A few months back, when I was working on a story about the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre, I was introduced via correspondence to an Iranian detainee. I'll call him Mahmud. He'd be incarcerated since 2013 and we spoke about his day-to-day life, the violence, boredom, and the insufferable heat with no end in sight. Then when I asked him about the day his boat was picked up he became upset. "I wish I was drowned and not to be in this misery. Honestly drowning is much better."
This is likely representative of how most of the 900-odd detainees feel. Since the Australian Government clamped down on unofficial arrivals, and began stashing asylum seekers on a remote Papua New Guinean Island, the facilities population has swelled without any long-term resettlement plans. In fact, more detainees have died on Manus Island from beatings and tropical infections than have been resettled. It's a situation that's repeatedly attracted the ire of the UN, yet Australia remains wholly committed to the mess.
Now it seems detainees are breaking. On Monday Human Rights Lawyer Julian Burnside published a transcript from a letter Mahmud wrote to Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton. Like most stuff leaked out of Manus, it's utterly bleak.
The letter requests "something different," and pleads for their expedited deaths. "We would like to give you some recommendations to stop the waste of this huge amount of money," it reads, "ruining Australian's reputation [sic] and to keep the Australian boarders [sic] safe forever."
It then offers several ways for the 600 signees to be euthanized. "A navy ship that can put us all on board and dump us all in the ocean, a gas chamber, injection of a poison."
To find out what prompted this harrowing cry for help, I contacted my friend Muhmud. The following was communicated via social media and has been lightly edited for clarity.
VICE: Hi, Mahmud. Can you confirm who wrote this letter?
Mahmud: I did it.
Did others also work with you on the wording, or the suggestions?
Yes, especially the ways of killings. For example, one community was suggesting drowning and the other was saying gas chamber.
What prompted this?
Recently Immigration is telling us there is no country that will accept us on this planet. They are literally torturing and traumatizing us with their system (which is a planned proper system to break us down). So when we found out they will keep doing this and we will be experiencing gradual death for the rest of our lives in here why not ask them to execute us instead?
How did you get the letter signed by so many people who speak different languages?
There were Muslims queuing to [sign] it when the prayer time was done. I have sent it to other compounds to be signed as well. I have written many letters but I have not seen much interest in them to be signed as this one.
How were you able to get it between compounds?
But did they really understand what they were agreeing to? Do they all really want to die?
Yes, they understood, especially when it came to the bit about the gas chamber and the Navy to dump us in the ocean. There were people who were saying I will be the first person to queue once they want to start killing .
How do you think the Australian Government will respond to this letter?
We don't know. Normally Australians don't respond to us, the bunch of rubbish.
What do you think will happen there if the letter is ignored?
Not sure, maybe we write one more or maybe more deaths. Anything can happen and nothing might happen.
What do you mean more deaths ?
Medical illness due to stress leads to death. People here go insane as the guy who is gone ill mentally the other day. Hangings. Hunger strikes.
When we last spoke things were bad, but it seems they're worse now. What has changed?
Just the messages from Immigration telling us no country will accept us. The treatment by the guards here, and especially the [Emergency Response Team]. Many things that are intended to break us.
What do you do all day?
Nothing. Same shit, different days. Recently I am tired of eating, speaking, showering, and people. I'm tired of myself.
If you, or someone you know may be thinking about suicide, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the Mental Health America website.
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