The several hundred men on Manus Island, still detained after more than four years, scattered red petals over pictures of Rajeev Rajendran on the evening of October 2.
A hand-drawn banner, illuminated by flickering candles, spelled out the mood of the memorial.
Below a picture of Rajendran the men wrote: “R.I.P. We are all in the queue. How many more you want to kill?”
Rajendran was a Hindu Tamil man who fled Jaffna in Tamil Eelam in the closing stages of the Sri Lankan civil war when he was threatened by the Sri Lankan military. He landed on Christmas Island in 2013 before being taken to Manus Island by Australian authorities.
He was a recognised refugee.
While detained in the Manus Island detention centre he developed a serious mental illness and suffered for a long time. He was, in the words of Behrouz Boochani, “tortured by medical neglect”.
Two months ago, he discovered his father had cancer. That news, combined with the uncertainty of his situation and the constant fear of deportation to Sri Lanka by the Australian government, finally took its toll. On September 29, Rajendran took his own life.
Rajendran was the sixth refugee to die on Manus Island in the past four years. His death follows those of 24-year-old Iranians Reza Barati and Hamid Kehazaei in 2014; 34-year-old Pakistani Kamil Hussain and 27-year-old Sudanese Faysal Ishak Ahmed last year; and 31-year-old Iranian Hamed Shamshiripour in August.
In a statement from the Manus Island, his friends said: “Rajeev Rajendran was just 32 and had everything to live for. But the suffering he has endured at the hands of the Australian government made him feel that he had nothing to live for.”
He had been forced by the Australian government to relocate to the East Lorengau Transit Centre on Manus Island, as it continues its plans to close the detention centre by the end of October.
In East Lorengau refugees have been subjected to violent attacks by local vigilantes, who do not want refugees on Manus Island. Refugees on Manus Island have often said “Australia is using PNG’s hand to kill us.”
For more than 60 days there have been daily peaceful protests. The protests were cancelled the day of Rajendran’s death, but the next day the men held a placard saying: “Where is the United Nations? Where are human rights? Six of our friends died under torture. What is our guilt?”
Boochani said in a statement on Facebook: “All of the refugees in Manus today are feeling very heavy with this news. There is a feeling of deep despair for this man's suffering, anger at the circumstances of his death, and a sense of powerlessness that such a barbaric system is allowed to continue torturing and killing innocent people despite the overwhelming evidence of its cruelty.”
The protests have only been cancelled one other time, on August 7 when another refugee, 31 year old Iranian Hamed Shamshiripour, was found dead in East Lorengau.
The men’s deaths share stark similarities. They were moved to East Lorengau, had suffered severe mental health issues without access to adequate medical aid and their bodies were found in suspicious circumstances — both were hanging by a rope outside.
Officially, both have been declared suicides, but refugees on Manus Island are calling for an independent investigation into their deaths.
The Australian government’s cruelty to Rajendran does not even end with his death. His family is now being asked to pay $7500 to have his body transported home. According to the Tamil Refugee Council, his cousin Mathy said: “We don’t know how we will find this amount of money. Why would they do this to us? They have taken our dear Rajeev from us — is this not enough? But now they demand a fortune as well.”
Rajendran, like so many others, faced a cruel choice. He could hope he was offered protection in the US, which has taken 25 of several hundred refugees in Manus Island. He could live in East Lorengau, where he had no access to the mental health aid he needed and refugees were being assaulted by locals. He could have accepted repatriation back to Sri Lanka where he faced persecution, torture and even death.
The current massacres of Rohingyas, one of the groups of refugees Australia is seeking to deport, shows why many refugees cannot accept this option.
Rajendran died without any hope for a better life. His blood is on Dutton’s hands. His life must be remembered with large Bring Them Here protests this October.