Manus Island detainees still “completely alone” months after suicide


Senator Nick McKim and Abdul Aziz Adam speaking live on Skype. Photo: Mary Hakimi

No counselling services have been offered to the friends of 52-year-old Rohingya refugee Salim Kyawning who died seven months ago on Manus Island by taking his own life.

Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani told The Guardian that Salim jumped out of a moving bus and died moments later after his head was crushed under the wheels of the vehicle.

His death was the third recorded suicide in the last year, and the seventh recorded refugee death on Manus Island in total.

Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Adam said Salim’s death was due to severe physical and mental illness and has caused depression among the detainees who all knew him.

“We still don’t accept that he’s gone,” the 25-year-old said. “When you’d go to the centre you’d see Salim sitting outside on his chair; sometimes he slept on that chair. Some of us cry when we see his chair now, and some can’t even control themselves.”

Mr Adam said the situation had not improved since the “siege” in October 2017.

“It’s getting worse and worse every single day. We thought that after the siege it would improve but they’ve just been lying to us,” he said.

“We still have no one here we can talk to, no one to direct our complaints to and there is no one here to help us at all.”

There are service providers in Port Moresby but Mr Adam said they were not helpful or experienced in dealing with refugees, some of whom have been seeking Australian counselling services over the phone. Most are “completely alone”.

Mr Adam said Salim had an epileptic fit two-days before he died. He collapsed to the ground and hurt himself so badly he was covered with scars on his face and body but refused to go to the hospital for medical treatment.

When Mr Adam asked him why, Salim told him, “these people are not here to help us, they are here to kill us and they are murderers”.

Epilepsy can be triggered by tiredness, sleep deprivation, stress, alcohol, and withdrawal from medication.

Mr Adam said Salim told him he was worried about his family in Burma and worried about himself. Salim fled the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar five years ago, leaving his wife and children behind on his way to Australia.

“Yet another life destroyed by our government’s punitive policies,” Greens Senator Nick McKim said at a Senate estimates hearing in May last year.

Senator McKim met Salim during his trip to Manus Island while the siege was underway. He described the conditions as torturous.

“There is not a single psychologist on Manus Island available to help these guys and the rest of the medical support is grossly inadequate,” he said at a forum hosted by Refugee Action Coalition Sydney in April.

“They feel abandoned and they’ve lost hope because they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what’s causing the mental trauma and the anguish that so many of them are facing.”

Mary Crock, a solicitor specialising in Immigration Law, said every time a death happened it was extremely distressing to the men left behind.

“They are all very much aware of each other and the stresses that they are all under,” she said.

Ms Crock said under international law the people on Manus Island and Nauru are Australia’s responsibility.

“The refugee convention and all the other human rights conventions contain a whole raft of positions,” she said.  “The central obligation is to not harm the lives of people and to not subject them to torture and trauma. I believe being left for years and years in an unsanitary and unsafe environment is in breach of a raft of international legal obligations.”

In January last year The Guardian reported that the federal government refused an order from the Senate to release documents on the health, construction and security services for refugees on Manus Island. The home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, told the Senate: “I believe the disclosure of the requested material would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to international relations: specifically, Australia’s relations with Papua New Guinea”.

Still awaiting comment from the office of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton at time of publication, but on July 26 he told ABC Hack listener Emmy from Canberra, when she asked what was being done to address health care needs of asylum seekers on Manus Island, that “tens of millions of dollars” had been put into hospitals and health clinics to help treat refugees. He also said claims of a spike in refugees self harming were “incorrect”.

“There was a spike in self harm attempts on Nauru when people knew they could come to Australia for medical attention,” Mr Dutton said. “We’ve seen a significant fall off in the number of people self harming and that’s because we’ve said we’re not taking you to Australia unless you require medical services.”

Contributor biography:

Mary Hakimi is a 24-year-old media professional and postgraduate student with a passion for social and digital media. She loves good coffee, travelling, ‘A song of ice and fire’ by George R.R. Martin and beach days. Contact: [email protected]