Last week the Australian Government cut off water, power, and food supplies to some 600 men who are refusing to leave its controversial offshore detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. The centre was set to be permanently closed after the PNG government ruled it unconstitutional to detain people indefinitely. But the detainees have barricaded themselves inside, fearing violence from locals if they leave the centre for other accommodation.
As the standoff enters its second week, there are reports that food and medical supplies are dwindling. According to The Guardian, "a military blockade is stopping further supplies coming in or independent observers accessing the centre." Back in Australia, the government has rejected responsibility for the men, as well as an offer from New Zealand to take 150 of them. Peter Dutton is squabbling with the UNHCR over the definition of "human rights abuse," while the Greens' Adam Bandt labeled the immigration minister a "terrorist" at a rally in Melbourne over the weekend.
But what's missing from this very public debate are the stories of the men on Manus. Not just the harsh reality they are surviving right now, but their lives up until this point. Their dreams, their ambitions. Their voices.
VICE reached out to some of the men currently barricaded inside the Manus Island detention centre, with a single question: If you could say anything to the people of Australia right now, what would you want them to know?
K Shamindan, 26
Politicians and Australians,
I'm a refugee who has been detained on Manus Island PNG under the Australian government's border protections policy. I have been detained for the last four years with no hope.
I'm writing to bring your attention about this situation and to our suffering under this policy. You may be aware of this situation but I'd like to share my burden with you and plead you to stop giving support to our devastating situation.
I have lost more than 1,300 days in detention. I could have studied or learnt new skills for my future. I have done nothing for the last four years other than worrying and wasting my time. What is my fault? What have I done to be detained indefinitely?
I was a marketing executive, and I aspire to be a veterinarian. I would have started my study during these past four wasted years. We would have been able to contribute to Australia rather than to be dumped here for the last four years.
There are doctors, engineers, teachers, technicians, and qualified young men among us. Their energy and talents are being wasted here. It's a huge loss to Australia. We would have been able to contribute to Australia's economy and help bring it to be the number one nation in the world.
We have always been treated like criminals and I ask you what was our crime to be treated like this? We had no choice but to flee our home land and leave our families.
In here, I am given options when I raise any complaints or requests. The first option is to wait until it is processed and because that takes a long time, I am told to be patient. The second option is that I can can return to my country with IOM [International Organization for Migration] support. This means returning back to danger where the people escaped to protect themselves and seek protection in the first place.
We have always been indirectly forced and intimidated to return back to where we come from. If it [was] safe to return, we would have returned back to our countries years ago.
Why should we be trapped here with no hope for the past four years? We have family, we are also human beings like you… Imagine when someone's father or mother or anyone in his family passes away and he can't even attend the funeral. How would he feel when he can't give his last respect to his mother or father who has raised them with love and good morals?
We have always been humiliated by workers in the camp who would verbally hurt us. They always told us, “You're having this food and facility from my tax which I pay from my income.” Some days I find myself crying all day and it mentally affects me but I can’t do anything other than cry and worry.
We all come from good respected families. We have been brought up decently with discipline and morals. We are not here to take your tax money or anything else. We just need a safe place to live, that's all we want.
This is the time to open your heart and mind and show some compassion for us. Please, we just want a safe place to live. I'm pleading to you. The Australian Prime Minister has rejected New Zealand’s offer saying if they settle us in New Zealand the boats will come.
This is a human rights breach. For the last four and a half years they have been torturing us. For the last seven days the Australian government has officially stopped food, water, and electricity. Even if we become extremely sick we can't get medical service. There is no choice, the alternative option is to die—this is what they want. It's an international obligation to help these people but no one is willing to. Where is UN, ICRC and other humanitarian organisations? We are slowly dying, there is no hope for our futures. So now we have no hope. The Australian government plans to detain us here forever in order to protect their policy and borders.
I have a question for the Australian government and the world: what are you going to do? Do you want us to die here in this hell?
Dear Australian people, my heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you for your continued support. Please help us, the public is the government, and government is for the public. We leave our lives in your hands.
Behrouz Boochani, 34
We are the forgotten prisoners who have been peacefully resisting the abuse of our human rights for three months now.
We are the men who did not come to PNG by our own will but were forcibly transported by Australia to be held hostage in this prison camp and systematically tortured for more than four and a half years.
We are the men whose bodies and lives are used violently for political gain—Australia’s policy of deterrence.
And we are saying ENOUGH.
It is our human right to seek asylum, to be settled in safety, to be free. As we peacefully resist being moved from one prison to another, the Australian and PNG governments are further violating our human rights. They have cut water, food and medication to us and are even stopping local people from bringing these basic supplies to us.
We’re not on hunger strike.
There is no food, medical treatment, sanitation or water. We are like refugees from war. We are calling on international organisations to help us.
We are asking the Red Cross and MSF [Doctors Without Borders] to take action and help us in this harsh situation.
We are asking that international and independent journalists be allowed into the prison camp to report on what is happening. So far they have been prevented by the Australian and PNG governments.
Our situation is critical.
Australians, do not be silent. Liberal and Labor have created a humanitarian emergency under your name. We see that the world is watching, and is horrified at what Australia is doing and we ask them to act.
We are peaceful people and we are starving and dehydrated. Many of us are getting sick. Basic supplies organised by local people are being turned away and the kind people who are trying to help us in Manus are being arrested. How can anyone have a right to deprive humans of access to basic supplies?
All the refugees who are here are here of their own will. No one is forcing them to stay. To say that people in Australia are manipulating us to stay is a big insult against us. We are human, we are intelligent, we are the ones who know our situation. We make our own decisions and the reason we are not leaving is because freedom and safety are our right. When you hear your politicians say that we are manipulating them to come to Australia please know that we are tired of how Australia has tortured us for more than four years. All we ask for is a safe third country, a place that respects our human rights, has the resources to settle us and will allow us freedom.
From Manus camp I ask the people around Australia to think about what your government is doing and say no to fascist thinking. From Manus camp I want to remind you that what is happening in Manus is under your name. From Manus camp we ask people in Australia and all around the world to make a stand for our human rights, for our freedom.
From Manus camp we say to you that this is about freedom. Only freedom.
S Vinoth, 27
I'm S Vinoth, a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee who has been detained as political prisoner on Manus Island Detention centre for the past four and a half years.
I fled my homeland to Australia by boat to seek protection as I was persecuted, tortured, and imprisoned by Sri Lankan authorities. Since I was 17 I had been displaced and affected by the Civil War. When I was 19 the Sri Lankan army arrested me and detained for three years, when I was released I still faced persecution by the authorities. I had no choice but to escape my country.
I had no choice, so in July 2013 I decided to take the risky boat journey. We were 68 people in the small boat. It took 20 days to reach Cocos Island. It was a very dangerous journey, I didn't know if I would survive at one stage when our boat engine went down. But eventually we got to a safe place, Cocos island.
We stayed there for couple of days and were then transferred to Christmas Island. I was there for 45 days. Some people from the same boat were deported to Sri Lanka.
Then I was transferred to Manus island against to my will. The security bound my hands when they boarded me on the plane—was I a criminal to be treated like this?
I was told that I would be resettled within six months in PNG when I first arrived on Manus. Since I arrived on Manus I have been mentally affected. This institution has made me mentally sick. Fifteen months after arriving on Manus, the first interview was started. I was found to be a refugee after 30 months. I have been detained in this prison, up until the court ruled this detention centre was illegal.
I have been suffering with lack of facilities up to now. Still both Australian and PNG governments have no plane to settle us in a safe third country. They keep planning to dump us in detention centres for their political career.
Now the Australian government has simply abandoned me on PNG. What is my state now? I'm completely desperate. My life is in limbo. I sought safety in Australia but the Australian government has destroyed my future.
Please help me.
S Thanuraj, 29
I'm writing this from Manus detention centre and I would say this is not a detention centre, it's a torturing centre. I'm 29 years old, and have been tortured for the last four and half years.
I'm a human being, but I haven't been treated like a human. I was always treated like an animal, there is no difference between my life and an animal in a cage.
I was forcibly transferred from Christmas Island to Manus against to my will like a criminal. Since I was transferred to Manus up until now I've been fighting for my freedom. Even the worst criminal knows how long he will be imprisoned for, he knows his deadline of his sentence, but we don't know how long we will be detained and when we will be released. The interesting thing is I have done nothing wrong to be detained, I have been detained with no crime.
I have seen my friends grow mentally ill and suffer a lot. One friend of mine has committed suicide, I have never experienced such a horrible experience in my life. I'm thankful of my God I'm still alive even though I'm traumatised and fed up with this life.
For the last four years I have lost all of my joys and my happiness. The Australian Government keep saying they have stopped the boats and saved many lives but they have forgotten there are six innocent people who have died in their control.
I have a question for all of you. Have you ever experienced punishment or imprisonment without committing any crime? I am experiencing this punishment. What is the legality of detaining innocent people to protect your borders and your political careers? We are being detained as political prisoners.
For the past four years we have seen different governments and politicians come to power but our situation hasn’t changed, and all the while our hope has turned to disappointment.
The UNHCR and other organisations have condemned the Australian refugee policy but the Australian politicians keep continuing this policy and treat us badly. It seems as though they are deliberately punishing us of their own will. These few politicians determined to follow this policy has effectively caused problems to all of us, not only who has been detained here but also their family.
The government was selected buy the Australian public but the government doesn't listen to their own people. No respect for their voters and wasting the Australian’s tax.
How would you feel if this kind of tragedy was happening to your family member - your son, your daughter, father or mother who you love? How would you feel if your children or parents or were forced to have to drink dirty water and stay with no food?
I have never seen or heard of this kind of awful existence. I have no words to express my burdens. Please help us.
I'm Sriangan Sugendran, a 37-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil refugee currently detained on Manus.
In 2013, I arrived on Christmas Island and was forcibly moved to Manus Island detention centre. I have faced unbearable hardships since transferring to Manus. I witness self harm and other mistreatment every single day. I feel like a slave in this institution. We have no hope for our future.
In February 2015 I was found to be refugee, but so far nothing has happened. There has been no improvement in my state and no sign of resettlement. There is pressure on us to move out of the detention to the local community to be settled, but I refuse to because PNG is incapable of giving protection and support to us.
I have lost will to live here but I would never do such a thing as to end my life because I want to start a new life somewhere, in a safe country. I'm looking forward to starting a new life in a safe country other than PNG. But the Australian government keeps torturing us. They have no plan to settle us in a safe country.
We didn't make this risky boat journey for economical reasons, but only to seek protection and a safe life. I would have gone to my home country if I wasn't a genuine refugee—why would I waste four and half years and suffer with this situation?
I've completely had enough of this life and I can't bear hard times anymore. Please let us start our life and to think of my future.
I would like to thank the Australians who have been supporting us, welcoming us to Australia. Your support is uplifting our morals.
Please help us. We are completely hopeless.
If you want the Australian Government to take action on the situation on Manus Island, call your local MP. Here's how to do it:
- Find the details for your local member of parliament here
- Call them. You can email, but a five-minute call is going to make a much bigger impression
- State your name, suburb, and ask to speak to your local member
- You'll probably just have to leave a message: so tell them how you feel about the issue. Are you concerned about the health and safety of these men? Do you want your MP to back calls to #BringThemHere?
- Be respectful and polite, but be firm. This is your representative, you're allowed to ask for these things
Malcolm Turnbull (02) 6277 7700
Julie Bishop (02) 6277 7500
Peter Dutton on (02) 6277 7860
Bill Shorten (02) 6277 4022
Tanya Plibersek (02) 6277 4400