Manus Island refugees speak out

The Australian government’s barbaric refugee policies have claimed another life. Hamed Shamshiripour, a 31 year old who fled Iran, was found dead on 8 August near the East Lorengau Transit Centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

His mental health had deteriorated significantly in the past 12 months, but he had been neglected by the run-down health system provided to detainees in the Australian-run detention centre. He had also been terrorised by the local police. In one instance, Hamed was arrested, beaten and jailed for a month.

The circumstances surrounding Hamed’s death are unclear; while the government has announced it as a suicide, Hamed’s family is demanding an inquest. Detainee and journalist Behrouz Boochani said, “This is a very sad moment for all of us, and refugees believe that Hamed’s death was suspicious and needs an independent investigation”.

Hamed was the fifth refugee to have died on Manus since the detention centre was reopened by the Rudd Labor government in 2013.

Fellow detainees held a vigil for Hamed, remembering their friend. One of the attendees, Walid, addressed a Brisbane refugee rally via telephone on 11 August. “No one has enough patience, strength and energy to fight with the cruel policies inflicted upon us”, he said. “We lost another kind and caring friend. His parents lost their son to unjust policies, and Australia got more blood on their hands.

“Hamed’s death is not the only one to remember. It is with constant grief and anger at injustice that we also remember Reza Barati, Hamid Kehazaei, Kamil Hussain and Faysal Ishak Ahmed. We won’t forget them.”

Hamed’s death occurred in the context of the Immigration Department attempting to shut down compounds of the Manus Island centre to force detainees to the East Lorengau Transit Centre, which does not have a medical centre and is less secure.

This process began on 1 August, as power and water were cut off from the Foxtrot compound, which houses 100 people. Boochani, speaking to Ben Doherty of the Guardian, said, “I think in any culture in the world it’s so immoral to cut the power and water on innocent people who have committed no crime. We want to let every person in Australia know that your government is doing this immoral act to us”.

The Australian government has helped create an atmosphere that has encouraged violence against refugees. At Easter, Peter Dutton insinuated that shots fired by PNG sailors into the Manus Island compound were justified by suggesting that the refugees were paedophiles.

Detainees are fearful of violence from the locals, as dozens of assaults have occurred in the last few months with no repercussions. Boochani reported in a series of tweets on 8 August:

“A refugee has been beaten and is in critical condition in Pom hospital. They transferred him from Manus yesterday … [He] must be taken to Australia now. He has been vomiting blood for two days. Why wasn’t he sent urgently? The refugee in critical condition has a fractured skull. He probably has brain damage. He must be sent to Australia now.”

During this ordeal, the transcript of the conversation between Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump regarding the US refugee deal was leaked. In one line, Turnbull revealed the full extent of the cynical and calculated deceit that the deal represented. “The agreement … does not require you to take 2,000 people. It does not require you to take any”. Detainee Imran Mohammad, speaking to the Human Rights Law Centre, spoke of his despair after four years on Manus:

“I just cried as I was reading the transcripts of the most two powerful leaders in this world. Their words made me feel like I am just a product to them and I can be traded for anything. I am just a human being and there is no need to play with my life.”

Heroically, refugees have been resisting the shutting down of essential services in the detention centre, asserting their right to adequate facilities, as well as rejecting the notion that they must accept refugee status in PNG rather than Australia. Writing for Fairfax, Boochani reported on 8 August:

“The situation in Manus prison camp is critical right now. As I write, immigration officers and PNG police are attempting to enter the detention centre for the third time this morning … [The refugees] have started to peacefully protest every day, calling on immigration to restore power to the largest compound in Manus prison camp. Power, water, sanitation and cleaning services have all been cut, a terrible experience in crowded conditions and tropical heat.”

Detainees creatively reconnected Foxtrot compound by rewiring it from a neighbouring compound. Walid told Red Flag, “They cut the power to Foxtrot compound, but the guys got connection from Mike compound. Then Immigration came back with police to cut it again but the guys lay down in front of them and told them, ‘We will not let you to cut it down. You should provide us with a safe place, we can’t go to town, we can’t go to the transit centre’.

“Then Immigration told us, ‘You are violating PNG law’, and we told them we are not, that we are peaceful.”

In his speech in Brisbane, Walid appealed for action:

“Please talk to your friends in your office, universities and schools about our lives. Tell your friends and family. Tell everyone you meet about our situation … Our friends have been beaten, robbed and only on Monday we found one dead. Our lives are in the Australian government’s hands. Please stand for us. Yell for us.”