‘We are entering the seventh year of Australia’s inhuman offshore detention policy that has sought to destroy all of us who were transported to Manus and Nauru and has left us without hope.
When we decided to risk our lives and leave our home countries, it was because we had no choice. We knew that we were risking our lives, but if we had stayed in our homes then we were risking torture and even death. We believed Australia would be a safe haven for us. We thought that it was committed to its international obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention.
We thought Australia respected human rights. But after six years in indefinite detention in PNG, in horrific living conditions, and after the deaths of 12 fellow refugees, we know that were mistaken. We have no chance of safety and freedom. My fellow refugees and I are being punished for nothing but seeking protection.
When I arrived on Manus six years ago, Australian officials said I had to go through PNG’s refugee claim and resettlement process. They told me that it would take three to five years. Now I am in my seventh year of incarceration. What kind of unjust and uncertain system is this?
Throughout our detention we have tried to make our voices heard in order to explain the miseries forced on us. Sadly, people refuse to listen. When we were transported to Manus we were healthy and fit, but after so many years of what writer Behrouz Boochani has identified as “systematic torture”, the lack of medical care and desperation have completely destroyed us.
We are mentally and physically sick, and our names have been taken from us and replaced with numbers. We have forgotten our talents, our passions and our abilities. We hardly recognise ourselves. While we could have been contributing to a community or moving forward with lives, families and jobs, we have instead spent six years wasting our talents and dreams. Most devastating of all, 12 innocent lives have been lost forever.
Why does the Australian government continue with this life-destroying detention policy? Because we refugees have become commercial commodities for local and international companies, profiting from our miserable situation. ‘Stopping the boats’ and ‘protecting borders’ are now commercial activities. Stopping the boats is merely a ruse. Even though 75 percent of us detained since 2013 have been removed from offshore detention, the boats have still not come.
The government is trying to defeat the life-saving Medevac legislation that brings desperately sick refugees to Australia for proper medical treatment. The refugees were made sick by the Australian government because they have been kept indefinitely as hostages. The Australian government forces us to languish here even though they can immediately find a durable solution for us.
The government of New Zealand has offered to take 150 of us each year, but Australia says “no”. They say they fear that we will still try to come to Australia. If that is the case, why has Australia not sought durable solutions with other countries that freely welcome the contributions of refugees, such as Canada?
On this six-year anniversary of the offshore detention policy it’s time for Australians to think about why they allow their government to spend their tax dollars to keep these camps occupied. It doesn’t matter whether you support refugees or not, it is your money that is being wasted.
On this day all of us who remain incarcerated on Manus and Nauru ask Australians to imagine themselves in our position. Have we been given a fair go? Can Australia claim to be a humanitarian country? If you can turn a blind eye towards our treatment, isn’t it your own humanity that is lost?
As we step into the seventh year of this inhuman offshore detention policy, we call on those countries that respect human rights and belong to the UN Refugee Convention to defend the rights of women and men on Manus and Nauru, people whose rights continue to be denied.’
*Shaminda Kanapathi is in offshore detention on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island
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