'Disgusting Is the Least I Can Say'

Hamid Kehazaei, a Manus Island detainee, is now brain dead after a cut to his foot went septic. We spoke to a former detainee who knew him and the conditions that lead to his demise.

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05 September 2014, 7:17am


Hamid Kahazaei was pronounced brain dead when a cut on his foot became infected.

Three weeks ago Hamid Kehazaei nicked his foot. Nothing serious, unless that is you happen to be jammed inside a seething tropical detainment camp, where wading through sewerage is part of the daily commute. For over a year now the 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker had languished within Australia’s refugee processing facility on the remote Papua New Guinean outcrop of Manus Island. The cut quickly became infected and he contracted cellulitis, which in turn progressed to septicaemia: a flood of bacteria into the bloodstream that prompts organ dysfunction. It worked Kehazaei over like guerrilla warfare, forcing his body to destroy its own infrastructure in pursuit of the enemy within. As the inflammation took hold, Kehazaei hoped that perhaps he might get some treatment.


Inside the Foxtrot compound.

Hossein Babaahmady said the response was underwhelming. Himself a former inmate of Manus Island, Babaahmady agreed to be sent back to his native Iran in November last year after 75 days in confinement. He remains in constant contact with those he left back on Manus.

“When there was infection and pain (Kehazaei) filled the form to meet with IHMS (International Health and Medical Service) and their response was clear: nothing to worry about, ointment and common medications,” he told VICE.

Eventually though, it clicked that things were looking pretty grim for the young man from Tehran. Last Tuesday staff made the call to medivac him to the nearest appropriate hospital, 2800 kilometres away in Brisbane. During the evacuation Kehazaei suffered a heart attack, arriving in Australia completely brain dead.

According to Babaahmady, that’s when someone decided the Manus Island facility staff better do a bit of tidying up. P-dorm was top of the list, reputed to offer the worst conditions in the Foxtrot compound where Kehazaei was housed.


Compound floor.

 “They are trying to evacuate about 20 Sudanese who don’t want to leave the block,” Babaahmady said.

“(The Sudanese) say: ‘why now? You're doing this because someone has died and we've been here for over a year.’

“They will use force if they do not evacuate.”

 Babaahmady himself spent nine days sweltering in P-dorm, sharing two fans with 111 bunkmates.

“Disgusting is the least I can say,” he said.

 “Unhygienic conditions, malaria, cholera, AIDS, typhoid, mental illnesses, fungal diseases... is it enough to call it disgusting?”

An Amnesty International report released late last year backed up Babaahmady’s assessment, featuring accounts of flooding and snakes.

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition told VICE numerous detainees had complained to his organisation about having to wade through sewerage.

“Whenever there is high tide, heavy rains, or alternatively when there is not enough water and the toilets empty out, sewerage goes everywhere,” he said.

Speaking on Friday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said officials had been in “constant contact” with Kehazaei’s relatives, but that he could not disclose any more on the matter in order to “respect the wishes and privacy” of the family.


Compound shower.

Awkwardly, the family themselves have been more than willing to speak to media, with Kehazaei’s mother and brother offering up detailed accounts to Guardian Australia of how they had to call the Brisbane hospital themselves to find out Kehazaei was on life support. Morrison indicated the man may soon have his life support switched off, depending on what decision the family and local authorities reach.

In the meantime, Morrison has asked his department's Chief Medical Officer to review what took place. It is not at this stage clear whether this investigation will commence before or after the staff back on Manus Island are done swabbing the place clean.

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