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Response to questions asked about the involvement of The Salvation Army in Nauru and Manus island

6 November 2012

Since commencing this work, The Salvation Army has sought to be as transparent and open as possible with the Australian public.

The Salvation Army recognises many people are fiercely opposed to the policy of offshore processing and our position in opposing the policy of offshore processing is also well known.

However, as much as we may wish the current policy and discourse in Australia were different, the policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea (Manus Island) is now a reality (both major Australian political parties support the legislation).

The reality is that asylum seekers are being transferred to Nauru and Manus Island, and because of this, there is a need for an organisation to provide basic welfare and support services, in what we all agree and acknowledge are very difficult conditions.

The Salvation Army is doing all it can to care for the people being transferred to Nauru and Manus Island. Please note that many of our staff are living in the same tents as the asylum seekers, and enduring the same heat. Those staff who are fortunate enough to be living in a motel room are sharing it with up to 4 or more other staff, all sharing the same room and facilities. They eat the same food as the asylum seekers and work 10 hour shifts amongst them, in the same area where they live.

We have not yet been able to deliver everything we had planned, but we are working towards offering a wide range of educational and recreational opportunities. We are advocating for better facilities and we have seen the plans developed for them. We agree this is not an ideal situation, but every day we are with the people, doing what we can to make things more bearable.

It has deeply saddened me to hear the attacks by some people in the community on our organisation and our people, almost all of which are based on inaccurate information and allegations. It astounds me that some people who oppose this policy, and say they care for the refugees, have decided to attack one of the organisations that is prepared to go into the heat and harshness of this environment to be with the people. We are not the authors of this policy, but it must be stressed that if we were not present, the welfare of the people transferred to Nauru would be fully in the hands of the security, medical and facilities services. The asylum seekers realise this and consistently tell us they want The Salvation Army to stay.

We cannot be swayed by these unfounded attacks. We will stay while ever the asylum seekers want and need us. If the asylum seekers did not want us present, and if we were unable to be a positive influence in this difficult period of their lives, there would be no purpose in us being there. I know from daily feedback from my staff on the ground in Nauru how much the asylum seekers do appreciate our efforts.

It is easy to sit in our comfortable houses in Australia, thousands of kilometres from Nauru and Manus Island, attacking and writing harsh words about our organisation. That is everyone's democratic right, but we ask people to please deal in truth and not spread rumours and stories without foundation or evidence.

We will always attempt to answer allegations and genuine questions about our care of the people. No organisation is perfect, and we will probably make mistakes during this difficult operation, but we are committed to learning and we are committed to the people.

The following list of answers is provided to answer some of the questions which have been asked of us.

If you have a genuine question about our activities in Nauru and Manus Island, please feel free to write to us at: offshoresupport@aue.salvationarmy.org

1. Does The Salvation Army support mandatory detention and offshore processing?

The Salvation Army has never supported the policy of mandatory detention or the offshore processing of asylum seekers. We have made our position clear publicly and to the Government directly that it is not a policy which we agree with, and below are our previous statements on this issue:

2. If The Salvation Army opposes mandatory detention and offshore processing, why have you agreed to provide services in Nauru and Manus Island?

The Salvation Army's calling is not just to engage in debate and discussion, but to stand with, and work alongside people who are suffering and vulnerable. We want to do what we can in this harsh environment to advocate and represent the needs of those affected by it, and to try and make a difficult situation a little more tolerable for them.

Our presence in the Regional Processing Centres in Nauru and Manus Island does not mean we support the policy of offshore processing, just as our presence serving tea and coffee and providing encouragement to our frontline troops in WW1 and WW2 did not mean we support war or violence.

It must be stressed that while The Salvation Army may disagree with particular policies, we always have, and will, be in places where there is suffering or need.

It is not in the heart of The Salvation Army to walk away from people when they are alone and at the most desperate point in their lives. For The Salvation Army to withdraw from Nauru, would leave these people's care lacking. One of the asylum seekers said to a Salvation Army Officer as he was leaving Nauru recently: “Please don't take The Salvation Army from this place. You are our only hope.”

It is perfectly reasonable to object to a policy, but still be fully engaged in providing humanitarian assistance to those affected by the policy. This is the situation The Salvation Army are in and we will stay the course as long as our support is wanted and needed by the asylum seekers.

3. I have heard people say The Salvation Army has defended the conditions in Nauru, is this true?

The Salvation Army has never "defended" the Nauru Regional Processing Centre or disagreed with the asylum seekers claims it is a harsh environment. Our statement on 30 October was not a public media release or a defence of the centre, but a response to specific questions asked to our organisation about the availability of water, food, fans and health services. We answered these questions honestly.

4. There have been claims The Salvation Army monitors and has denied asylum seekers access to internet facilities, is this true?

The Salvation Army does not monitor asylum seekers use of the Internet. It runs a booking system for the asylum seekers to ensure everyone has equitable access to the room and the limited facilities which are available at this time. No monitoring of asylum seekers computer usage has ever been undertaken by our organisation or staff.

5. Why do you refer to asylum seekers as “transferees” and not asylum seekers or refugees?

The word “transferee” is a term used by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to denote the status of asylum seekers who have been transferred to a Regional Processing Centre while their claims are processed. The Salvation Army does not use this term in their interactions with the asylum seekers on Nauru, nor do the staff ever refer to them by their boat identification number. Salvation Army staff are asked to use the name of the asylum seeker in all interactions with them.

6. Has The Salvation Army ever attempted to stop or interfere in protest actions undertaken by asylum seekers?

Asylum Seekers on Nauru do at times organise peaceful protests to draw attention to their plight and suffering. At no time have Salvation Army staff ever sought to interfere in these protests and have never confiscated banners or the removing of any signs during any protest at the Nauru Regional Processing Centre.

Such an action would not be sanctioned or condoned by our organisation and we do not believe that it has happened. In fact, due to procedural requirements at the Regional Processing Centre, Salvation Army staff are not present on site when protests take place.

The Salvation Army fully supports the rights of asylum seekers to engage in peaceful protests and to communicate their views and feelings.

7. How is The Salvation Army funding its welfare services in Nauru and Manus Island?

The Salvation Army has entered into a contract with the Federal Government that covers the full cost of operating its services for Asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island. No funds donated to The Salvation Army for providing services to disadvantaged Australians are being used to undertake this work.

The Salvation Army is an Australian Christian Charity, whose financial records are audited and published each year, and who is required to observe the highest standard of integrity and transparency. The Salvation Army does not undertake any work to secure a profit for any individual or the organisation. Any surplus generated from this activity will be redirected to programs for refugees, the local community at Nauru and Manus Island, and initiatives for disadvantaged Australians.

8. There have been reports The Salvation Army denied asylum seekers access to internet facilities until they apologised for statements made to the media, is this true?

False claims have emerged that the Salvation Army sought an apology from the asylum seekers before allowing them to use the Internet room following protest action on Thursday 1 November. The Salvation Army categorically denies that any Salvation Army staff member has ever asked for or demanded an apology from asylum seekers.

In fact, a senior Salvation Army staff member at a meeting with representatives of the asylum seekers, which was witnessed by other service provider staff, apologised to the asylum seekers that The Salvation Army was unable to assist in the Internet room due to the fact that our staff were not permitted to be on site while they undertook protest actions.

9. Is The Salvation Army providing for the diverse spiritual needs of the asylum seekers?

The Salvation Army, following required protocols, has placed a significant order for a range of educational and recreational equipment that will be of use and benefit to the asylum seekers. This equipment has begun to arrive and includes copies of the Bible in all languages, as well as other religious books for people of other faiths.

10. Does The Salvation Army advocate for the needs of the asylum seekers?

The Salvation Army is certainly not ignoring its role to advocate for better conditions for the asylum seekers, or to raise matters that it believes are impacting the asylum seekers wellbeing. The Salvation Army is continuing to advocate strongly for an improvement in facilities at Nauru, and has made representation to the relevant minister. The Salvation Army also works with human rights organisations to promote the needs of asylum seekers.

Finally, there are people who are seeking to attack the policy of the government by attacking The Salvation Army for its involvement in caring for asylum seekers transferred to offshore processing centres. They see this as a way to further their agenda against the government policy of offshore processing, and the truth is of little consequence to them.

The Salvation Army asks fair minded Australians to objectively consider the facts that have been presented here.

Paul Moulds AM (Major)

Territorial Director Social Mission and Resources
Australian Eastern Territory