Letters: refugee women on Manus speak out

A woman in the Manus Island refugee camp washing.

A group of women asylum seekers share their reasons for seeking protection from Australia and their dismay and despair at being transferred to Manus Island. Their letters are reprinted below unedited.


Letter 1

I am a 33 years old Iranian woman and I have a son, nine years old. We had to leave Iran because of the personal hardship that I experienced there.

I had a lot of difficulties with my husband. In Iran women have no right to file a case for divorce. Divorced women are seen as bad in Iranian society. Women have little value in Iran, we have no rights or choices. Therefore because of my concerns for the welfare of my child I put up with this marriage. But my husband was not able to support us financially. My husband made threats to me and I eventually separated from him while living in Iran.

I had to leave the country hoping to create a better environment and future for my child. I decided to come to Australia because of hearing that women are valued there and have rights. I travelled to Indonesia and then boarded a boat to Christmas Island. I was there for three months.

After August 13 they brought us unwillingly to Manus island. It is very hard for me to be here. I am suffering some mental and emotional issues. It is hard to cope mentally well here. I fear malaria disease. Manus Island has a height rate for this disease and I fear for the health of my child. I am concerned that the pills they give us are also not safe to take for a long time.

The Camp is hot and has very poor facilities and I am always concerned for the health of my child. There is little opportunity for children to study. There is little fun. We need a place of calm, a better place. We have suffered both in Iran and here. We have sought refuge in Australia. Please help us to get back to Australia to be able to have a better life for myself and my child.

Letter 2

I am 21 years old Iranian girl and I am a Christian. I am currently in Manus island in PNG and living in a Camp and having a hard time, the same as I had back in Iran.

Since a teenager I have been suffering. I have never been free or able to live in peace. There is no freedom in my country for women. Women are not free to choose what they are going to do as a career or study at University. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, except to follow Islam. You cannot change your faith. We have no choice in what clothes to wear. If our hair is not covered properly we can be fined, arrested, and for repeated offences even stoned and executed. There is no social security when you face difficult times. There is no fun for women. There are many problems for women.

I decided to go to Malaysia for work and I found a modelling job. I worked 6 months as a model but after that I was forced to come back to my country because of some problems, but I couldn’t stay any longer in Iran because if the government discovered I was a model would have killed me.

For these and other personal reasons we found our lives in danger. My parents and myself had to leave Iran . We went to Indonesia and travelled to Christmas Island on a boat. It was a very hard trip. The boat was in very poor condition and could sink at any moment, but with the help of God and Jesus Christ we safely arrived at Christmas Island. For two months and one week we stayed in mixed camps, and then sadly were transferred to Manus Island unwillingly, using force.

The weather is very hot here. There is no air conditioning. Our rooms still have no doors. There is no privacy. The hygiene is very bad. The medical service is inadequate. My parents are old and have got sick and are not being looked after. Mentally, my parents are suffering and experiencing depression. I also am suffering with this . I have a very bad mental health condition and I am unable to help my parents. I am so fed up with this situation. I wish to have a life in peace and a better situation. I want to be able to study and be a better person to help the community.

Can I return to Australia? How long have I got to stay in this jail? Why out of all these refugees who have come to Australia only 200 have been sent to this island? Why just us? There are a lot of questions but no one has answered in the 4 weeks we have been at Manus Island. I hope people can help to free us from this jail to be able to live like other women, in freedom and peace.

Letter 3

I am a 33 years old Iranian woman and I have two sons. Since I was a child I haven't been happy or seen many good days. When I was 11 months old I lost my parents in an air crash that was caused by striking airport personnel, resulting in a lack of safety. Since then I have had a bad life. In Iran when you become an orphan girl they give you to relatives to bring you up. I was bought up by my grandmother. I had no connection with her. Her beliefs and culture were not what I desired. I grew up like this till I was 15, facing hardship and loneliness.

I was forced to marry someone within my family, despite the fact we didn't have any love or attraction. We both tried hard to start our new life. I was studying and also working. I did the household chores as well and looked after our two children. Due to injustice and cruel, unfair treatment my husband had to flee the country fearing for his life, leaving me alone with two children. In that one night our whole life changed and we lost everything. All of our dreams were dashed. Knowing what it was like to be bought up without parents I didn't want my children to experience this or grow up without a father.

After one month I reunited with my husband in Indonesia. We had a very tough trip to Christmas Island and I spent three months in the Camp there. After this time they sent us to Manus Island, PNG. I am very ill, suffering from diabetes and cholesterol related disease. I am not a weak person, and despite all the illnesses I have, I am still fighting. My only concern is the welfare of my children. My oldest son has no desire to live currently. He has severe depression. My younger son is not able to attend school because of the very hot and primitive conditions in the classroom.

Despite the fact I have never experienced the love of a mother, I am trying to be a loving mother to my children. I am very upset and depressed and cannot stand seeing them depressed and suffering. As a mother I feel powerless to do anything for them in this place. As a woman and mother I ask you to help me please. I hope there are people who can help me to see the day that no mother has to worry or be upset for their children, or experience growing up without a mother.

Letter 4

I am a 30 years old Hazari woman from Quetta in Pakistan, the city that terrorists have turned into a place of violence. Here the days are like nights, dark and black. It is a city where mothers are grieving the loss of their children, where many women are wearing black in mourning from losing their husbands. It is a city where children are deprived of their fathers.

Quetta is a city where there is no peace, where my husband and I have fled the country to live in peace and safety. We travelled to Australia to do this and seek refuge, thinking that still there are people who value humanity and human beings. But through my experiences in the Refugee Camps I have lost my hope that I can be heard or helped.

I want to shout even for once in my life and to see if there is still someone who is valuing humanity and our lives. Is there anyone who can show me that humanity hasn't died. Can I still be hopeful?

I am still reaching out my hands to people. Please help me!

Letter 5

I am a 48 years old woman from Iran. I have never had freedom in Iran. No freedom of religion, no personal freedom, no freedom in my community, This has led me to become ill. I lost my hope in life. I was always staying inside and never leaving the house in fear of the religious police who enforce their harsh rules. I became severely depressed until I converted to Christianity, and now I find myself forced to migrate to have this freedom.

As a woman that has suffered and been damaged by this life, I then had to face this very difficult boat journey to Australia and be bought to Manus Island. I am severely suffering from mental stress. Considering my age, I should now be in a peaceful life, but unfortunately this has not happened yet. I am desperately begging you please help me and women that have been imprisoned in this Camp. It has been 3 months and 10 days I haven't seen outside of the fence. I am hoping with the help of Jesus Christ and all of you, that all women will find fulfilment and the freedom we long for.

Letter 6

I am a 38 years old woman from Iraq. I am currently staying in Manus Island Camp along with my husband and two children. From my childhood I have always had a hard difficult life. I lost my father when I was three months old.. One of my brothers was imprisoned by Saddam Hussain, and the other one was a fugitive.

Two of my uncles and a few other family relatives have been killed by Saddam. I have never had a good childhood or peace or happiness. Due to difficulties we migrated from Iraq to Iran with my family. In Iran I married an Iraqi man.

We had a hard time in Iran as foreigners. We had no rights. We were not allowed to trade, buy a car, or have any entitlement to own property. We never had social security or any help from government. We had no right to work. We only had permission to be there, nothing else. The life was so hard but we could not go back to our country. We were stuck there in this terrible situation.

This situation continued until Saddam Hussain was overthrown and the government in Iraq changed. We decided to return to our country. Many of our relatives had been killed and the country was in a civil war. There was no safety. It was possible that we could leave our house in the morning and never return. We could be kidnapped or killed in a road bomb.

My family and I are Muslim. There are religious parties in Iraq that are fighting each other and making the country very unsafe. We always live in the fear of getting killed in this conflict.

My children always live in fear and stress and as a mother it was heartbreaking to see this. This was only part of the problem. I had to leave Iraq again based on different reasons also. First we came to Malaysia, then to Indonesia, and finally with a lot of suffering and hardship we came to Christmas Island. Then we were transferred to Manus Island and we are being kept here in uncertainty. My daughter has a blood disease. There are no facilities or medical treatment available.

I am a mother. Despite the fact I am sick myself and have mental problems, I have to be constantly concerned and worried about my children, so there is little time or energy to care for my own needs or situation.

Please help us and save us so we can start a new life in Australia.

Letter 7

I am a woman like any other, with the only difference I was born in a country like Iran where I have no rights. There is so much religious pressure in Iran that the relationship between boys and girls is portrayed badly, and does not develop naturally or normally. Because of this boys and girls are not free to have normal relationships and homosexuality is often a result.

The religious police will stop boys and girls on the street to take them away to custody for many minor things and ask for their parents to come and collect them and sign a letter that they will not do this again.

Art in Iran has no value. Women are not able to become singers. For example in a school of arts when women are learning theatre no men are allowed to play roles with women. We have to do a lot of makeup to make a woman look like a man.

We are forced if born in a Muslim family to follow Islam. If you wanted to convert your life would be in danger. Wearing head covering if you are a woman is compulsory and if you don't obey this you get taken into custody, and must sign a statement you won't do this again. If it is repeated you will be banned from ever getting any job with the government.

When you want to get married girls need the permission of their father but boys don't require this. Only men have the right to divorce and men are allowed to have multiple wives, while women have no right to oppose that. Women don't have the same privileges as men. The punishment for adultery is death and for women this is by stoning.

Please put yourselves in our shoes. Would you put your own and your children's life in danger by getting into a boat and going into the ocean at great risk if there was any other option? Understand it was only through desperation we have done this.

Letter 8

I am a 23 years old Iranian woman. I am in Manus Island with my husband. I have had a lot of problems in my country as a woman. Iran is an Islamic country with a lot of restrictions for women. Hajeb is obligatory in Iran – if any girl or woman is improperly dressed the police can capture her and don’t free her until she gives them an undertaking that she won’t do this again. I was a university student and never could wear light coloured clothing and scarf. We could only wear dark coloured clothes. I also have worked for an oil company. I couldn’t wear makeup, jeans or light coloured clothes. I had to wear loose fitting clothes, my hair shouldn’t be visible, wearing socks was obligatory, etc.

No countries give visas to Iranians because of political problems of our government. My country has economic sanctions from powerful countries. So all things are much more expensive than its real price. But even with all of these difficulties we love our country forever. We just have problems with our government because of their oppressive policies.

I decided to come to Australia because of a bigger problem that I can’t mention here. I left my country in November 2011. I was forced to stay in Indonesia for one year. In our first departure we were on the Indian Ocean for 12 days. Our boat was broken and we were near to drowning. Finally the police of Indonesia rescued us and I was in jail for three months. It is too difficult for a woman to tolerate the situation of a jail. But I tolerated this all with the hope of a brighter future. Eventually I arrived at Christmas Island and I was thinking that the hardships were finished and I can have a better life in a better country in peace. But it was just a dream.

Australia forced us to come here to Manus Island without our agreement. I have allergies and need some special care but there isn’t enough medical facilities here. We just have a general practitioner, psychologist and a nurse. We have to take malaria tablets every day and it will be harmful for our health in the long term. Every night I have nightmares and just sleep for 6 hours. The weather is too hot and we don’t have any air conditioner in our rooms, dining room or school. There are some mice in the dining room. We can’t eat food because of the heat. I am depressed.

I don’t have any hope except if Australians request the government to return us to Australia. We are not criminals. We are all ordinary people. We didn’t come to Australia for food, clothes or to receive handouts from the government. We just want to come over here to live in peace, freedom and study in universities, to be beneficial for Australia. We all respect your law and also your people. Please help us.

Letter 9

I am a 24 years old woman from Afghanistan. I used to live in a place where women had it very hard. If only a centimeter of our body was shown in public we would be persecuted for that. I had difficulties even for studying or going to school as study is considered like a crime for a woman. I would not even be allowed to leave my home alone. A man from my own blood or my husband would have to accompany me. If I became sick only a female physician could check me out and a man would never be allowed to do this for a woman. In Afghanistan women even don’t have the right to choose their own husband.

Afghanistan is like a state of ghosts. No woman has the right to have a voice. I had no security and safety for my life and now I have tried to escape from all that. I was thinking that I would come to Australia where the rights of women would be defended properly. But they have brought me here.

I was even forced to leave my little girl behind in the harsh situations and unsafe environment of Afghanistan. I did all this in search of peace and security for her. But now, even my own situation is floating in the air. I don’t know what is going to happen for me. I am very worried about my little girl and I miss her a lot. I ask you please if you are a woman and a mother if you can feel my emotions please help me to be able to see my daughter once more. I would love to give her a big hug and start a new life with her away from the danger and insecurity of Afghanistan.

Letter 10

I am a 26 year old woman. I have left my country because of thousands of different problems in the society which I used to live in and also due to the lies and lack of security, safety, and freedom of expression and justice. My uncle was killed by order from the government and that created many problems for my family. During the demonstrations following the presidential elections the government told lies to people and rigged the votes. They killed many, many young people only because of the way they were trying to defend their freedom of expression. During that time we would even leave our doors open so those who were seeking refuge from the government officials and police could come in.

I wasn’t even able to announce my Christianity in public because changing my beliefs from Islam to Christianity in my country is a serious offence. I could be sentenced to hanging for that reason. There was a world of psychological and emotional pressure on me as the government would consider us infidels. I only shared my conversion to Christianity with some of my university friends and that caused me a lot of troubles and I had to defer my university career even though I hadn’t finished it yet because I would be persecuted otherwise.

After that and in a search of safety and peace I decided to escape Iran with my husband. We left Iran and ended up in Indonesia where we spent a month and a half. It was quite a difficult environment and situation being away from my parents and the stressful journey into the unknown. It had messed up my head and then we had to embark on a more stressful path through the ocean and towards Australia.

Throughout that journey I always thought to myself why my life should be like this. We spent ten nights in the ocean which was full of sufferings and difficulties. We ran out of food and water. At the end we were almost running out of fuel. We just saw a light in the ocean and started using our torch to alert whoever was there. Thank God that finally a ship found us and came to our rescue. We spent another week on that ship before we were delivered to Christmas Island.

On board the ship there was a big area that all the Iranian and Sri Lankans shared together. We would sleep on the bare floor and only at meal time were allowed to come out and afterwards we would have to go back to that room again.
Then finally we got to Christmas Island and then they transferred us to the detention centre. In that centre they had set up tents for families which were shocking. They were full of crabs and rats. We were told that due to the new regulation dated 13th August 2012 we all would be transferred to Nauru and that was end of the world for me. I was seeking peace, then where is it?

With all the difficulties and misfortunes we spent 18 days in the tents which was our quarantine period. After that they changed our compound and transferred us to a new area where we could only for one night sleep in a proper room and a clean bed and then at 6:45 am the next morning they came and said you would be transferred from here to Adelaide. (They lied to us but back then) I was extremely happy. I didn’t even have my breakfast or hadn’t washed up when they came back and again and said we have been chosen to be sent to Papua New Guinea. My world collapsed and I passed out.

I cried so hard and thought to myself here goes all my dreams and hopes. I can’t even describe how I felt back then. Eventually, after a long wait in a big hall they took us on the plane and we were all treated as if we were criminals, as if we had killed someone. They filmed the whole scenario. After nine hours, finally we arrived on Manus Island. Everyone was disheveled and constantly crying. We were all in a state of shock and disarray.

Now it is a month and a week since we arrived on the Island. I am extremely depressed. I take medication to calm myself down and on top of that we everyday take malaria tablets. Life has no meaning for me anymore. Everyday is worse then yesterday with 35 degree heat and 80% humidity and no air-conditioning, just a small fan in our room which is only 2 square metres, with nothing in it. There aren’t even proper doors or windows.

All we have are openings covered by mosquito mesh. Because of the consumption of malaria tablets our skin has become so sensitive that we have all developed white dots all over our bodies. I have terrible nightmares every night and I wake up screaming. That is if I am able to fall asleep from the heat.

I feel that I am psychologically completely damaged and have no hope for life. I constantly wish that I had died in the ocean. I have to lie to my parents and tell them I am alright while I am not, because I don’t want to worry them. I constantly cry. I don’t know what I should do.

Now some of the single men in our camp are on hunger strike and during the current week they have attempted to commit suicide. They have tried so many things from throwing themselves into the ocean and even hanging themselves and cutting themselves. When I saw the scene of a man hanging himself I passed out.

I want to go to Australia and join my brother. Please pray for me. Life has no meaning for me anymore. I am just awaiting a miracle. I was brought here forcefully and I don’t want to be here in this prison behind all these fences. I am hoping for a day when all these gates will be opened and I can step on the soil of Australia with my husband. My whole wish is this. Please pray for me and please help us because we are melting bit by bit and we are decaying.

We are all human beings with hearts, feelings and emotions. All we want is peace. To whoever reads my story I beg you to please pray for me and help me because I think I deserve peace and safety. I would like to come to Australia and be a fruitful member of the Australian society.

Letter 11

I am a 34 years old woman. From very early on in my life women had to always be isolated from society. As a young girl I never had the right to participate in social gatherings the way I would have wanted to. In very hot days of summer I had to be covered with very illogical attire, which I had to put on. The sufferings of us women were not just limited to only a few things.

The eyes of young men who were sexually oppressed by the Mullah regime would be constantly following and suffocating us women and we were constantly in danger of sexual predators.

After that period when we grew up and created a family for ourselves we thought our problems would be finished but it was completely the opposite. Due to the predicaments that happened for my husband the authorities started persecuting my children and myself. Threats were an everyday thing in our lives.

We had turned into nomads, moving from one town to another which resulted in us finally putting our lives in our hands and stepping into a journey of immigration.

We accepted all the hardships even though we could lose our lives in every step of the way. God helped us and we finally arrived on Christmas Island. We spent two months there. Even though I was a very quiet person, still they bought us here to Manus Island. It is now four months that we are in detention centres.

I am suffering from many emotional and psychological problems. My biggest worry is for my children. I don’t know what will be in the future for us. We came here with thousands of hopes and with the thoughts that we are coming to a free and just country. Life is very difficult here. I am a mother and I can see that my children are living in a harsh psychological situation. Please help me and my children.

Letter 12 (from Tamil mothers)

We, the Tamil refugees living in Manus Island would like to bring to your kind notice that due to the war that took place in our motherland, Sri Lanka, for the last three decades our lives have been severely effected. Due to the harassment by the army we lost our relatives, our wealth and stayed in many refugee camps without knowing what action that we have to take. After some years we went back to our place to live when the war was settled.

Then the army started to kidnap our youths with the help of unknown persons. They also misbehaved and tortured youngsters and girls were raped. There was no law and order in our country and we had no rights to question them and report our fates. We knew our lives were in danger and came to you seeking freedom and safety.

There was a law to say that those who arrived after 13th August 2012, no processing will be done in Australia, but will be processed in another country.

However, we accepted your instructions and without making any problems we came to Manus Island. Although you sent a selected crowd to Manus and almost 2 months passed and still we were waiting with no news.

Due to this, ourselves and our children, day by day, are undergoing a difficult situation with stress and psychological trauma. We came to know that some people who arrived in Australia after our boat’s arrival were given temporary visas and allowed to stay in your country. We don’t know why you have sent us only to Manus Island, hence, we earnestly request your good selves, with our broken hearts, to make the processing as early as possible and we are hoping to hear some good news from you soon.