New Australians

Open letter to Australia from Manus Island detainees

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Photos have now surfaced of Manus Island immigration detainees. Here, IA provides moving first-hand accounts from them speaking about their appalling conditions — along with more images detailing Australia's shame.

Manus mother washing.

Is it because we have no family already in Australia? This was one question they asked us when interviewing us before we left Australia. Why does having no relatives in Australia make us any less worthy or in need of Australia's protection and help. How is it fair that this should be the deciding reason.

"Do you need a wheelchair" was another question they asked. Is it because we are healthy?

While waiting in Christmas Island, we tried so hard to show that we are good people, with honest hearts and intentions. We tried to help in any way we could. We were always co-operative and didn't cause any trouble.

We volunteered. I sorted clothing. (Iranian woman)

I helped by interpreting for the Serco officers. They called me their "favourite interpreter" (Iranian man)

In contrast, there were others on Christmas Island from the same boat we were on, who behaved badly, who caused trouble, or who were at times aggressive to officers or spoke badly to women.

Yet these people are still in Australia, with the opportunity to live and be processed in Australia. it seems the nicer you are, the more respectful and compliant and helpful you are, the more likely it is that you will be sent from Australia to be processed off shore.

How can this be fair or just? How can you treat the same people in the same situation in such different ways, How can this be called justice?

The process of being removed to Manus Island was also traumatic and filled us with fear and emotions we did not expect to experience again after we had left Iran.

At 6.30am in morning they came to take us to a "meeting".

I didn't have time to brush my hair or change my sleeping clothes. We were taken to a room where there were a large number of Serco officers. They were big, muscular men who looked intimidating, carrying sticks and spray. They were different to the officers we had come to know while at Christmas Island. They told us nothing, but did body checks and then put us on a bus. (Iranian woman)

There were other people on bus. We still knew nothing about what was going to happen to us. It reminded us of Iran. We wondered what their intentions with us were.

We thought "Is this Australia?"

The bus took us to another area we think were Immigration offices. There were Sri Lankan people there also and we were separated into ethnic groups. We were told by a man with a big smile on his face we would be transferred to PNG. "I will never forget his face and his smile as long as I live." (Iranian woman)

We didn't even know where PNG was. We were not allowed to ask questions. This was such bad news for us.

We were told Serco would pack all our things and they would be sent with us to PNG.

Manus children "playing".

We waited a long time. Later, after about two hours someone came and spoke to us individually in family groups. Several guards were with us. We were told because we were healthy and had no family in Australia we were being sent to another country. We were not allowed to see any of our friends to say goodbye. I was asked if I had any fears about going to PNG, I replied I was very scared about this. I was scared for my daughter. (Iranian woman)

We were searched again, even under my tongue, my hair, behind my ears, our belongings were packed. We never returned to our room. (Iranian woman and man)

Our property was not treated with respect. Clean things were thrown in with dirty things. Some items, important to us, were lost, and never arrived in PNG.

After many hours of waiting, we were put on another bus and taken to the airport. The cruel treatment continued. We felt like criminals.

There were now many other officers, we think they were Federal police. They took video footage of everything that was done. They sat near us and stared at us constantly the whole trip. Even if we went to adjust our belts to make them more comfortable we were told not to.

The temperature was very cold. No blankets were provided for the trip and when we asked for one we were told they were not allowed to give it to us. We were on the plane for many hours, and received only one small sandwich and water.

When we used the toilet on the plane we were accompanied by a guard and the toilet door was not allowed to be fully shut. This was humiliating for us and again made us feel like dangerous criminals, who were guilty of some serious crime.

When the plane finally landed at PNG we were marched out of the plane one by one by the officers. I wanted to walk out with my daughter. I was so scared. They wouldn't let me. (Iranian woman)

No information was given to us on the whole trip. We became even more scared during this trip and wondered where we were being taken to.

We left Iran because of our fear of the unjust, cruel, inhumane way people are treated. We never expected to have those feelings of fear again. There were times when because of this treatment and the lack of information we wondered if our lives were under threat, what are they going to do to us?

This experience was more traumatic for us than the boat trip we undertook to reach Australia. Then, our life was in the hands of nature. But here in Australia, where we expected just treatment, our lives were in the hands of people who made a choice to treat us in this cruel and demeaning way. This is very hard for us to understand. I was thinking all the time I didn't want to bring my daughter to this. This is why I left Iran. (Iranian woman)

Regardless of Australia's policy on asylum seekers there must be a better way to treat human beings than this.

We have never committed a crime. We have always sought to help others and be cooperative and to show we are good people who can contribute to Australia. We are just people seeking a life free from persecution and fear.

No door, no windows - and no protection from malarial mosquitos.

What we desire

We still desire what led us to take this dangerous journey — freedom and justice.

We have come to understand more about why Australia is doing these policies, but we plead do not make us the victims of politics like happens in Iran.

We ask simply that our basic human rights be respected and that we have the opportunity to present our case and show who we really are, why we need asylum, and what we can contribute to Australia.

We ask to be treated fairly, and be given the same opportunities and treatment that the people who came on the same boat we were on are receiving.

We ask not to be forgotten, for people to come and meet us and hear our stories and get to know us as real people, not as boat numbers.

Most of all we have the same desires as you have, to be happy, and live in a country where there is freedom, respect for human rights, safety and respect for the law, and opportunities through hard work and good character to have a good life.

That is all we seek and ask for.

It's just too hot on Manus to sleep inside.


Story One

Hello I'm Zohreh Yousefian. I was born in Abadan, Islamic Republic of Iran. My family experienced war when I was just four years old.

We migrated to Shiraz. I started studying and even as a woman I graduated from University after 4 years of study as a Bachelor of Accounting .

Then I began teaching in college and have continued this for 11 years. During this time I also completed an acting certificate from Farhang & Ershad (Iranian Department).

I come from a country which does not respect basic woman's rights. In comparison with males, females haven't equality in having access to jobs or equal salaries. Woman have no chance to become a singer or to do simple things like going to the stadium or motor biking. No make-up in the street is allowed and they have to wear HEJAB because in Islam it's Haram (must do that).

As an example, I gave up my job after eleven years with no insurance or guarantee for the future.

In Iran, men have all the rights in a divorce. For example, most ladies who decide to leave their husbands after a long time of suffering and even sometimes violence, have to give up all their rights to property, support and often even their children, when they sign the divorce papers. Unfortunately there is no protection for females, even after separating.

In such a Muslim society women have to tolerate discrimination and being looked down on and judged. Divorced women also are often misused and treated very badly. It is therefore common to find women hopeless and with no confidence.

Faced with this situation, I decided to leave everything behind and undertake a journey to a place where there would be peace and freedom, and to do this even though I was afraid and didn't have any certainty about my future. This was better than what I was experiencing in my country.

This discrimination, oppression and unfair laws affect many young people in my country. I lost my brother at the age of 28 because of these disasters. That is why I decided to run away from Iran with my only brother that I have. We hadn't time even to say goodbye to friends. We risked our life in the hope of having freedom, safety and tranquility and living in peace.

Just remember, I'm a human like you, and I have my own rights in such a short life, to live like a free bird.

Manus mother washing.

Story Two

Hooshang and I got married 21 years ago and our daughter (Hediye) was born three years later. She grew up in a society where there was no freedom, justice or safety. As a mother, I was always looking after her. My daughter was born Muslim, but three years ago she said, "I want to be an agnostic."

I was worried about her, that she may get in trouble because of her beliefs and political views. I saw lots of boys and girls arrested by the government and never returned back to their families. I didn't want anything to happen to my daughter. She is my everything. My husband and I really love her. We didn't want to lose her like other parents, who lost their children and weren't allowed to speak about their loss. We left everything behind in search for freedom, justice and safety. As parents, we were looking for a safe place for our daughter but we didn't find it in our country.

For 37 years I lived in Iran. I've never been respected as a woman. There was always some differences between men and women. In Iran, women are like entertainment. Women have no custody of their children. There is no one at the back of a woman; women have no support.

My husband was exposed to dangerous chemicals many years ago, in the war between Iran and Iraq. After this, he started losing his hair. He lost his eyelashes, eyebrows, and all the hair on his body. He became depressed and he stayed in the house for 6 months. After that, he was mocked in society. He was ignored by the government.

Our family is looking for safety, justice, freedom and honesty. We want to live free. We want to live with peace of mind.

Manus camp for the disabled.

Story Three

This is Aghil Yousefian. You can call me Aria.I was born on 28 July 1984, in a family that experienced war. I had to start working when I was 8 with my father selling clothes. I grew up in a country which is Islamic Republic where everything is judged by religion.
Time went past and I got my Diploma and graduated high school. I started kick boxing. After two years, I went to Compulsory Military Service. During this time, I won silver medal in National Championship. After the end of military service, I graduated with a referee certificate, and coaching certificate of martial arts. But none of them were useful for finding a job or helped me go to college or gain a scholarship.

Another tragedy occurred in my family. My brother died of a heart attack, caused by the stress and pressure of his life

I have always loved music as long as I can remember. I started playing drums in Heavy Metal style, which is my passion. In the last four years, before I came to Australia, this became very dangerous for me. I did playing with lots of difficulties. Because Heavy Metal is completely prohibited and illegal in Iran, and as I mentioned before because of the religion and misjudments, it's known as "Evil Music." Government officials and the Religious who are in charge will arrest you and take you to the Intelligence Department and anything can happen to you then.

Musicians are therefore doing their music underground. Many teachers are not allowed to teach in Institutes. You must have a certificate and be doing Iranian Classical and Pop. No Concerts, no nothing. We couldn't even record our covers in studios because the owners were scared of doing that. The place we were practicing and training was completely secret, except for two teachers of mine and close friends who trained with me.

But everything became worst than before. In an underground concert, more than 60 fans were arrested, charged and locked up. Players were taken to Intelligence. Two teachers of mine were arrested also.

After those happenings, I changed my job to plumbing in the countryside. I sold my drums, changed my place, changed my mobile phone, and had no contact with anyone but family. I became depressed, lost weight — from 88 kg to close to 72 kg. I deleted every history of my music from my life because of my fear of being arrested by the government who were intent on stopping this music. During this time six musicians that I knew were arrested in their training place. After that, no-one contacted each other, even on Facebook.

If you want to be employed in a company, you have to be Muslim and pass an interview first if you want to be a professional musician or even hold musical performances, you have to have permission of the religious, who are in charge. The type of music I practiced and enjoyed would never be allowed or tolerated. Women are not allowed to become a singer because in Quran it says women's voice is HARAM (not accepted in Islam Religion).

Can you imagine what it's like living in a country that has oil, gas, mines, a long history of more than 5,000 years, but no freedom or safety, no respect and equality for females?!

However brave or gutsy you are, you still cannot say your opinions, because of the death penalty and the fact that executions in Iran are as common as eating a piece a cake.

The reason why my sister Zohreh and I ran away to Australia is because we think everything is the opposite here to what we experienced there.

Aria, 9/12/2012, Quarantine, Manus Island, Papua New Guinea

Manus child sleeping.

Story Four

We are Hemat and Khadijeh. We are a very young couple and we are targeting freedom and to be safe. We have been in so many difficult situations to achieve our goal.

We left Iran because of racism to Kurdish people. In Iran, there is no respect or fair treatment for us. They stop us from achieving our goal of freedom and safety. In Iran, there is no voice for the Kurdish people.

We have no freedom to marry. The government controls our life. There is no freedom to make decisions about our life or choice. The government decides everything.

For example:

  • Marriage — you can only marry a Kurdish person , you have no choice in your partner.
  • Kurdish people are limited to maximum diploma level education.
  • Sometimes, girls are forbidden to work.
  • There is no freedom to practice any religion other than Islam.
  • There are many things you can't discuss if you're a girl, and girls are not treated with respect.
  • To be a woman in Iran and Kurdish is very, very, hard.
  • Jobs are hard to find and there is no equal access to technology or training or education.

We had very little money and it was very hard to make a living. There is no future, opportunity or life in this country.

We left for safety and to find freedom. This is no way to live. We chose to leave.

We were hurting so bad we didn't think about the ocean and death because freedom was more important for us. We would choose death rather than live like this.

We arrived in Australia but have found only a life like what we had. Our opportunity, our hopes, our goals we were looking for seem to be gone, to be dead. All hope is dead in our heart.

Why have we been bought to Manus Island?

It feels like we are at the end of the world. We are thinking this is not life, death is better than existing like this.

It is a big world, but it feels like there is no place for us. Why is there no justice anywhere in the world for us?

We are not guilty of anything but wanting freedom and safety.

Manus children, trying to keep cool.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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