Hamed is only the first to die: bring the refugees here

A vigil for Hamed in Melbourne on August 11.
Friday, August 11, 2017

Hamed Shamshiripour, a 31 year old Iranian refugee, died on August 7 as a direct result of Australia’s detention system. He is the sixth man to die on Manus Island since the detention centre was opened in 2012, according to Monash University’s Australian Border Deaths database.

In the early hours of the morning, his body was found by schoolchildren, battered and bruised, hanging in bushland near the school at East Lorengau. He had been regularly beaten by locals, guards and police.

Walid, a refugee on Manus Island, spoke to Green Left Weekly about Hamed. “The man who died was a good person, a decent man, respectful and humble.”

He said people were “feeling so sad and down after that tragedy”. He said this “tragedy have make us more worried about our lives in PNG. We aren't safe here. And Australia wants to dump us in PNG forever.”

Walid said Hamed had “serious mental health problems. But they didn't treat him well and in the end it took his life.”

Hamed had suffered severe mental health issues for a long time. Last year he was found starving and wandering around naked and distressed, screaming incoherently.

In June last year, more than a dozen refugees lodged an official complaint about the treatment of Hamed, asking that he be given mental health treatment instead of being imprisoned and beaten up.

Refugees on Manus Island organised a vigil for Hamed. Throughout the day they held up a banner reading: “We can’t blame the sea for drowning people but we blame Australia for killing us”.

Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani tweeted from Manus Island that night: “The refugees in Manus prison will hold a ceremony. 9 refugees have now died in the islands. Aus gov kills ppl & rolls on? It's fascism.”

The Australian government has refused to take responsibility for Hamed’s death, saying it is PNG’s responsibility. PNG police are investigating the death. Manus Island provincial police commander David Yapuhas said it was suicide and has ruled out “foul play”.

Refugees are questioning this, with Behrouz tweeting: “The refugees in #Manus are calling for an independent investigation into Hamed's death. The refugees argue that it’s suspicious.”

Hamed had been living in the East Lorengau refugee transit centre. The Australian government is forcing people to move there as it closes the Manus Island detention centre.

Hamed had received death threats from PNG locals. Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Adam said: "It proves to us that this place is not really safe. Over the past two weeks we have seen more than seven guys that have been beaten up."

He said the refugees and asylum seekers did not believe Hamed took his own life. "He's been killed, as far we know, so that is not a suicide."

Hours after Hamed’s body was found, Doctors for Refugees put out a statement in relation to Hamed’s care: “Increasingly it feels like we are attempting to apply sticking plasters to the wounds of people on a runaway train heading for the abyss.

“Doctors for Refugees fears that the horrors, abuses, violent sexual assaults and other attacks on innocent people seen on Manus Island so far are an indication of what is likely to come after the closure…”

The following day another refugee was bashed by 12 local vigilantes in East Lorengau. He suffered serious head wounds and vomited blood for days before being evacuated to Australia.  

Every day more graphic and horrific images come out of East Lorengau of refugees Walid said “We don't know what will happen. If they left us in PNG, we will be killed soon. It will be better they shoot us. We will make a line and they can shoot us together.”

Many people, including Walid, are resisting being moved to East Lorengau refugee transit centre. They have been holding peaceful protests calling on the Australian government to reinstate power and water to the detention centre. Many people feel relatively safer in the detention centre than in East Lorengau.

PNG police were sent in to break up the protest and made arrests on August 9.

The day when Manus Island detention centre will officially be closed, October 31, is rapidly approaching. This will leave people stranded at East Lorengau without anywhere safe to live and no access to health services.

The men are living in fear and losing hope. Walid said “We will die one by one. Australia is killing us slowly, slowly. It's very painful.

“They say no deaths after we stopped the boats but actually there are eight deaths in offshore detention centres.”

This is compounded by the fact that no one has been offered protection in the US as part of Obama’s refugee swap deal. Walid says the US deal is “just a game that US have joined Australia. They are both playing with our lives.”

During the protests people held a banner inside Manus Island detention centre with a section from the leaked phone call between Trump and Turnbull: “Trump: I suppose I vet them closely and I do not take any? Turnbull: That is the point I have been trying to make.”

The situation on Manus is dire and at a critical hour. If urgent action is not taken to bring everyone to Australia immediately, many more will be killed by the detention system.

Walid asks “Australian to wake up and stand for us. Australian government is using your tax to keep us here. Please stand up. It's happening in your names.”

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