They have committed no crime but in fleeing the destitution of Gaza, “the world’s largest open air prison”, 17 Palestinian asylum seekers now find themselves in one of the world’s most remote concentration camps.
The group was transferred from Christmas Island to Nauru on 25 May by the Australian government. This is the first group of Palestinian nationals to be sent to the camp and the 17th overall since the hell hole was re-opened in September last year. “Atif” (not his real name) is one of those now incarcerated on the austere island 2,500 km north east of Papua New Guinea. He spoke to Red Flag’s Sawsan Hassan about conditions at the camp.
What are conditions like in the camp?
The mood is horrible here. People are very depressed. I have been here one month and I want to kill myself already. There are some people that have been here for nine months. I don’t know how they are still alive.
When we got here, we were confused we didn’t know what was going on and why we were there. The conditions are horrible. It is so hot, it’s unbearable. One of my friends went into shock and collapsed and was taken to the hospital and from what we heard he is still in shock. We came here because we thought that Australia is world number one protector of human rights. We never dreamed this would happen to us.
We are treated like animals. If I had an animal I would treat it so much better than they treat us. This is inhumane. Do they think we came here because we are bad people? We are not; we needed to escape the horrible life we are living in Gaza. In here every day people are attempting suicide, every day! And every day there are people on hunger strike. But hunger strike is useless here because they will let you die, they don’t really care. No cameras or journalists are allowed in here. Being in prison would be better because at least I would know how long my sentence is. Here I know nothing.
Why did you leave Gaza?
I left Gaza because it is unliveable there. There is constant bombing, there is rubble everywhere, there is no greenery, there are no jobs and to top this all off there is an economic siege which doesn’t allow for enough of the basics to come through like food and drinking water. The water we drink in Gaza is salty; it is not fit for animal consumption let alone human. We can’t even get married or start a family because there is no money for marriage or to have children. I could not live there any longer. I had to get out.
My family is still in Gaza. They wished me well but they did not want me to leave. They were so worried for my safety, but at the same time we cannot live there, because our safety is compromised.
Have you been on hunger strike?
Yes of course, but they don’t care. They know all I want is freedom. I don’t care about food, take all the food, just give me freedom. I left Gaza to find freedom, I am desperate to just live a normal life where I’m free and treated as a human.
I haven’t even seen a lawyer. I keep asking for one, we all keep asking. They say they will get them but they never come. I saw a lawyer only once and pleaded to find out if he could help us and he said he would but it’s been so long and still I have heard nothing.
What do you do all day?
We just sit and worry, what else is there to do? I talk to the other people in the camp, but they are like me, so worried. I am allowed to use the internet two hours a week. It is horrible. There is nothing to do and no one to help us. They have a point system here where you get 40, 45 and 50 point a day and when you gather enough points you can use them to buy cigarettes and clothes, but it is not enough. It is so hard to eat and sleep because it is so hot.
Do you have contact with your family?
I called them when I got to Christmas Island to tell them I am okay and not to worry, that I was in the safe hands of the Australian military and that they are taking good care of me.
Do they know you are now in Nauru?
No, and I would never tell them. They will lose all hope in getting out of Gaza and they will worry for my safety. They have enough to deal with there. I will only talk to them again to tell them I am safe in Australia.
What do you want people in Australia to do?
I want you to please help us. We are treated like animals…get us out of here. We are being treated like we are vicious criminals. We haven’t done anything wrong. We deserve human rights. We don’t understand why the Australian government is doing this to us. I have lost most of my hope. The thing that will keep me going is that I know you will tell people in Australia what is happening to us so they can fight for us too.