Australian asylum seeker policy designed to break people

Peter Dutton, what do you do between the hours of midnight and 5am? Do you sleep? If so, I really must ask – how can you?

Dozens of Australians sit up all night, every single night, comforting asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. You don’t have to, therefore the task falls to the advocates.

Let me tell you what this entails, since your statement blaming advocates for suicide attempts – of actually encouraging self-harm – suggests you are clearly unaware.

It is mind-blowingly hot on Manus and Nauru during the day, so our friends there try to sleep. We, safely onshore, sit tensely in the evenings, watching for the little green light that signals people have come online.

When someone doesn’t show up, there is a flurry of frantic calls between advocates; when did you last hear from them? What did they say? Are they in danger of self-harm? Who do you know in the same compound?

The result of these calls can be anything from relief upon locating our friend, safe and sound, or that which is becoming more common – they’ve harmed themselves and are in International Health and Medical Services, or have been beaten by guards and thrown into solitary confinement.

We cannot sleep, Mr Dutton. We can close our eyes, but the horrors we are witnessing don’t go away. And on the rare occasions we actually do get to sleep, we know there are no guarantees that our loved ones will be unharmed when we wake.

I will never forget the last night I actually slept for eight hours – it was in September last year, and I woke to discover one of my dearest friends on Manus had stabbed himself in the neck.

He apologised over and over again, he knew he’d broken his promise not to hurt himself, but after three years of incarceration, beatings from the guards and locals, as well as untreated medical conditions, the psychological damage means we cannot expect them to always have control over their behaviours.

He has since tried to drown himself, and I live in constant fear of losing him. Continue reading

  • Sarah Smith is a refugee advocate for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island.

News category: Analysis and Comment.

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