Two weeks ago, a group of women asylum seekers wrote open letters about reasons for seeking refuge and their despair at finding themselves indefinitely locked up on Manus Island. Today, the new Minister for Immigration Brendan O’Connor told the ABC he is planning to visit Manus Island and Nauru soon. If he stopped to speak with women on Manus Island, these are the stories they would tell him.
We are running the stories of Iranian women today and tomorrow. On Friday, we will run letters written by women from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq.
For security reasons the authors have not used their names or disclosed some particular forms of persecution related to their asylum applications. They received translation assistance.
Letter by 26-year-old woman persecuted for changing beliefs
Changing beliefs is a serious offence
I am a 26-year-old woman. I have left my country because of thousands of different problems in the society which I used to live in and also due to the lies and lack of security, safety, and freedom of expression and justice. My uncle was killed by order from the government and that created many problems for my family. During the demonstrations following the presidential elections the government told lies to people and rigged the votes. They killed many, many young people only because of the way they were trying to defend their freedom of expression. During that time we would even leave our doors open so those who were seeking refuge from the government officials and police could come in.
I wasn’t even able to announce my Christianity in public because changing my beliefs from Islam to Christianity in my country is a serious offence. I could be sentenced to hanging for that reason. There was a world of psychological and emotional pressure on me as the government would consider us infidels. I only shared my conversion to Christianity with some of my university friends and that caused me a lot of troubles and I had to defer my university career even though I hadn’t finished it yet because I would be persecuted otherwise.
Journey to Australia
After that and in a search of safety and peace I decided to escape Iran with my husband. We left Iran and ended up in Indonesia where we spent a month and a half. It was quite a difficult environment and situation being away from my parents and the stressful journey into the unknown. It had messed up my head and then we had to embark on a more stressful path through the ocean and towards Australia.
Throughout that journey I always thought to myself why my life should be like this. We spent 10 nights in the ocean which was full of sufferings and difficulties. We ran out of food and water. At the end we were almost running out of fuel.
We just saw a light in the ocean and started using our torch to alert whoever was there. Thank God that finally a ship found us and came to our rescue. We spent another week on that ship before we were delivered to Christmas Island. On board the ship there was a big area that all the Iranian and Sri Lankans shared together. We would sleep on the bare floor and only at meal time were allowed to come out and afterwards we would have to go back to that room again.
Tents on Christmas Island full of crabs and rats
Then finally we got to Christmas Island and then they transferred us to the detention centre. In that centre they had set up tents for families which were shocking. They were full of crabs and rats. We were told that due to the new regulation dated 13 August 2012 we all would be transferred to Nauru and that was end of the world for me. I was seeking peace, then where is it? With all the difficulties and misfortunes we spent 18 days in the tents which was our quarantine period.
They lied to us — my world collapsed
After that they changed our compound and transferred us to a new area where we could only for one night sleep in a proper room and a clean bed and then at 6:45 am the next morning they came and said you would be transferred from here to Adelaide. They lied to us but back then I was extremely happy. I didn’t even have my breakfast or hadn’t washed up when they came back and again and said we have been chosen to be sent to Papua New Guinea. My world collapsed and I passed out. I cried so hard and thought to myself: "here goes all my dreams and hopes".
I can’t even describe how I felt back then. Eventually, after a long wait in a big hall they took us on the plane and we were all treated as if we were criminals, as if we had killed someone. They filmed the whole scenario. After nine hours, finally we arrived on Manus Island. Everyone was disheveled and constantly crying. We were all in a state of shock and disarray.
Terrible nightmares every night
Now it is a month and a week since we arrived on the Island. I am extremely depressed. I take medication to calm myself down and on top of that we everyday take malaria tablets. Life has no meaning for me anymore. Everyday is worse than yesterday with 35 degree heat and 80 per cent humidity and no air-conditioning, just a small fan in our room which is only two square metres, with nothing in it. There aren’t even proper doors or windows. All we have are openings covered by mosquito mesh. Because of the consumption of malaria tablets our skin has become so sensitive that we have all developed white dots all over our bodies. I have terrible nightmares every night and I wake up screaming. That is if I am able to fall asleep from the heat.
I feel that I am psychologically completely damaged and have no hope for life. I constantly wish that I had died in the ocean. I have to lie to my parents and tell them I am alright while I am not, because I don’t want to worry them. I constantly cry. I don’t know what I should do.
Now some of the single men in our camp are on hunger strike and during the current week they have attempted to commit suicide. They have tried so many things from throwing themselves into the ocean and even hanging themselves and cutting themselves. When I saw the scene of a man hanging himself I passed out.
We are melting bit by bit
I want to go to Australia and join my brother. Please pray for me. Life has no meaning for me anymore. I am just awaiting a miracle. I was brought here forcefully and I don’t want to be here in this prison behind all these fences. I am hoping for a day when all these gates will be opened and I can step on the soil of Australia with my husband. My whole wish is this. Please pray for me and please help us because we are melting bit by bit and we are decaying. We are all human beings with hearts, feelings and emotions. All we want is peace. To whoever reads my story I beg you to please pray for me and help me because I think I deserve peace and safety. I would like to come to Australia and be a fruitful member of the Australian society.
Letter from a 21-year-old woman
I am 21-year-old Iranian girl and I am a Christian. I am currently in Manus island in PNG and living in a Camp and having a hard time, the same as I had back in Iran.
Since a teenager I have been suffering. I have never been free or able to live in peace. There is no freedom in my country for women. Women are not free to choose what they are going to do as a career or study at University. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, except to follow Islam. You cannot change your faith. We have no choice in what clothes to wear. If our hair is not covered properly we can be fined, arrested, and for repeated offences even stoned and executed. There is no social security when you face difficult times. There is no fun for women. There are many problems for women.
Could have been killed for being a model
I decided to go to Malaysia for work and I found a modelling job. I worked six months as a model but after that I was forced to come back to my country because of some problems, but I couldn’t stay any longer in Iran because if the government discovered I was a model I would have been killed.
For these and other personal reasons we found our lives in danger. My parents and myself had to leave Iran . We went to Indonesia and travelled to Christmas Island on a boat. It was a very hard trip. The boat was in very poor condition and could sink at any moment, but with the help of God and Jesus Christ we safely arrived at Christmas Island. For two months and one week we stayed in mixed camps, and then sadly were transferred to Manus Island unwillingly, using force.
The weather is very hot here. There is no air conditioning. Our rooms still have no doors. There is no privacy. The hygiene is very bad. The medical service is inadequate. My parents are old and have got sick and are not being looked after. Mentally, my parents are suffering and experiencing depression. I also am suffering with this. I have a very bad mental health condition and I am unable to help my parents. I am so fed up with this situation. I wish to have a life in peace and a better situation. I want to be able to study and be a better person to help the community.
Can I return to Australia? How long have I got to stay in this jail? Why out of all these refugees who have come to Australia only 200 have been sent to this island? Why just us? There are a lot of questions but no one has answered in the four weeks we have been at Manus Island. I hope people can help to free us from this jail to be able to live like other women, in freedom and peace.
Note: At the time of writing, there were no doors. Since then, the family sleeping huts have had doors installed but the tents in which single men sleep still have no doors.
Letter from a 33-year-old woman with two sons
I am a 33-year-old Iranian woman and I have two sons. Since I was a child I haven’t been happy or seen many good days. When I was 11 months old I lost my parents in an air crash that was caused by striking airport personnel, resulting in a lack of safety. Since then I have had a bad life. In Iran when you become an orphan girl they give you to relatives to bring you up. I was bought up by my grandmother. I had no connection with her. Her beliefs and culture were not what I desired. I grew up like this till I was 15, facing hardship and loneliness.
I was forced to marry someone within my family, despite the fact we didn’t have any love or attraction. We both tried hard to start our new life. I was studying and also working. I did the household chores as well and looked after our two children. Due to injustice and cruel, unfair treatment my husband had to flee the country fearing for his life, leaving me alone with two children. In that one night our whole life changed and we lost everything. All of our dreams were dashed. Knowing what it was like to be bought up without parents I didn’t want my children to experience this or grow up without a father.
After one month I reunited with my husband in Indonesia. We had a very tough trip to Christmas Island and I spent three months in the Camp there. After this time they sent us to Manus Island, PNG.
Son has no desire to live
I am very ill, suffering from diabetes and cholesterol related disease. I am not a weak person, and despite all the illnesses I have, I am still fighting. My only concern is the welfare of my children. My oldest son has no desire to live currently. He has severe depression. My younger son is not able to attend school because of the very hot and primitive conditions in the classroom.
Despite the fact I have never experienced the love of a mother, I am trying to be a loving mother to my children. I am very upset and depressed and cannot stand seeing them depressed and suffering. As a mother I feel powerless to do anything for them in this place. As a woman and mother I ask you to help me please. I hope there are people who can help me to see the day that no mother has to worry or be upset for their children, or experience growing up without a mother.
New Matilda will publish more open letters from women detained on Manus Island tomorrow and on Friday.
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