Meryl Jackson from “Manus Lives Matter” spoke to the Vintage Reds at their March meeting.
Meryl has been involved with refugees for forty years. For the first twenty, she was proud of Australia’s welcoming policy. But the last years have been tough: dehumanising, no compassion shown, especially with the indefinite detention policy.
Some years ago the “Manus Lives Matter” group started doing phone card top-ups for the men, and sent parcels. Then they got to know the men, and made friends with a number of them. Meryl told stories about Nagaraj, a Tamil fisherman; Naeem, a 30-year-old Pakistani with an MBA in finance, a former bank and NGO worker, who has been in detention for four and a half years; and Shamindan, a 27-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil.
These men lead dangerous lives on Manus, sentenced to indefinite misery. They suffer sleeplessness and then nightmares. New trauma is added to old trauma. They often hang around in their rooms, scared to go outside. There are no activities. It’s half a kilometre to the mess, sometimes in mud if it has rained, or under hot sun. Local staff tend to be unfriendly and angry.
Previously there were facilities, a gym, a leisure centre for the men. Gradually amenities were removed, medical facilities diminished; then the old centre was closed. The men could not believe that the Australian government would leave them without food, shelter or electricity. They carried out peaceful resistance to the move to new quarters for three weeks. People were free to leave; there were no reproaches; the men took pains to be respectful to one another and to make decisions democratically.
The IHMS (International Health & Medical Services) will finish up in April this year. Manus hospital is poorly equipped, and the refugees are suffering especially from post-traumatic conditions which need attention. The sparse medical services do not include psychological care.
The US deal to take refugees from Manus, in exchange for immigrants which the US didn’t want, was in late 2016. Ten months later 54 people left for the US. More left in September last year. New Zealand has offered to take 150 a year, but the Australian government has refused. There are tens of thousands of visa overstayers in Australia. They are not persecuted in this way. Coming by boat is the only difference.
The government and opposition in Australia need to see that there are votes in this, that increasingly Australians are opposed to the policy of offshore indefinite detention. “Please yell for us!” is the plea from Manus. They know that they have people standing up for them and hope that we will speak to other people to bring about change.
You can email or message Sister Jane Keogh to arrange support through Manus Lives Matter: email@example.com, 0409 773 572.
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