Asylum seekers beg Barack Obama to be saved from ‘Australian Guantánamo’

November 28, 2014 | the guardian

In extraordinary move, asylum seekers held on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea plead for US and Canada ‘to take us out of this miserable situation’

Manus Islane
Asylum seekers held by Australia on Manus Island. Photograph: Eoin Blackwell/AAP Image

Guardian Australia has received copies of letters sent by asylum seekers to US president Barack Obama and to the Canadian immigration department, asking to be resettled in those countries.

The letter to Obama, signed by 10 Pakistani asylum seekers and written in English, pleads for American intervention in their cases.

“You are the only hope for us to give us a new life … we beg for your help to take us out of this miserable situation.”

The asylum seekers mention the deaths of detainees on Manus this year, of Reza Berati, who was beaten to death in a major disturbance between asylum seekers, guards and local Manusians, and of Hamid Kehazaei, who died from an infected foot that turned septic.

“People here are getting worst (sic) mentally and physically as the facilities are insufficient and on some occasions we are provided with expired medicine and contaminated food. We are treated just like animals with inhumane and immoral responses by the management. Authorities and immigration officers … compel us to go back to the country of our origin.”

The men say they fled Pakistan because of the threat of terrorism by Taliban extremists.

They have signed the letter with their names, signatures and the ID numbers issued to them in detention.

Another letter, signed by more than 40 Iranian asylum seekers, has been sent to the Canadian immigration department.

“It has been 15 month that we are detained in the Australian version of Guantánamo prison in an extremely inhuman condition indefinitely and with no awareness of our future,” it says. “We have spent 15 month in here and have witnessed the death of two of our friends.”

Picture of Reza Berati
An asylum seeker held in detention on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea holds up a picture of slain Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati. Photograph: Eoin Blackwell/AAP Image

The letter shows an acute awareness of Australian government policy and its aims, particularly the deterrent factor of offshore detention in “stopping the boats”.

“We think the end of this abusement (sic) by the Australian government which is used as a tool will end by your help,” the letter says. “Currently we are used as a deterrent signboard for the refugees of the world used by the Australian government which tells them this is what is going to happen to you if you come to Australia.”

Neither letter has received a reply yet. However, the asylum seekers do not regard the letters as attempts to seek attention, but as genuine cries for help.

This week, several refugee status determinations have been handed down by PNG authorities.

Some asylum seekers have been found to be genuine refugees, in need of protection, and will be resettled within the Manus community.

Others have been told they will be deported back to their home countries.

One asylum seeker told Guardian Australia that PNG staff working at the detention centre had warned refugees resettled in the community would be attacked.

“They said ‘if you are coming to Manus we will beat you’.”

Several are having their assessments and determinations made next week.



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