Refugees in the Manus Island detention centre stopped protesting on Monday, 2 October, after having marched and chanted in the tropical sun for 62 days continuously. But they weren’t celebrating victory or suffering a decisive defeat. For one day, they paused to mourn the death of one of their own.
Earlier that day, Rajeev Rajendran, a 32-year-old Tamil refugee, was found dead – yet another death at the hands of the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Rajeev had survived the brutal last days of the genocidal war under Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa regime in 2009 and made his way almost to Australia, but was seized and transferred to Manus Island in 2013. There he stayed for four years, despite being granted official refugee status.
Rajeev endured the constant repression and torture of permanent mandatory detention in a squalid concentration camp.
The night Rajeev died, refugees held a memorial service. The following day, for the 63rd time, dozens of the remaining refugees in the Manus Island camp gathered their hand-drawn placards, raised their voices and marched.
They began their daily protests in late July, amid the drawn-out farce of the US “refugee swap”. The protests have been met with cruel retaliation. Authorities turned off the power and restricted access to food and water, but the protests continue.
While their demands target the jailers and murderers in the Australian government, they also challenge the rest of us to deliver genuine solidarity. One placard sums it up: “We lost another brother. How many more do you want Dutton? Australian people, are you happy with that?”