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
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.”