Back in my home country I was a highly skilled scientist. I worked for the government but they didn’t like what I was working on and they created serious difficulties for me. I was tortured and my life was threatened. I had no choice but to flee. I went to Indonesia and then sought asylum in Australia.
I was first detained by Australian immigration on Christmas Island. Then, I was transferred to Manus Island where I spent 3 and a half painful years. These were meant to be ‘processing centres’ but were actually ‘torturing centres’. Over 90% of the security guards were ex-military and very racist but that was the least of our problems.
I know of 7 people who died on Manus -4 people died while I was there. One close friend also died after I left Manus. He had an infection that wasn’t properly treated. He begged for some Panadol and for proper treatment. He then had a heart attack and a stroke then very sadly passed away. His name was Hamid Khazaei and part of his story was recently in The Guardian. If they had just brought Hamid to Australia, he would have had access to proper treatment quickly and would still be alive today to have a new life like mine.
There is so much pressure in detention, it is very easy to get sick. Like most, I developed ‘detention fatigue’. At one stage I was told I had Hep B because my antibodies were so low. It was a misdiagnosis and I think I was psychically sick because my mental health was so poor. Everyone there had some kind of mental health problem from the pressure of being detained in such an awful place.
I tried to ring my family when I could but access to phones was very limited. My mum wasn’t at home when I tried and I called my brother and he said she was fine. When I finally got through to her via another detainee’s smart phone we did a video call and it looked like she was in hospital. She said she wasn’t but it was obvious she was lying to protect me. It turned out she was in hospital with cancer and was getting chemo.
Due to the extreme sadness I had about my mum and all the pressure of Manus Island, I became severely depressed. I didn’t eat or drink for over 3 weeks and lost 19kgs. I had an excellent counsellor there but he was eventually fired for being too empathic with refugees.
I was then transferred to a major psych ward in a large hospital in Australia. My psychiatrist was excellent and did everything in his power to prevent me going back to detention. After several months there, they had to make me leave because I wasn’t as acutely ill as other patients. Luckily my psychiatrist got me transferred to another hospital. At both hospitals I always had 2 or 3 immigration security guards making sure I didn’t defect. This was OK but a bit ridiculous considering I was in a high security locked ward the first admission and the guards alarmed other patients. Both psych wards were like paradise compared to Manus Island.
I then went back to detention but at least it was only to Villawood for 5 months and then to community detention. During community detention I wasn’t allowed to work, study or leave Sydney but they provided a free room in Western Sydney and $140 per week to spend on food and other necessities. I eventually got a Bridging Visa E (which is mostly for people arranging to leave Australia) and then worked where ever I could. I’m stateless now -I can’t leave the country because of immigration and because my passport from back home is invalid and can never be renewed. I have lost my career and can’t see my family.
I still have night terrors about my experiences in detention. Even so, I wake up and think: ‘Thank God I’m not in my country or in detention!”
True story written anonymously by the Mad Dog and edited by the Mad Magpie.
If you have experienced torture or severe trauma, check out STARTTS in NSW or similar organisations in your area. You can also phone Blue Knot if you have post-traumatic stress or see our other mental health resources.