Asylum seekers in Manus prison are witnessing a new phase filled with violence and torture in their detention. The news of our resettlement in the United States has affected our life in strange ways. This, however, is not the first time that we see ourselves one step away from freedom. During the past four years, this has been a part of our life. Right at the moment when it seems like we are going to be free, a sudden turn disappoints us.
In reality, during the past four years the hope for freedom has always been replaced with a heavy silence in the prison.
The only way to understand the current situation seems to be through a review of the history of Manus prison which has always been full of upheavals. In fact, understanding the current situation is only possible through studying the historical context.
In the four-year history of this prison, important events have happened around us but none of them have changed our lives or destinies.
We witnessed three different prime ministers as well as three immigration ministers, but their policies have been an iron fist. In February 2014, a huge uprising took place and local people attacked the prison, which ended with the death of Reza Barati. A few months later, Hamid Khazaei, an Iranian asylum seeker, died due to a serious medical condition. A deep hopelessness covered the prison. After the deaths of Reza and Hamid, we expected that the people of the world would finally hear our voice; that the Australian government would stop unlimited and illegal imprisonment of people.
But no. Not only did we remain detained but the stress due to immigration and the pressure from companies involved in the prison still targeted our bodies and souls.
It seems like the tortures are endless.
In January 2015, the prisoners went on a hunger strike with the aim of forcing the Australian government to resettle us in a safer place. A few hundred prisoners, who were tired of their condition, began a peaceful and non-violent hunger strike. By the end of the week, more than 900 prisoners were on hunger strike. However, by the second week, the guards attacked the prison one bitter morning and more than a hundred people were sent to the CIS prison. The hunger strike was unsuccessful.
During the time we were kept in CIS detention centre, cases for asylum seekers in Manus Island began to have proceedings in PNG Supreme Court which was a glimmer of hope for us. In fact, this was the first time we could have the cases listed before a court. After 18 months, in April 2016, the verdict by the PNG Supreme court was against the Australian Government. The court order issued outlined that Manus detention centre is illegal and must be shut down by the Australian Government as soon as possible.
This led to a wave of happiness among detainees and we were quite sure about our imminent freedom. But soon we realised that the Australian Government has no respect for the court order and has no plan to relocate us from the island. Eight months have passed and we are still illegally detained. Meanwhile, the federal election in Australia had no change in our favour.
After all that has happened, asylum seekers on Manus Island did not respond to the news about the resettlement in the United States. Anxiety and concern fills the detention centre as there is a chance that the new U.S. government will break the deal and put it off the table. Thus, this will add another issue on top of all matters which have happened in the past few years.
In fact, all these events have had no outcome for us except hopelessness and disappointment. It was just a few days ago that immigration guards entered the detention centre and announced that the people with successful migration cases will be sent to the United States while others whose cases are refused will be deported to Nauru Island unless they return to their country of origin.
The declaration of such unclear news with no details sent all asylum seekers in the detention centre into a state of anxiety and worry. I must confess that throughout all these years, I have never seen the refugees bearing this level of anxiety, restlessness and fear.
Nowadays, all 900 asylum seekers keep asking themselves several questions. Questions that can change their future and lives based on what the answers are.
Will Donald Trump rip up the agreement between the Unites States and Australia? Are those whose cases get rejected going to be deported to Nauru Island forever? Will we be transferred to the U.S. before the 20th of January when Trump takes office? Is there going to be a possibility that rejected cases could have had a chance to be re-assessed by the U.S government as well? Will there be an end to the nightmare of Nauru prison? Will everything be destroyed during the night as has happened before? As it turns out, there will not be an answer for these questions yet; we have to wait again and again.
Translated by Mahsa Salamati.