Iranian refugee Majid Rabet could not hold back his tears as he recounted the details of the suicide of his best friend, an Iraqi refugee, in Villawood Detention Centre.
“I was the first person who went in the bathroom and saw he hanged himself. I lifted him upwards to keep him alive, but he was already dead,” Majid said.
Majid said that afterwards he felt “everything changed”, and spoke of the immense distress and trauma his friend's suicide had caused him. It was the first of two suicides to occur while Majid was in Villawood detention centre. “These things will stay with me forever”, he said.
Majid was one of a range of refugees to address the fourth “People Just Like Us” refugee talk held on October 21 at the Parramatta City Council Chambers.
The series of talks began in mid-July and are designed to give a platform for refugees who have been detained by the Australian government to share their experiences. The series is being organised by People Just Like Us (PJLU), in partnership with the Refugee Council of Australia.
PJLU was founded by eight activists from different parts of Sydney who oppose the government's treatment of refugees and want to combat the mainstream media narrative about refugees coming by boat.
In the publicity for the event, PJLU says, “Asylum seekers and refugees are people just like us. They should not be punished for fleeing danger and seeking our help. Seeking asylum is not a crime. However, in Australia, asylum seekers and refugees have long been dehumanised by our Government and the mainstream media.”
Rawand Azad, a former refugee and member of the Australian Kurdish Association, spoke about the oppression of the Kurdish people by Saddam Hussein's regime that forced his family to flee their home in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Azad highlighted the counter-productive role that Western imperialist intervention has on internal conflicts in the Middle East. He shed light on the role of the Kurdish fighters (and their allies) in the liberated town of Kobane in Syrian Kurdistan, who defeated attempts by ISIS to take over the area earlier this year.
Ezatullah Salar, an Afghan Hazara refugee, talked about Khodayar Amini, another Afghan Hazara refugee who, three days prior to the meeting, died after setting himself on fire. Fearing being returned to detention or sent back to Afghanistan, Amini tragically chose to end his life.
“The government made him crazy ... when you put an animal in a box it will go crazy, and the same for humans”, Salar said.
Iranian refugee Amir Javan spoke about how he stayed in detention for four-an-half years while his papers were “processed”.
When asked how to help refugees, Amir said “do not let the media manipulate you”, highlighting the fact that the corporate media and politicians falsely label refugees as a threat to Australians, when in reality they have been the most victimised.
He said to continue educating them on the truth about refugee, as “the pen is the best weapon”.