Detainee to UN secretary-general: ‘The refugee convention has lost all meaning’

August 15 protest in support of detained refugees at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Refugee Amir Mirzaei was brought to Australia from Manus Island under the now-defunct Medevac law. He is still being detained in Melbourne. He has written to the United Nations secretary-general António Guterres asking for action, and spelling out his mental anguish from being detained. Below is an abridged version of his letter which he asked Green Left to share.

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To the secretary-general of the United Nations António Guterres:

History has been host to great people who brought many innovations to the world, some of whom have suffered a lot to bring their ideas in action.

Humankind still suffers from a lack of human rights in some countries.

Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia, wrote the first human rights charter around 2500 years ago.

Darius the Great, another King of Persia, wrote the first rules of social security around 2400 years ago.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous code was adopted throughout much of continental Europe, in the lands he conquered, and remained in force after his defeat.

The Founding Fathers of the United States were a group of American leaders who united the Thirteen Colonies.

The United Nations (UN), an intergovernmental organisation, aims to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation and be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations.

It is the largest and most powerful intergovernmental organisation in the world.

The UN is headquartered on international territory in New York City, with its other main offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and The Hague.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated to aid and protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.

It assists their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with more than 17,300 staff working in 135 countries.

The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol are the key legal documents that form the basis of its work.

With 149 states party to either or both, they define the term “refugee” and outline the rights of refugees, as well as the legal obligations of states to protect them.

The core principle is non-refoulement — the idea that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law.

The UNHCR serves as the “guardian” of the 1951 convention and its 1967 protocol. Member states are expected to cooperate in ensuring that the rights of refugees are respected and protected.

Great people alone, or by getting together, wrote these magnificent laws. But some rules and laws, like the 1951 Refugee Convention, do not work anymore.

The 1951 Refugee Convention is like a slogan: it is just a theory, not practical.

I am a refugee in Australia. I was in offshore detention in Papua New Guinea since 2013. I am still in detention, without having committed any crime.

I am an example of the fact that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not work.

If a country wants to be a member of the convention and also wants to protect their borders, it will never be possible.

A country cannot have border protection and sign up to the 1951 Refugee Convention at the same time — even powerful countries like the US.

To sum up, there are 79.5 million refugees in the world like me: some are living in terrible conditions, like camps, for up to 20 years.

If you don’t mind about them, the world will never find peace.

In other words, if you would like to bring peace to the world you must find a solution for refugees.

Good people must get together and revise the Refugees Convention in favour of refugees.

The problem of refugees is like a tumour. It is not only a problem for the United Nations, or countries like Germany, which has been welcoming refugees in recent years.

The tumour could become malignant. Why am I using this term? I have been suffering from depression, PTSD, fear and anxiety from July 26, 2013, until now.

Right now I have panic depression. I am sure many refugees are suffering from the same mental health problems.

Please make a decision before it is too late.

I appreciate all those people, organisations and politicians who have been working honestly for refugees.