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Manus Island work by Salvation Army a failure, says former worker

The Salvation Army was a poor cultural fit and ill-equipped to manage the difficult situation on the Manus Island detention centre, a former worker has alleged.

The worker, who has spoken on condition of anonymity, has described a ''systematic failure'' of the Salvation Army's work on the offshore processing centre in Papua New Guinea, including the way it handled allegations of rape among detainees and incompetent psychological care provided to asylum seekers.

''There was no accountability, no structure, no case management system,'' said the worker, who was on the island last year. ''There was no management plan; we had to make them up on the run.''

The latest allegations mirror those of Mark Isaacs, a former Salvation Army worker who was stationed on Australia's other offshore detention centre in Nauru and wrote a book about his experiences.

In The Undesirables, the 26-year-old describes the inadequacy of the organisation, where many young workers who were sent to the detention centre with less than a few days notice did not even understand what an asylum seeker was.

''The implementation of the mission was very different to the ideals for the Salvation Army,'' he said.

The Salvation Army's $74 million, 18-month contract to provide activities and counselling for detainees on Manus Island ended last month.

The worker agreed that in the initial stages of the mission, many case workers were not trained to deal with asylum seekers who suffered from trauma or human rights abuses. Many workers had expertise in natural disasters such as fires or floods but not trauma counselling, the worker said.

''If they were Christian, they [were] more likely to be approved,'' the worker said. ''They sent over officers and management whose background was counselling people who had been stuck in floods and natural disaster training.

''That was the main issue - they thought they could replicate a naive and simplistic model of care into the camp.''

The worker said rape among detainees was common. ''The younger boys in the compound were a target among the Iraqi and Iranian men,'' they said. ''No service provider knew what they were doing.''

A Salvation Army spokesman has disputed claims that staff were not able to deal with the issues on Manus Island, saying staff had constant support and ''a range of training was available'' depending on their roles.

He said that all instances of mistreatment were required to be reported.

''We have robust systems and procedures in place to ensure proper reporting is carried out,'' the Salvation Army spokesman said.

As inquiries are being made into the death of asylum seeker Reza Barati, the worker claims that during 2013, the relationship between detainees and local police was concerning. Weapons and, in one instance, a home-brewing kit, were found in the detainees' rooms.

''There was a lot of fraternising with the detainees between the police and a lot of conversations,'' the worker said, adding these were often conducted between the compound fences.

The government is yet to hand down its findings of its inquiry into last month's fatal violence on Manus Island, headed by Robert Cornall.

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