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The sound of silence: Vale Hamed

By Kyran O’Dwyer

Every so often, something catches your eye and prompts you to look a little deeper. After you see, you find you cannot un-see. After you hear, you find you cannot un-hear. When the sound of silence is disturbed it is, at best, disturbing.

“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.”

The men detained on Manus commenced a protest on July 31, where they would gather in ‘Mike Compound’ at 2.00pm every day. Initial protests included chants for freedom, and vocal demands to bring power back. This was off the back of the PNG Court decision to close the camp on Manus and increasing speculation that the ‘deal’ with America was nothing more than a cynical political ploy to appease critics of various ‘resettlement’ proposals.

On the 4th August, the transcript of the phone call between Turnbull and Trump became public knowledge around the world. It detailed the cold harsh reality of the ‘deal’. It confirmed the speculation. This was nothing more than the illusion of action, the very hallmark of the Turnbull/Trump leaderships. All talk, puffery, illusion. No substance.

It was shortly after this time that those incarcerated on Nauru commenced protesting, asking for no more than some certainty about their future. They had, after all, been on Nauru for four years and it had been made abundantly clear, by the publication of the transcript, there was no prospect of resettlement in a third country.

On the 7th August, the body of Hamed Shamshiripour was found. Our government is doing everything in its power to make sure the circumstances will not be investigated.

Whilst that in itself is disgraceful, the reality is it is neither of concern or consequence to our government.

What changed on Manus after Mr Shamshiripour’s needless death reminded me of the image of a lone protester in Tiananmen Square in 1989. You know the one. The lone protester standing in front of four tanks. The picture that encapsulated the very essence of both ‘futility’ and ‘hope’.

And Courage. Silent. Defiant. Courage.

The men on Manus continued to gather every day at 2.00pm in ‘Mike Compound’, but, since August 7, they have been silent. On Nauru, ‘Silence’ has become the theme for their protests as well. All of these people are yelling the obvious by their silence. Our government will not tolerate them, or their stories, being heard.

Silent. Defiant. Courage.

This is the narrative of despair. This is the situation our government has established and remains committed to. And, no. I am completely uninterested in any conversation about which political party is worse. The fact is our government has been doing this for four years.

Not satisfied with this deplorable situation, our government announced ‘new’ measures. Back in May, Dutton revealed an insidious plan:

“At 9.38am on Sunday 21 May 2017, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton revealed his worst attack on refugees.

He said asylum seekers living in the Australian community had until 1 October to file applications for protection, failing which they would be or they will be denied Government payments, subject to removal from Australia, and banned from re-entering the country. There are about 7,500 people in the community who are affected by this edict.”

This plan had the desired effect. Refugee advocates were stretched to breaking point, having to find money and suitably qualified people to assist with the ramped up time line.

How could that get worse? Only Dutton could find a way. Deprive those who had been brought to Australia from Manus and Nauru for medical treatment the most meagre of government support, make them reliant on the assistance of concerned individuals and groups, make their very existence on Australian soil untenable. Offer up an unconscionable choice. Return to incarceration on an island prison or return to the very harm you risked your life fleeing.

Depravity. There cannot be any other word for it.

On Thursday, August 31, was a post on the ASRC Facebook page.

“We were so blown away by this.

Walid, a refugee on Manus wanted to donate $30 to our Let Them Stay Appeal (the $30 just came thru) to provide 2 nights of housing for refugees. How selfless when you’re without freedom and safety yourself.

We need men like this in Australia.”

When Walid saw the post on the ASRC Facebook page, he responded.

“Dear Kon Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) I was really inspired by your generosity. I would say you are an angel. And im really thankful to your whole team and all those lovely and kind people who donate, for their kindness, compassion and love. That’s called humanity.

I was really happy when i saw you are collecting donation for my friends who will lose their welfare in next couple of weeks, i couldn’t stop my tears that time and i was thinking i should donate what i have.

I wish i could do more but…”

The result of the interchange is worth a look, if you can find the time.

So, who is Walid? What sort of a man could endure all of this, yet retain his compassion, his humanity, his decency? It came as a surprise that this is not his first contribution.
In April, 2017, Mr Walid Zazai penned a statement which was read to a Palm Sunday protest. This is an excerpt:

“After four years we have GAINED the ability to see right through the lies, deceit, and indifference of the people in charge of making the policies that have held us here. The Australian government says they are stopping the boats and they are saving lives at sea.

These are lies that cover the whole of the truth.

People are still dying at sea. It is simply that Australia is pushing the boats out of its waters. But what they are really doing is slowly killing us day by day.

Are our lives not worth saving?

We have LOST friends here.

We lost Reza Berati when he was murdered.

We lost Hamid Kehazei to a simple infection from a cut on his foot.

We lost Kamil Hussain who sadly drowned whilst swimming.

And most recently, during the celebration of Christmas, we lost Faysal Ishak Ahmed because his medical condition was given no care.

But … we have also lost friends we made with those who have worked at the detention facility. Some kind workers have been ripped from their jobs because they treated us kindly.

And in 2017 we have lost friends who have either been forced, or made to sign deals to be sent back to their homelands. Sent back to danger … back to the same situation they needed to flee.

All of these friends we have lost because of a system that refuses to look at the people behind the problem.

And finally … we have gained a small but precious army of people who care.

Thank you to our advocates and friends.

Thank you to the people who act … who are writing to their MP’s and talking to their friends to share the injustice of this place.

Thank you to the religions who take the love for your neighbour seriously.

Thank you to the people who know the equality in humanity and act upon it.

You have empowered us and given us a small voice.

Please let me finish by asking you to keep speaking for us, to yell for us, to scream for us.

Please keep putting peaceful, but loud, democratic pressure on the people who hold our freedom in their hard hands.

To the Australian Government … please consider our lives as important and end the pain detention inflicts upon us.

Please bring us to Australia, we will make it our home, we will give you our hearts and we, with every action, we will show our thanks.

Thanks so much for listening. Take care.”

Our mindless, heartless, brutal government considers spending $1,500 a night to warehouse people on island prisons is a suitable price for their silence. Even worse, our mindless, heartless, brutal government considers the same ‘thirty pieces of silver’ will be sufficient price for our silence.

That our government (comprising nothing more than politicians) is deaf, other than to the voices in their own head (be it a faction, a benefactor or an ideology), seems, to me, to be inarguable. How we, the people, get to be heard, in between elections, escapes me. What do these politicians need to see or hear to remind them they are here to serve us, not vice versa?

The voices of Mr Zazai, Mr Boochani, indeed, all of those we are warehousing on Manus and Nauru, need to be heard. Their silent defiant courage needs to be acknowledged. And applauded. That it may encourage those of us in Australia to pay more careful heed to what this government is doing is an aspiration worthy of consideration.

This is not an abstract or isolated issue. It is yet another example of our government’s inability to listen to anything other than the voices in their own head. There is no escaping the many issues that need urgent attention, whether it be the environment, health, education, due legal process, DV, equality, treaty. Way too many to list. That the issues are difficult goes without saying. How we get our government to pay attention escapes me.

But being quiet, being silent, is not an option:

“And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence”

Like the image of the lone protester in front of the tanks, Mr Zazai’s words paint a picture of human qualities that define the very best of us. The ‘blindness’, the ‘deafness’, of our government is no excuse for being ‘silent’, in any of its manifestations.

It seems only fair to close by citing Mr Zazai:

“Please let me finish by asking you to keep speaking for us, to yell for us, to scream for us.

Please keep putting peaceful, but loud, democratic pressure on the people who hold our freedom in their hard hands.”


9 comments

  1. paul walter

    Is Turnbull even more dangerous than Abbott, because his pathology is masked?

  2. David Bruce

    It is a sad reflection of our society to change from a free and welcoming community to a bunch of scared dobbers, The zionists have done a good job on us

  3. helvityni

    Thank you Kyran, we need more people like you, people who care, less Duttons, Howards and Turnbulls…

    Now we are offering cash to the suffering Rohingya refugees to go back to Myanmar, back to their torturers. Why ?

  4. Ill fares the land

    Isn’t it time the politicians stopped the lies and deceit? The reality is that this is only, what, 1,000 people. The “danger” they pose to Australia is as fake as the arguments for keeping them on Manus.

    The government allows a flood of “migrants” in far greater numbers through ostensibly legitimate channels who do far more “damage”, including rampant breaches of visa conditions and visa fraud. But the government is beholden to its backers to allow a flood of unskilled labour into the country to keep downwards pressure on wages and a flood of black money from China to keep upwards pressure on housing prices. I guarantee you know of at least one young Chinese who has come here to study (possibly keeping a local kid out of a uni place) and whose family have sent enough funds into Australia to enable them to buy a property. I know of one whose family has sent enough money for him to own three properties – exactly who does that help? But that generates little if any publicity. I’m not talking about migration – I’m talking about colonisation with the largess of the LNP government. And we are fearful of a few refugees. Have we actually gone bonkers?

    Let’s make a silent pact – if Labor is voted in at the next election, they stop this rubbish and just simply allow the refugees to come into Australia and we won’t demonise them for it (of course, the rabid, fearful and feral conservatives won’t agree), but this sort of issue is fodder for repulsive scum like Dutton who gain some perverse form of “power” from their vile and inhumane actions. Shorten can’t of course say that he will do that – because that then makes him an easy target for the vacuous but shrill Hanson and the LNP – but any sensible government would end the Manus farce.

  5. Kyran

    Thank you, Roswell. Notwithstanding my computers hatred for me, it may be appropriate to delete my comment. My apologies for the contretemps of this device, and its user!
    Grateful, as always. Take care

  6. babyjewels10

    helvityni Perhaps it’s cheaper than building gas ovens. Same result.

  7. Kyran

    Indeed, helvityni;
    “Australia has since ratcheted up efforts to clear the centre, offering up to A$25,000 to refugees agreeing to go home.”

    “The Guardian understands up to seven Rohingya may be facing return from Manus Island and spoke to two refugees in PNG who said they were going back.
    Yahya Tabani, a 32-year-old Rohingya man who arrived in Australia in 2013 but was sent to Manus Island, said he had no choice but to return.
    “I don’t want to stay in PNG,” said Tabani, who used to sell mobile accessories. “I don’t want to die in PNG. I prefer to die in Myanmar.”

    “Another Rohingya refugee, currently held in Port Moresby ahead of a slated return to Myanmar, spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity for fear of recriminations against himself and his family.
    “I am going back because my family are being persecuted by the Myanmar government. My family are in a violent place. I need to save them and look after them.”
    He said he had been arrested in Myanmar previously, and feared further persecution upon return.
    “But the reason why I leave PNG is there is too much torturing, they treat us as prisoners and they kill us mentally. That is more scary for me, that’s what I decided to go back. Better is leaving PNG, I can see my parents before Australia and PNG authorities make me a fool mentally, or killed physically.””

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/19/australia-offers-pay-rohingya-refugees-return-myanmar

    Mr Tyler said it well on Sunday.
    “Sadly, it is always “those people” whenever the government speaks of refugees. Not “our people” as our common humanity would tell us or as international law would confirm. And we have only Dutton’s notoriously untrustworthy word for the adequacy or the legitimacy of the processing to say nothing of its legality under our human rights obligations.
    The only possible humane solution is to bring those on Nauru and on Manus home to Australia immediately. Four years of suffering is enough. Apart from petty political point-scoring the government has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Yet such a move does not suit its increasingly narrow, right-wing agenda.”

    We need the likes of Mr Zazai, Mr Boochani, and all of the other’s we have imprisoned. Dutton reckons he’s worth a lot. Seems like a fair swap to me.
    Babyjewels10, whilst the result may be the same, it is certainly not cheap.
    Take care

  8. Kyran

    This bloke really is a legend. And I thought Mr Boochani was good.

    “May i have your 5 minutes plz to read this? If you want to know about our current situations on manus and what we have been through and are still going. Im sorry if it’s hurt you.
    I don’t want you to Apologies to us.
    I don’t want you to be ashamed.
    I Do want You to stand for humanity.
    “My name is Walid Zazai. I have been held against my will on Manus Island since 2013 when I had to flee Afghanistan at the age of 20.
    This is the situation:
    The Australian government has treated us badly & we have suffered many horrible things.
    Now, most of us suffer from traumatic stress & depression. In the four years we have been here, six friends have died because of Australia’s cruelty. Two of those friends died in the last two months.
    After four years, the Australian government has decided to close Manus detention centre. We thought Australia will give us freedom in a safe place, but that has not happened.
    Australia has built three more centres. Two new centres are for refugees. The other is for asylum seekers who haven’t been given refugees status.
    So, while closing one detention centre, Australia is opening three more near Lorengau on Manus Island.
    These new centres are in dangerous places. West Lorengau Haus is in the jungle. The other two are also in dangerous places in the township.
    The local people also don’t want us there. Many of us have already been attacked with machetes, robbed & beaten by locals.
    The Australian government knows we are not safe here but still wants to force us to settle in Manus & other parts of PNG.
    The Australian government made a deal with the US to take refugees from Manus & Nauru. A year after Malcolm Turnbull made the deal, only 24 refugees from Manus have gone to the US. We don’t know if the US will take more. Prime Minister Turnbull told President Trump that under the deal, the US only had to process refugees but did not have to take any. We believe we have been given false hope & more of our life has been taken from us.
    We are political prisoners because we are used by racist politicians to stay in power.
    The Australian government admits to using us to get a message out to anybody that tries to come to Australia by boat that they will be treated with cruelty. We are Australia’s human shields. We are rocks to stop the boats.
    The immigration minister has made us look like bad people. We are not. We are just people needing a peaceful life to share our love.
    Australian people, we are human beings just like you.
    We only want a peaceful life in a safe place.
    We all are refugees.
    Please stop using us & playing with our lives. We are humans too.
    Australia told us last week that we can go to Nauru. Many of you know that there’s nothing on Nauru except kids, women & men suffering the same harsh treatment as we do.
    For three years, New Zealand has offered to take some of us. The Australian government said ‘No.’ Australia said we will use New Zealand as a back door to enter Australia. We have said that, if New Zealand takes us, we will sign legal agreements that we will never come to Australia.
    We want our liberty back. We want freedom in a safe country. We need to get out of Manus & PNG.
    We have suffered here since 2013. The hardest thing for us is not knowing if we have a future.
    About living in the camp:
    In short: the food is often terrible. The hygiene is poor. There are putrid smells. The heat is sticky & oppressive. The rooms are tiny for many men. There is no privacy & we are treated like criminals every day.
    Then there are all the things that we have lost & gained by being here.
    This is what we have lost:
    The ability to see our families, both the families we left or for many of us also the families we were trying to reach.
    Here on Manus we have lost the benefits of normal loving relationships.
    We have not seen or hugged our parents, siblings, fiancés, wives or children for more than four years.
    We single men have lost the opportunity to meet women who one day might become our
    wives.
    From more than four years we have lost the opportunity to study, to learn a trade or gain employment skills so that we can find work when we are finally free.
    We have lost the opportunity to work & we cannot use our skills & our abilities.
    Because we cannot earn money, we have been robbed of so many other functions.
    Many of us on Manus have primary responsibility for our families, yet we cannot support them. Although we have wanted to for over four years, none of us can even help our families to put food on their tables.
    But it is more than just our families we want to help. The whole world is hurting. We want to work to help widows & orphans & homeless people. We want to help & financially & physically. We have lost the chance to contribute to society.
    And we have lost our six friends who died here from this cruel policy.
    This is what we have gained:
    A maturity & understanding of the world well beyond our years.
    The unbelievable burden of our families mourning for us.
    From more than four years we have not been able to do ANYTHING.
    The same nothing everyday for over four years.
    A rest that has nearly driven us to insane.
    Nightmares of the horrors we have seen & experienced.
    We cry ourselves to sleep & we pretend we don’t notice when our friends do the same.
    So, after four years many of us have GAINED a dependence on sleep medication.
    We have gained a dependence on medication to try to ease the depression that screams, “This is worse than before, you can’t handle much more of this.”
    After four years we have GAINED the ability to see right through the lies, & indifference of policy makers who have held us here.
    When we asked Australia for asylum, many of us were just boys. Now we are men, but men with heavy hearts & knowledge of the worst of humanity.
    The Australian government says it is stopping the boats or saving lives at sea. This lie denies the fact that Australia pushes the boats out of its waters & people drown somewhere else.
    But Australia is slowly killing us. Aren’t our lives worth saving?
    And finally, we have gained a small but precious army of people who care.
    Thanks so much to all organisations who are standing for us & with us.
    Thank you to our advocates & friends.
    Thank you to the people who act. Who are writing to their MP’s & talking to their friends about the injustice of this place.
    Thank you to the religious who take the love for your neighbour seriously.
    Thank you to the people who know the equality in humanity & act upon it.
    You have empowered us & given us a small voice.
    Please let me finish by asking you to keep speaking for us, to yell for us, to scream for us.
    Please keep putting peaceful, loud, democratic pressure on the people who hold our freedom in their hard hands.
    To the Australian Government:
    Please consider our lives as important & end the pain detention inflicts upon us.
    Please show some humanity & compassion.
    Please bring us to Australia. We will give you our hearts, we all long for love. And with every action we will show our thanks.
    Or please let us to go to New Zealand so we can start our peaceful & happy life there.”
    Thank you.”

    Dear Mr Zazai.
    I don’t want you to Apologies to us.
    I don’t want you to be ashamed.
    I Do want You to stand for humanity.

    Whilst I am ashamed, I cannot apologize for the actions of those who do not speak for me. Your words, given your situation, define humanity. Your words, given your situation, define courage.
    It’s a paltry trade off. But I would happily trade your nail clippings for ten Dutton/Pezzullo’s.
    Those two clowns define gutless inhumanity.
    As best you can, take care. Maybe the new New Zealand government will be of some assistance to humanity, and some testimony to courage.
    To you, your family, your friends, take care, as best you can.

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