exactly is Nauru’s purpose?

While it was a weak and electorally desperate Julia Gillard government that reopened these centres, Morrison was one of the chief advocates for offshore processing, even staging media conferences outside schools in Nauru, saying they were at the ready to accept asylum seekers. Now, he has the power to close the centres. But he will not.

As Australian Christians, we need to prayerfully consider what we think is acceptable for our Christian Prime Minister to do.

I believe that Australia is called to be a generous nation. I believe that as Christians, we need to pray for our country to display the kindness and compassion that the Bible teaches.

Right now, our country is failing desperate people in need. People who have fled for their lives with little or nothing on their backs. We can and need to do better.

A prevailing image of a young Hazara man still stands out in my mind when I think of my time on Manus. His name was Ali. He sat slumped one day under a palm tree, savouring the little shade available. While Ali was sitting there, he was eating handfuls of sand. I looked into his eyes, and saw the total torment and tragedy as he was breaking down right in front of me.

This image needs to end. Over recent months, churches and other community groups have been rallying together and called for the end of offshore processing and to get kids off Nauru. This pressure was working. In the lead-up to the Wentworth by-election the federal government announced it would have kids off Nauru by Christmas. While recent reports suggest this decision is now waning, the pressure on the government needs to be maintained. As Christians we can lend our voice and call on the government to start offering protection and a brighter future for families and their children.

Matthew 25:40 – Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me.

Luke Richmond worked on Manus Island at the regional processing centre as a senior manager in 2013. During this time, children and families were being placed on Manus Island before being transferred to Nauru. This is the first time he has shared his experience publicly.

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