A conversation overheard

May 6, 2016
The vigil for Omid Masoumali.

It is amazing the conversations one overhears sometimes.

I was attending a vigil for Omid Masoumali, the young asylum seeker who died a few days after he set himself on fire in Australia's notorious refugee detention camp in Nauru. The atmosphere at the vigil was sad and tense. Among those at vigil were two young women quietly holding flickering candles.

Another woman holding a Teachers for Refugees banner asked the young women: “What school are you from?”

“I am not at school,” replied one of the young women.

“Are you at uni or TAFE?” asked the older woman, who I assumed was a teacher.

“No I am not at uni or TAFE,” was the reply.

“Are you working then?”

“No I am not working. I am doing nothing because I am an asylum seeker in community detention, so I am not allowed to study or work. I would like to study to become a social worker, but I am not allowed.”

It was one of those heavy, silent moments you could slice with a knife.

Right at the end of the vigil the young woman asked to say a few words. She explained that she was an asylum seeker from Somalia and that she had previously been detained on Nauru, where she had met Omid. She explained the deep despair and hopelessness the Nauru asylum seekers are condemned to.

After Omid set himself on fire, he went without doctor's care for two hours at the inadequate medical facility in Nauru camp and he screamed in agony for a further eight hours before morphine was administered, according to his wife. Video footage of his terrible agony has surfaced.

As she shared her sadness and anger at Omid's death in the system of unspeakable cruelty and inhumanity that is Australia's offshore detention policy for so-called “boat people”, there were tears rolling down the cheeks of many people at the vigil.

If one could read a collective thought bubble above the crowd it would have been: “This cannot continue.”

Yet just four days later we were back for another candlelight vigil in the same spot. This time it was for Hodan Yasin, a 19-year-old Somali asylum seeker who, like Omid, had set herself on fire in Nauru.

This monstrous policy of systematic abuse of asylum seekers must end. But there is still a big fight to be had. This evil policy is supported by both the Coalition government and the Labor opposition. Shamefully it was a Labor government that introduced offshore detention.

Green Left Weekly campaigns week after week against mandatory and offshore detention of these asylum seekers. But we need your help to continue.

You can do this by making a donation to the GLW Fighting Fund here.

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