'Please Put Yourselves In Our Shoes'


This week New Matilda is publishing open letters by women asylum seekers detained on Manus Island. In these letters, women discuss life on Manus and the circumstances that led them to seek asylum in Australia.

Papua New Guinea was put on tsunami watch yesterday after an earthquake hit the Solomon Islands. Asylum seekers held at the Manus Island detention centre were terrified. A chaotic evacuation took place and all detainees — except single men were removed to higher ground until the danger passed. NM Contributing Editor Wendy Bacon publishes a letter about the evacuation from an asylum seeker at the centre on her blog: "Some people were crying and kids terrified. They all thought that's the end of their life." Children who were already traumatised were terrified. Some of the women who have written open letters about their situation were evacuated.

These letters were written by Iranian women, as were those we published yesterday. Tomorrow we'll run the stories of women from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq. For security reasons the authors have not used their names or disclosed some particular forms of individual persecution which relate to their asylum applications. They received translation assistance.

Letter from a 23-year-old woman
I am a 23-year-old Iranian woman. I am in Manus Island with my husband. I have had a lot of problems in my country as a woman. Iran is an Islamic country with a lot of restrictions for women. Hajeb is obligatory in Iran. If any girl or woman is improperly dressed the police can capture her and don't free her until she gives them an undertaking that she won't do this again. I was a university student and never could wear light coloured clothing and scarf. We could only wear dark coloured clothes. I also have worked for an oil company. I couldn't wear makeup, jeans or light coloured clothes. I had to wear loose fitting clothes, my hair shouldn't be visible, wearing socks was obligatory, etc.

No countries give visas to Iranians because of political problems of our government. My country has economic sanctions from powerful countries. So all things are much more expensive than its real price. But even with all of these difficulties we love our country forever. We just have problems with our government because of their oppressive policies.

I decided to come to Australia because of a bigger problem that I can't mention here. I left my country in November 2011. I was forced to stay in Indonesia for one year. In our first departure we were on the Indian Ocean for 12 days. Our boat was broken and we were near to drowning. Finally the police of Indonesia rescued us and I was in jail for three months. It is too difficult for a woman to tolerate the situation of a jail. But I tolerated this all with the hope of a brighter future.

Eventually I arrived at Christmas Island and I was thinking that the hardships were finished and I can have a better life in a better country in peace. But it was just a dream.

Australia forced us to come here to Manus Island without our agreement. I have allergies and need some special care but there isn't enough medical facilities here. We just have a general practitioner, psychologist and a nurse. We have to take malaria tablets every day and it will be harmful for our health in the long term. Every night I have nightmares and just sleep for six hours. The weather is too hot and we don't have any air conditioner in our rooms, dining room or school.

There are some mice in the dining room. We can't eat food because of the heat. I am depressed.

I don't have any hope except if Australians request the government to return us to Australia. We are not criminals. We are all ordinary people. We didn't come to Australia for food, clothes or to receive handouts from the government. We just want to come over here to live in peace, freedom and study in universities, to be beneficial for Australia. We all respect your law and also your people. Please help us.

Letter from an Iranian woman with one child
I am an Iranian woman and I have a child, nine years old. We had to leave Iran because of the personal hardship that I experienced there.

I had a lot of difficulties with my husband. In Iran women have no right to file a case for divorce. Divorced women are seen as bad in Iranian society. Women have little value in Iran, we have no rights or choices. Therefore because of my concerns for the welfare of my child I put up with this marriage. But my husband was not able to support us financially. My husband made threats to me and I eventually separated from him while living in Iran.

I had to leave the country hoping to create a better environment and future for my child. I decided to come to Australia because of hearing that women are valued there and have rights. I travelled to Indonesia and then boarded a boat to Christmas Island. I was there for three months.

After 13 August they brought us unwillingly to Manus Island. It is very hard for me to be here. I am suffering some mental and emotional issues. It is hard to cope mentally well here. I fear malaria disease. Manus Island has a high rate of this disease and I fear for the health of my child. I am concerned that the pills they give us are also not safe to take for a long time.

The camp is hot and has very poor facilities and I am always concerned for the health of my child. There is little opportunity for children to study. There is little fun. We need a place of calm, a better place. We have suffered both in Iran and here. We have sought refuge in Australia. Please help us to get back to Australia to be able to have a better life for myself and my child.

Letter from a 48-year-old woman
I am a 48-year-old woman from Iran. I have never had freedom in Iran. No freedom of religion, no personal freedom, no freedom in my community. This has led me to become ill. I lost my hope in life. I was always staying inside and never leaving the house in fear of the religious police who enforce their harsh rules. I became severely depressed until I converted to Christianity, and now I find myself forced to migrate to have this freedom.

Locked up in Manus camp for more than three months
As a woman that has suffered and been damaged by this life, I then had to face this very difficult boat journey to Australia and be brought to Manus Island. I am severely suffering from mental stress. Considering my age, I should now be in a peaceful life, but unfortunately this has not happened yet. I am desperately begging you please help me and women that have been imprisoned in this camp. It has been three months and 10 days I haven't seen outside of the fence. I am hoping with the help of Jesus Christ and all of you, that all women will find fulfilment and the freedom we long for.

A letter from an Iranian woman
I am a woman like any other, with the only difference I was born in a country like Iran where I have no rights. There is so much religious pressure in Iran that the relationship between boys and girls is portrayed badly, and does not develop naturally or normally. Because of this boys and girls are not free to have normal relationships and homosexuality is often a result.

The religious police will stop boys and girls on the street to take them away to custody for many minor things and ask for their parents to come and collect them and sign a letter that they will not do this again.

Art in Iran has no value. Women are not able to become singers. For example, in a school of arts when women are learning theatre no men are allowed to play roles with women. We have to do a lot of makeup to make a woman look like a man.

We are forced if born in a Muslim family to follow Islam. If you wanted to convert your life would be in danger. Wearing head covering if you are a woman is compulsory and if you don't obey this you get taken into custody, and must sign a statement you won't do this again. If it is repeated you will be banned from ever getting any job with the government.

When you want to get married girls need the permission of their father but boys don't require this. Only men have the right to divorce and men are allowed to have multiple wives, while women have no right to oppose that. Women don't have the same privileges as men. The punishment for adultery is death and for women this is by stoning.

Please put yourselves in our shoes. Would you put your own and your children's life in danger by getting into a boat and going into the ocean at great risk if there was any other option? Understand it was only through desperation we have done this.

New Matilda is publishing letters from women detained on Manus Island this week. Read more letters from Iranian women here.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.