A small symbolic protest in the rain was held outside the Commonwealth government offices in Bligh St, Sydney on June 16.
The action marked the submission of a petition to the Senate with 65,000 signatures calling for the immediate closure of Manus Island and Nauru asylum seeker detention centres.
These Australian offshore asylum seeker detention centres were disasters that could not be fixed, Nicole Judge, a whistleblower and former worker at both centres, told the protest which was organised by the Sydney Refugee Action Coalition.
Green Left Weekly caught up with Judge after the protest.
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You said the situation at the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres could not be fixed. Why is that?
There is definitely no way that those centres can be bettered and they should be closed down. They've tried and failed to “improve” things there. Indefinite detention of asylum seekers is just not a solution.
The asylum seekers in these camps try their best to keep positive — incredibly sometimes more positive than many of us are — despite their terrible living conditions and the bad way they are treated.
They don't have any hope for the future. This leads to a whole range of mental issues.
What about the children in Nauru?
The children that I worked with may not have fully understood the situation they were in but they were definitely affected by being in confinement and from their poor conditions. Some of them didn't even have shoes, proper clothing or toys. There were no facilities for children. There was a playground there but it had been fenced off — so they could not get into the playground.
It was not a good place for children to be in, especially after conflicts between the asylum seekers and sections of the local population began to flare up in riots in 2013. Nauruan nationals got into the camp — I saw them myself. They didn't want asylum seekers on the island any more.
I lived on Nauru for a year and in general the Nauruans are friendly people but the cross-cultural issues between the asylum seekers and the Nauruans have not been addressed. And conflict continue to flare up.
The same goes for Manus Island. The Manus Islanders don't understand the asylum seekers' way of life and why they come. For their part, the asylum seekers don't want to be there. So you have tensions that are constantly being tested.
What do think of the Australian government's offer to resettle some of these asylum seekers in Cambodia?
I've been to Cambodia and I can't believe that they would even consider resettling asylum seekers there. I don't think there is any decent life for asylum seekers in Cambodia. The living conditions of Cambodian people are pretty dire as it is.
This scheme is simply the Australian government shirking its responsibility and trying to ship these asylum seekers off to some place out of sight and out of mind.
I think this is the whole purpose of the system, the purpose of Nauru, Manus and Christmas Island detention centres. Also the more remote onshore detentions centres in places like Darwin.
They don't want the Australian people to know that these asylum seekers coming to Australia are real people with real problems. So the further away they can get them, the better for their purpose.
Has there been any official pressure on you not to speak out about your experiences on Manus Island and Nauru?
I testified at the Senate inquiry into the camps last year so I could speak under parliamentary privilege.
Obviously , I signed a confidentiality agreement as a a condition of my employment. So far nothing official has come from that. But I am not really worried. If they pursue me we'll make a big issue of it so it may not be in the best interest of the authorities to pursue people like me for simply speaking the truth.
Protest outside Commonwealth government offices in Sydney on June 16. Photo by Rachel Evans.
Nicole Judge addressing the protest. Photo by Peter Boyle.