the human stories behind the politics
In October 2003 we were present with our information stall during the entire season at the Deckchair performance of Citizen X in Fremantle. We thank and acknowledge DeckChair for the privilege.
And - as far as the performance is concerned, we're not likely to forget the experience - it moved us to the core.
Below is the script of the play. There are just three actors. The line-up in the Deckchair performance is George Shevtsov, Elizabeth Spencer and Anna Kim.
A play by Don Mamouney
Starring George Shevtsov, Elizabeth Spencer and Anna Kim
Directed by Angela Chaplin; Lighting design by Andrew Portwine
Presented by Fremantle's Deckchair Theatre
Imagine if your destiny was to abandon your country, many of your family, all that was precious, in order to save your life and the lives of those you love.
Elections have been fought over them, the newspapers are full them. We know them by their labels - asylum seekers, detainees, and queue jumpers. We know of their attempts to gain our attention - suicides, hunger strikes, breakouts. But what do we know of their humanity, the situations they have fled or the ordeals they continue to endure? Some Australians have reached out and made contact by writing to detainees. The letters they have received in response make up the basis of the script of CITIZEN X.
These letters from Woomera, Curtin, Port Hedland and Villawood are vulnerable, confused, poetic, sometimes angry, sometimes resigned but always very human.
"Don Mamouney's production is spare and direct, and there's a white-hot rage beneath the coolness and clarity of this work. It's rough, direct and very urgent, as the cast performs the words of detainees and one horrified nurse from behind a deeply ironic picket fence."
"The detainees' texts range from incomprehension and pleading to gratitude for small kindnesses. There's a constant refrain about the heartlessness of the system, and amazement that a civilised, affluent culture that prizes its reputation for tolerance could treat human beings so harshly. This is a striking and heart-rending play that gives voice to the voiceless. And regardless of your opinion on detention centres for asylum seekers, these voices are worth hearing."
The capital letters G, S and K represent the three actors: George Shevtsov [G], Elizabeth Spencer [S] and Anna Kim [K].
Written by Don Mamouney
Sidetrack Performance Group
If someone dies, there will always be someone who will bury them. If a bird falls from the sky there will be someone to fix its broken wing. If a house collapses there will be someone to rescue the survivors.
After the deluge the people work to clear away the mud from their loved ones. If one is innocent and being hung, there are those who will look after him. This is because there are still just consciences around.
We are dead who just barely breathe. We are the birds the arrows of faith have pierced through the heart. We are the ones under the rubble of humanity. We are washed up by the flood to this shore.
We are the innocents who have kissed the noose of Australian democracy.
We were the fan to the fire but thrown into the fire to feed the flames. We are those who believe in a dream but are adrift in this swamp of prejudice.
You are the only hope after the gods.
And you are the light amid the darkness of Australian democracy. And you are the ones who are left to follow the freedom and liberty of the detainee.
We hear the voice of conscience through your mouth only.
I on behalf of all the prisoners and detainees for freedom thank you and appreciate you dearly.
I wish my pen could express the appreciation since there are no words one can find to express the true feelings of human beings.
Will you please observe through the wire
I am sewing my feet together
They have walked about as far
As they ever need to go
Will you further observe
Through the wire
I am sewing my heart together
It is now so full of
The ashes of my days
It will not hold
Through the wire
One last time
I am sewing my lips together
That which you are denying us
We should never have
Had to ask for.
(Angela, we played with this and did some in Arabic and then translated it)
To My Dear Brother,
At first I want to say hello to you.
I am a girl full of pain. I live with my mother and sisters in Port Hedland detention centre. It makes me really happy to find a new and nice friend.
How are you? Hello.
On behalf of fellow detainees.
I thank you for your letter and I am joy when I read it.
My dear brother. We want to be free like you. Not like poor birds in the cage.
I am Iraqi, 41 years old, an electrical engineer, father of two beautiful children aged 11, 5 years.
I arrived to Australia in 1999 looking for freedom and safety and till now I am behind double fences. What can I do?
My Dear Brother. We are in very bad situation in here. I am very tired and gloomy. I am always crying because of my mother she is old. She cannot tolerate this treatment in this age any more.
I am sad about the people who are here. Poor children when they see a person outside the detention centre or even an aeroplane in the sky they cry and grab the fence with disappointed and broken hearts and shout, 'we want freedom. We want freedom, freedom, freedom.'
I hope you can ask the Australian Government by the name of humanity, upon which Australia has always been known to find us a proper solution for our cases, saving us from the slow death, which we are living daily.
Please say to Government of Australia we are human. We are not animal. We escape from war, pain in search of human right, so where is human right?
We want freedom, we want to live, and we want to be free like other human. Also children, old people, young people in here become hopeless and disappointed in this long time in jail, some of them become mad or crazy.
Please don't forget us? we are human.
We are refugees.
We are not criminals.
We are the victims of criminal regimes.
We put our lives in danger and came here by a small boat.
We sailed toward police and delivered ourselves to you.
We shouted with happiness when you found us.
We are not escaping law but escaping towards law.
We did not come here for free food.
We came here for freedom, love and faith.
We are not dangerous but simple, reliable and kind.
We are imprisoned with your taxes.
We make nooses for ourselves with your taxes.
We do not want to waste your taxes.
We do not need welfare.
We are good workers.
We want to work.
To be useful.
To be alive.
To be loved.
We want your help.
We want freedom.
Dear Brenda, many thanks for your letters to me and I received your package on July 23, and thanks for copying my reports from RRT. My God will bless you for your sincere efforts.
I heard that US is going to invade Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. I and most of Iraquis hope to change current regime in Iraq and we hope the UN president will have true determination to get rid of Saddam this time.
In the same time we are fearing for the worst from Saddam. Probably he would use many kinds of weapons against the people who are living inside as he had done after the Gulf war.
He is very blood thirsty when he feels his life is threatened and he will probably try to attack other countries.
Most Iraqis would like to get rid of Saddam with minimum losses and bloodshed. So I am always thinking of my family and my future.
The life in the camp is very hard. It has left a bad impact on my health and psychological condition.
What you say Australia is like sounds very beautiful but unfortunately, maybe I will not have a chance to see Australia.
Every day is like one year because the whole day I am sitting in the room, here is nothing to make me happy.
I have continuous worry about my family.
When I received the decision of the federal government the lawyer asked me to appeal, I refused.
I get a headache every day and I have lost weight.
Please make me happy with your kind letters.
We are waiting for your help.
Thank you for your nice letter that you sent me.
Thank you for your correspondence to detainees. It is a great demonstration of friendship and welcome.
My friend and I are receiving letters, cards, photo, gifts and bunch of flowers from Australian people who having kind hearts like you.
I wish you good health and hope you continue to correspond.
But I told them that I would agree to go to any country.
I know that this is very dangerous and a risk for me but sometimes my patience and strength is all gone and I long for death more than life.
It is more than one year now since the federal government rejected my application for asylum but no country will agree to welcome me.
I would like to study English. I would like to work, I hope I become free.
I was pleased to receive your letter and learn little about you and your family.
What can I do? I accept the Government Policy and I don't want to change the Tribunal decision.
I would like to have a home. Do you know everyone here has these wishes.
I am also glad you ask me questions to know about me and our situations and what is really happening.
What can I do when no country will accept me?
Many people have been here about 4 years, 3 years, 2 years, they are Afghani, Iraqi, Irani and other people.
The good sentiments of your letter made me feel happy and proud.
Being detained without any crime is very traumatic, shameful, and destructive.
Young boys and girls say we want to work, we want to love, we want to live. Please rescue us from this horror.
I have fear persecution from Iraq government for reasons of my political opinion and dislike of the current regime in Iraq.
Prisons may sound very hard but knowing an exact duration of a sentence is less stressful.
So I have escaped with my family and entered Syria illegally in September 1996.
Here in detention you do not know when you are going to be released and what will happen to you.
My dear sister! You are my first Australian friend, so I cannot forget you!
I and my wife have no relatives or friends in Syria.
Your husband is my brother-in-law and your son my nephew. I love them.
I had left Syria on a false passport and that is a crime from the Syrian point of view. Now, in Syria my family are living in vegetable garden with old woman who has the garden. My wife is able to teach my sons because she is a graduate.
Believe me, when I am upset with life, I spend time to read your letters and learn more and more to practice English. I would like you to make any correction for me. If you don't mind I would like to get photos of your family and where you live.
Sometimes I have a sense that no help will come, I feel like I'm in a grave with four walls. Nobody can enjoy confinement in cramped detention centres, walls topped with razor wire. Most of the people lost their memory and their mind in this bloody detention centre. Some are still trying to commit suicide. I tried to burn myself, but my friends did not allow me to do so.
Sorry if I sound too depressed with my feelings. With best wishes and warm regards to your family. PS thanks for the photo. Your dad look like he is just as bald as my dad. Good bye now.
Sometimes I wonder why I am suffering but I console myself saying that I am a human rights activist and obviously I suffer because of this inhumane policy. I hope that one?day, very soon, John Howard will wake up from hallucinating and see the reality. Finally the time will come to put an end to this business of human misery.
Otherwise there shall be no difference between the despotic religious government in my country and the Howard government.
Please know that we are innocent people not invaders.
Please let them know that nobody is illegal, it is an absolute abuse of humanity to stamp us as "illegal".
If there was a similar kind of brutal policy 60 years ago, Mr. Ruddock would have been one amongst us in this detention centre.
Thank you again for the English books and the dictionary and the envelopes and stamps.
I am an asylum seeker who has suffered for more than 20 months. I am a witness of sufferings and disadvantage and a new method of enslavement of refugees in the 21st century.
Our sufferings are like termites that gradually eat out the inside of a tree until it is hollow.
By my experience as a detainee myself perhaps I could put some light on the tragic circumstances that a refugee has to face during his detention.
Under the rule of despotic regimes, the people who speak truth and who raise their voice against their systems will be tortured, prosecuted and executed. But here, in Australia detention, limitation, contempt and death are for what?
These crimes against humans are for what?
Being treated badly with rudeness and harshness and the nightmare of waiting all day expecting a decision every moment.
Living with no respect often coming across people attempting suicides, etcetera.
All these bad experiences and torture to mankind are for what?
Since the moment we arrived in the detention centre, we have forgotten what happiness and laughter means and scenes of suicides, death and terror make us more depressed.
When I come across a detainee who is weeping with pain, I am unable to control myself and tears start rolling down from my eyes because we can understand each other. Because the pain in this place is common to us all.
I compare the people in the detention centres with a small baby who has just started to walk and even a slight push will tumble him down.
Even if the weather cools down a bit, we catch cold and the slightest hot weather gives us dehydration.
This is a true prison, where thoughts are killed and death is always knocking at the door.
The look of the security guards towards a detainee can be exactly compared with a look of a master to a slave, and when a detainee flighting for his self respect opposes the guard there is a very cruel treatment.
The result is always the same - mental and physical hurt.
We thought that we had entered a democratic and safe place to save our lives, but a devious political system is still with us, hurting our self respect and destroying our humanity.
Yes, it is part of the human tragedy and suffering which will surely be written down in the 21st century of Australian history.
In all these cases, the worst are the people who have been suffering for years and still have no hope of freedom but are just killing time like a prisoner who has been spending his time with no limit on his sentence.
The refugee has been pressured and badly treated to an extent that everything is magnified.
When the poor refugee is pushed to raise his voice, that is when the propaganda starts and as a result the poor refugee is given a bad name as a troublemaker, unwanted person, etcetera.
This system has a psychological policy which will never let a refugee feel happy or have any sort of hope - even when he is a little happy, those in charge find different ways to curb the happiness and he is again in the dark shadows of sorrow.
They have got so many different in human methods to destroy unity amongst us. One of them is to make a detainee greedy enough until he is ready to act as a spy and provide information about the developing unity which will separate one detainee from another.
We are under continuous surveillance.
They keep an eye on every one even when eating or sleeping, or laughing, etc.
During the night, after a struggle for sleep, when we are at last asleep we are checked with torches hitting straight into our closed eyes which awakens us.
If any one tries to raise his voice, he will have to go under a lot of investigations which will end up in keeping him isolated, under observation and will be punished mercilessly.
The ACM has us under continual pressure.
That is their normal practice and policy.
It is our right to object to this policy.
It is natural for us to object this policy.
If we did not object we couldn't keep up our self respect.
We are not able to tolerate this system and its policies. We are never allowed to be comfortable which can only result in madness and insanity.
The most awful thing - we come across is mothers with their children - in my country. A female has got many restrictions - but I would like to know has a female got any right here? Can a female in a detention care for her baby as an outside women? I think NO.
Children always want to play, laugh and listen to stories. But what happens here?
If a mother wants to tell a story to her child who is the hero? - the people who attempt suicide? Or the people who are slowly heading towards death? Or who are mentally retarded or paralysed? I would like to ask if children witness these suicides, deaths, fears etc, etc etc?
What effect does it have on their developing minds?
Won't their gentle spirits be killed?
Another type of pressure on us is searching our rooms on a regular basis. Even if they find a small thing, they make it so big and it ends up with us, being punished and tortured.
We are given a bit of hope when they arrange a meeting with the people of UNHCR. They increase our hope by saying that our cases will be put in front of the parliament. But the next day, the result is the same - no answer. Our interests and feeling of hope is killed by their action. Hate for human and humanity is grown by them.
They invent so many experiments that we cannot understand in their inhuman laboratory.
They keep discovering new ways a human can end his life and they have so many, like cutting veins, hanging until death, eating tablets, burning themselves, diving from high walls, hunger strike, saving the lips, demonstrations, sexually abuse etc. So much mental and physical pressure in unbearable.
Every day new Laws and rules and regulations are imposed by which we are more restricted, feel more and more lonely and have no access to anything.
We feel like all the world is unaware of us and that finally we have the choice to choose either to proceed towards death in on step, finish ourselves or go on living this life which is not living.
Please don't blame a refugee for this because if you were in this place you would do the same thing.
One should never tolerate this inhuman Law.
Heil Australians! Open your eyes and be aware of what is being done in your name.
Our worried eyes and ears are always waiting to see or hear any good action being done by the people to save us from this awful condition.
Wherever I look, we can see only people in deep thoughts sitting lonely and it feels like they are waiting for more bad news from DIMA which is like a death GONG.
And when this GONG is struck the officers of ACM arrive, like the officers whose name is Robert who has with no feeling, who ties our hands and makes us ready for deportation.
We never know whose turn it is tomorrow.
The refugees are living in a very tragic place which is very limited and under so much pressure which cannot be imagined by a normal human. Because we cannot have any communication here, held between these walls, it's almost impossible for the outside people to understand our conditions and actual situations. But the govt. has all the means to spoil our names with their propaganda.
And then innocent people end up believing what this unlawful government tells them and makes them afraid for their country and for themselves.
Certainly, this injustice done to innocent people will form a dark spot in Australian history and Australians cannot escape from it.
I am a boy and I am 15 year old from Afghanistan. I haven't family or friend. Don't let us live together. I was happy after I received your letter.
People in the world they wake up every morning they see their parents or their children or beautiful view, but I saw blood and the children whom they only have one arm or one leg.
I saw death of my friends; I saw bombing and demolition every day. My brother killed by Taliban and another ran away.
I am coming for ... freedom, not ... to be prisoner.
I'm dying here
Every door is closed because they cannot send me back. What can I do? where can I go? How long will I be here in this hellhole?
I have been refused by the Federal Court and more than 12 times by the minister for Immigration.
DIMA manager gave me two options:
1) go back to your home country
2) stay in detention for an unmentioned time.
I said I would go back to Afghanistan. I signed. They made me Afghani passport in Canberra. The immigration dept applied to different embassies but they did not succeed. Now my Afghani passport is invalid.
The Taliban regime confiscated my whole property. They killed my three brothers. They took my father and until now my father is disappeared. I belong to northern Afghanistan. When US started bombing many families left their homes and went everywhere to hide from the bombing. I don't know about my family, are they still alive or dead?
I haven't seen anything without fighting and killing each other. I have seen very bad times.
The Immigration minister said that we are criminal, terrorist, and queue jumpers.
I am not criminal. I haven't done anything wrong in my whole life.
There is no embassy in Afghanistan so how could we apply for protection visas?
We are not illegal immigrants I cannot sleep properly I miss my family I miss my country, I miss to breathe in open air.
I felt very happy when I received your letter. I am thinking that at least I have got some compassionate person out there in the community.
I need someone to help, really I need help.
I'm from Iraq.
I came to Australia in September 1999 by boat with a group of 140 persons and they put us in Port Hedland.
I stayed there from September 1999 until June 2001 after that they took me from Port Hedland detention centre and they put me in Villawood.
I need help, I need to live in peace and freedom.
They told me you can't be a refugee you can live in your country.
If I can live in my country why I came to Australia?
They know very well I can't live in my country and I can't go back.
I want to live as a human not like an animal in Villawood detention centre.
Please contact me and visit me because I have many things that I can give and show you imagine how I can live 3 years in the detention centre.
I am not a criminal; I did nothing to put me in a prison: I am a refugee...
Please help me, do something for me; I'll be crazy I want to be out. I'll die.
The Curtin camp is divided into several sections, which have different names.
One of these sections is called "Syria".
I was sent to "Syria" because of my hunger strike.
I was led to a cell 2.5 x 2.5 sqm large, with a thick wooden gate and it had no light coming from the outside.
They made me to take off my clothes, and I was searched.
There were 4 fluorescent lamps two of them for the day and the remaining two for the night, they could only be turned on or off from outside.
In two corners there were closed-circuit cameras.
There was a dirty sponge mattress with no cover on the floor and a dirty blanket.
The floor was very dirty and showed the marks of some poured liquid or traces of vomiting.
Being a witness of the disgusting condition of this room I felt so sad.
As I was on a hunger strike and was angry of the treatment I was receiving and the place I was being kept, I refused to take water.
I was all alone except for visits from guard. He would open the heavy lock and enter the room both day and night in short intervals.
"Are you OK?" he would say. I ignored him. I was so weak that I even ignored myself.
"Are you OK?"
You know John, there is an old Persian Proverb that says: "Look at my pale face and don't ask me of my condition".
I am the only child, born and brought up in Pulwama, a town in the Indian sector of Kashmir. The Kashmir dispute has bedevilled relation between India and Pakistan over 50 years since independence and turned a region known to generations of travellers for its mountains and lakes into one of the world's worst nuclear flash points. Since 1989, over 70,000 people have been killed, 12,000 women have been raped and approximately 200,000 are held illegally and are been tortured at various camps in the Indian held Kashmir by the Indian authorities.
I flee India after the India authorities tortured and killed and my father. My father was owned a printing press, which was sometimes used by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front ~KLF~, to publish political material. They claimed he had weapons hidden in his press.
The RRT refused my asylum application and I didn't appeal to the Federal Court because no one helped me, and there is strict time limit 28 days. I requested to the Minister for Immigration on Several times but was turn down by the Minister. The Australian Immigration wants to send me home where my life will be at serious risk. My return to India will mean certain death and Kashmir council of Australia agrees. General Secretary Mumtaz Mian said I would 'be safer in Australian Jails than in the so called safe havens in India.'
The first time I thought I was going to be sent back to India, I escaped from the Port Hedland detention Centre. I was caught one day later, served three months in WA prisons and was transferred to the Perth detention centre. My psychologist says I am suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and my mental condition is made worse by the length of time I has been in detention.
My hope really is finished for make life in your country.
I don't know what happen to me in Iran, but I know death in my land is better than dying in this detention or in this hell?
I lost everything. I lost my life, my love, my family and now I think maybe if I stay here I lose my mind.
Dear Margaret, I'm sorry that want to tell you I will only be here until the 14th of April. I decided to leave this country, but I promise never forget you and your kindnesses.
I have to go. I've become tired and also I'm worried I'll get mentally sick if I stay here.
So thankyou for your loving kindness. I'm sorry for my crossed out letter.
Good-bye my good friend
All the best for you.
Port Hedland I.R.P.C.
PS. Here is one of my poems. It is a gift for you.
Tear is a mystery
Smile is a mystery
Love is a mystery
Tear of that night
Was my love's smile
I'm not a tale
That you are telling
I'm not a song
That you are singing
I'm not a sound
That you are hearing
Or something because you see
Or something because you know
I'm common pain
You have me shouting
Tree is talking with the forest
Grass with the desert
Star with the galaxy
And I'm talking with You
Tell me your name
Give me your hand
Tell me your word
Give me your heart
I find your roots
By your lips, I talked for all lips
And your hands
Are familiar with my hands
In the privacy of light
I've been crying with you
For the living
And in the dark cemetery
I've been singing with you
The most beautiful songs
Because the dead of this year
Were the most lovers of the living
Hello everyone. I'm so glad to see you all here tonight. My name is Ellen, I'm 39 years old, married, I have 3 children and I am a registered nurse.
I don't know what to say? is this really Australia?
I did 2 tours of the Woomera Immigration and Reception Processing Centre, 12 weeks in total in Feburary/March and August/September. My I was there at the August "riot".
In January it became necessary for me to consider working away from home for a short time. I had heard about these great contracts, 42 days and very generous pay.
With a small amount of effort I had the information I needed and was preparing to leave for Woomera. I think it was around the 22nd. The night before I left we were watching 4 corners, there was a doctor on there talking about how wrong the detention centres and the treatment within them was, there were also 2 Iranian men who were deported after being chemically and physically restrained. I must say, this program really made me wonder what I was getting into but I laughed it off and with a minor amount of trepidation left for Woomera.
I have many horror stories, too many to tell now, personally witnessed or told to me. The stories I want to share with you are just some from the camp.
The daily humiliations and indignities. The abuses of human rights and children's rights, the flagrant breaching of the UNHCR minimum standards for detention.
I was met at the Roxby Downs airport by a prison guard, or detention officer as they prefer to be called, semantics really, they are prison guards.
We travelled the 80kms to Woomera slowly and arrived at this hot, dusty, arid, miserable cage in the desert.
It was surreal, like being transported to the scene of a 'mad max' movie.
The zoo, full of men, women and children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, beseeching the guards that:
"Please, we are human, we are not animals, why do you treat us like this?"
"This is what it is like in our country but they don't imprison children."
"We thought we would be safe but we walked ourselves to jail."
The desperation and hopelessness permeated the very air and the longest any of those people had been there at that stage was 5 months.
Some of those same people and their children, are still there!
There were always people hovering along the perimeter of the fence, pleading with whoever went past.
Waiting to see Mr. Tony from DIMA to beg he help them.
Often the detainees would come to the nurses asking us to intervene with DIMA on their behalf, not really believing that there was nothing we could do.
I discovered that they did have the right to request an interview at any time and got the appropriate request form from DIMA.
I photocopied loads of them and put them in the medical centre so we could use them whenever we were asked. One day in July, myself and another Nurse filled out 2 of these forms.
Lena for a mother who had already tried to hang herself and myself for a 19 year old man from Afghanistan. He had fled the Taliban after they discovered he was volunteering his labour in an Aid Agency Vaccination clinic.
He fled after someone got word to him that his home had been ransacked and they were waiting for him.
I put these forms in the DIMA pigeon hole.
Later in the day I had to follow up something in the DIMA office, there I noticed both request forms in the bin.
Why have you thrown these out? Oh, they've been screened out at initial interview.
Here they were, a mother and son, whose husbands cut up dead body had been delivered to her in a box and a l9yr old beardless youth.
They couldn't speak any English, they had no legal representation and they had a line ruled through them in Darwin before they even made it to the detention centre and no one, no one was prepared to tell them anything.
DIMA had known at that stage for 9 months that they had failed at initial interview and for that reason they saw no purpose in granting their request of an interview.
What the hell is going on, I wondered.
I've seen and heard the guards laughing at the pain and suffering of the people imprisoned in Woomera.
Singing to the Iraqis who have had a rejection; "I'm leaving on a jet plane, goin' back to see Saddam Hussein".
Witnessed the guard making a detainee beg for soap. No English did this woman speak, she had learnt the word soap from someone.
To the guard she said, "soap".
The soap was proffered and withdrawn when she reached for it, again and again until she said please.
I watched those poor women in their purdahs, cringe in shame as we forced them to abandon every cultural sensitivity they had and attend a mixed clinic, sit in a room with men and then have to ask for sanitary products. They would stuff them under their purdahs or jumpers and scurry heads down and shame emanating, to the purile little boxes we provided for them to sleep in.
When I was in Woomera the first time the nunbers in the camp swelled to 1435 or 38.
Some boats arrived from Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef and two new compounds were constructed.
India and Sierra. In India were housed all the new arrivals.
They were flown into Woomera in the dead of night, by chartered plane and landed at the Woomera airstrip.
They were then herded onto the bus and into their pens for the night, after some basic physical processing was done.
Sierra was the punishment block. Maximum security, total intimidation.
It appeared that the 'officers' had carte blanche, total discretion over who and when was incarcerated in Sierra and for how long. Age was no barrier.
I personally witnessed a 12 year old spread eagled against a wall, unable to move, under guard while the rest of them laughed.
He was a cheeky kid. They called him a little cunt and told him if he didn't watch himself he'd be going on a holiday to Sierra, his response landed him in maximum security, under guard, without his mothers knowledge and without his understanding.
He was treated for abrasions to his neck from being dragged by the scruff, a complaint was filed but no further action taken by DIYA or ACM.
Sierra became dreaded. If you resisted a room search you went to Sierra.
If you upset a guard by answering back or looking the wrong way, you went to Sierra.
If a guard didn't like you, you went to Sierra.
If your visa application was rejected, you went to Sierra.
If you tried to kill yourself, you went to Sierra.
If you upset anyone in Villawood, you would be flown, in secret, in the middle of the night, without knowledge of your destination, to Woomera.
Once there, you would be incarcerated in Sierra.
I once asked a man in this exact situation how Woomera compared to Villawood. His answer?
Villawood is like a five star hotel compared to here.
As nurses we were eyed with suspicion by the guards, management and DIMA.
A few of us would advocate strongly on our patients behalf.
Unfortunately our health services manager was very much a company woman and we had no support whatsoever.
At one stage some of us had our names, addresses and telephone numbers translated into Arabic and Farsi so that we could give them to the people we'd gotten to know and care about and support them on their release.
We had to have them in Persian and Arabic so the guards couldn't understand what it was if they saw it. More than one nurse lost their contract for this reason.
ACM's response to this was to completely ban all nurses from saying goodbye to anyone when they were given a visa. That was so hard.
We were also told how our phones would be tapped and ASIO was watching us. God it was bizarre. The paranoia and suspicion were incredible.
During my first visit to Woomera I ate the same food as the refugees.
After 2 weeks of chronic stomach pain I received a meal that I was able to scrape in one complete lump into the bin. It was the colour and consistency of Pal- dogshit.
By that stage the smell of coleslaw was making me wretch, it was the daily staple along with rice.
I just could not face another mouthful of any of it.
That was after two weeks. Try two years.
The riot of August 2000 was a horror I never expected to see in my country.
Water cannons and guards with body armour and guns, burning buildings, smoke and stones.
The day after I watched the shell shocked families come wandering out of the rubble, their children skirting around the debris, the tears and apologies and the guards recriminations started.
Another story altogether.
I watched in disbelief as a loud roar shook the earth and sky and an airforce bomber flew low over the camp, practising manosuvres, terrifying those war shattered people.
I could have been anywhere except Australia.
I spent most of my time there imagining.
Imagine if it was my children.
Imagine how bad it must have been to make that journey here.
Imagine how much pain they must feel.
Imagine being intimate with your husband to have a guard burst into your room at any time, and then imagine the further humiliation when he shares his story with anyone who'll listen.
Imagine having such rotten teeth and being in agony and told you'll have to wait at least another 2 months to see a dentist.
Imagine that you can only have that tooth treated if you agree to it's removal.
Imagine morning sickness and a rigid, regimented feeding schedule when you and your children joined a queue (you can't jump this one, it really is there) to receive your allocation.
Don't try not to eat, you'll be punished.
Don't try to get extra, especially milk, small children don't need that much.
Imagine your kidneys are failing and the only way to save them or slow the process is to eat a low protein diet and you can't.
Imagine all you have to wear is a pair of shorts, a tee shirt and a pair of thongs and it's around l0 degrees in the morning, and your thongs are being held together with wire and string that you've managed to scavenge off the army tents.
Imagine you are 17 years old and all you want to do is go to school and instead you can do nothing at all.
Imagine that you slowly watch your family disintegrate before your eyes.
Imagine seeing someone lose their mind.
Imagine watching someone hurt themselves because they wish they were dead.
Imagine how bad it must be to leave everything and everyone you know, your language, your culture, your family, your friends.
Imagine the only thing that sustains you is the thought of safety and haven and warmth and caring.
Imagine that sustenance giving you the courage to cross oceans in dangerous, rickety leaky boats and instead when you arrive, you are treated as worse than an animal.
Imagine why people who fled to save their lives and saw them as precious, are now trying to lose them.
Imagine that you have NO RIGHTS.
If you can imagine all that, then you can begin to have a small sense of what Woomera detention centre is like, and perhaps can feel just a little of the anguish that fills those cages.
There was an old man sitting in a corner of the boat and staring at some point on the boat.
Maybe he was thinking about his wife and children who did not have a guardian or maybe he was thinking about death. A child took the old man's water bottle and in a confused state the old man took it back. But then he hugged the child and held the water bottle to the mouth of the child. What a beautiful moment living by the golden rule to love others.
You must do the same to them as you would want them to do to you. I no longer insisted on looking after my water ration. The engine sound was now like the best music. I took my water bottle and approached the old man. I did not say a word nor did he say anything. He sipped and smiled, his eyes were shining, perhaps he was thinking of his children.
Then the commotion on board increased and a boat came to us. Yes, we were saved. The old man laughed and kissed the young child. "My wife and child will sleep comfortably because we are alive" he said.
Happy are those who mourn because they will be comforted and happy are those who are kind and forgiving because they will receive forgiveness from others. Parts of me laugh, parts of me cry; parts of me want to question why; why there is joy, why there is pain; why there is sunshine, then the pain.
Will you please observe through the wire
I am sewing my feet together
They have walked about as far
As they ever need to go
Will you further observe
Through the wire
I am sewing my heart together
It is now so full of
The ashes of my days
It will not hold
Through the wire
One last time
I am sewing my lips together
That which you are denying us
We should never have
Had to ask for.
You are the smile,
Which gives life to a dead heart.
You are the song,
Which feeds the hungry soul.
You are the light,
Which lights the whole world.
You are the angel,
Which shows the right way to the lost travellers
You are the sun,
Which is difficult to [look at]
You are the clock,
Which ticks and reminds us of time.
You are our ambition,
Which we want to achieve.
You are our soul,
Which is necessary for life.
You are the saint,
Which gives the nerves of happiness.
You are the pillar,
On which the building of our life stands.
You are a beautiful and wonderful story,
Which is impossible to explain in words.
I have been in detention centre for almost 2 years. The immigration have refused our case. They said you have no problem in your country. You can go back there. You are liar. But if we had no problem in Iran, why did we leave our family? Are we stupid? 2 years suffering. In the desert. Three lines of fences. Bad food. Extremely bad weather. Too many bugs, scorpions, centipedes, flies, mosquitoes and lots more. They have arrested and put us in the Jail - for which reason, no one knows.
I really appreciate your paying attention to Woomera detention and especially to me. You had just watched, read about what happened, but the fact is bigger than that.
The ACM officers had changed to monsters, they couldn't see anything except how to hit the people. They entered the compound with the blue uniform so that you couldn't see any part of their bodies. They were like an army. They used the sticks and hurt the people without any mercy or thinking about women or children.
They kept asking me questions about the Mujaheddin, but I didn't know anything about them. Sometimes they would rip out my fingernails and then pour chilli into it. That was very painful and horrible.
My friend and me participated in protests and obtained anti-government literature that emanated from Pakistan. In March 1996 I was at a house with four friends. The Indian security forces raided the house and took us to Raj Bag interrogation centre we were questioned and tortured... Torture is used to extract information, to punish detainees and try to force detainees to become informers or to join counter militant organisations. I was kept in the interrogation centre and was tortured frequently and asked a lot of questions about Mujahidin, but I could not tell them anything because I knew nothing about them. They tied me up and removed the nail from my left thumb then they put chilli into the open wound. The pain was excruciating. They use a roller to apply excruciating pressure to my legs. The roller is rotated over my legs, and one of the security people was standing on it. I was often denied water during interrogation and frequently become dehydrated. The whole night they kept on pouring water onto my face and blinding me a powerful light beam. I was tortured relentlessly for ten days.
Now, I write poetry from a poet in Iran, it was written on the head gates of the United Nations.
Thank you for your letter and your good sentiments. I feel power when you tell me many people are sympathetic to our plight and give me much comfort to know that. We apologize to the Australian people about what happened in Curtin - the riot on Friday, 19 April. That happened because the bad treatment from DIMIA, ACM (Government) with us and long term in detention make detainees can't control on themselves and they need to someone to listen them and send a real photo for humiliating policy of Government with detainees, specially Curtin Detention Centre.
I am sure that you did not have any information about it. The Government was usually told very bad lies about us. But you knew that they were lies and was always disappeared the truth. Woe to every sinful liar.
I would like to tell you about idea about what happened. Before the riot going on one week, there is apeacful demonstration from detainees instide our centre asking for freedom and to improve the treatment of Government with us.
Most of detainees have nerves problems and long term in detention for one to four years without solution and start to lose control on themselves and in the same time DIMIA keep following the same system (cruel, hard, harsh, dirty) For example: To keep some one for 15 months waiting answer from case officer after that he had refused that make him stress and he can't control on his nerves. He start to break DIMIA information glass and he is in a bad Mood. ACM officers they start to strike him in front of his friends that make his friends angry. So we say, with the hardship, there is relief.
ACM company was always created much problems with us. For example one of Iranian asked for piece of onion with dinnertime, Mess officer refused to give him and that caused a trouble in the Mess between ACM and detainees. This situation continued for one week in this bad circumstances.
ACM company couldn't handle on this situation. Then they have assist from another detention centre because they think that if they become too much, they will be stronger. But opposite thing happened. They used C.E.R.T. team and they start to beat detainees. Group of them entered the Mess about 50 persons in their C.E.R.T. clothes during dinner time on Friday, 19 April.
They came to take the troublemakers by force and by striking to detainees.
So some of detainees only used stones against ACM to defend themselves.
Some of detainees and officers have been wounded. ACM couldn't resist so they escaped inside their offices. The camp became in hand and no officers.
Some of detainees had lost their nerves and they start to break Mess, Welfare, School.
After few hours everything finished and start to feel sorry and crying for what happened.
But in fact they said we had limited patinees and power and we are human, not criminals or theives and they apoligized for what happened.
After two days passed they (ACM) asked family to move to another section to keep them away and their children and ACM expected that in any time maybe fire will happen. On Monday DIMIA manger and some officers had entered the centre for make a check and to get photo for some destroyed building. At night we surprised that Wealfar burned.
On Tuesday police and APS company they entered and step by step everything became normal.
On Thursday they opened telephone and mails.
On Friday they took nearly 16 persons for invistigation.
I sat with my friends asked ourselves when we will finish this bad circumstances if the government don't have a solution for this problem why they not allowed to the U.N. to handle this sitation or another humantirian organaisation from another countries. I am sorry for some mistakes and hand writing. I must apologise for taking so long write. I have a pocket dictionary.
I haven't English language teacher. A dictionary help me when I write or read. Thank you for trying to send me the books.With best wishes
I am very happy to received your friendly letter, unfortunately I amn't very good in English but I tried to write this letter through one of my friends.
I wish I were enough good in English to write every thing I wanted. My name is ...... I was born on 1976 in Iran, my language is Farsi.
I write my letter for you from the Curtin Camp of Derby in the west Australia. I am here in the curtin camp about 25 month.
We are in bad situation in here and it is too hard to live, you have to live in this situation to understand that.
I am sorry to write late for you, because we had problem with the ACM's gauerders in curtin. Then I would like to describe briefly for you. Australian Correctional Management presented an innocent and uncomprehending face to the media regarding the destruction at curtin detention centre (Derby WA) on 19 April. ACM said violence erupted spontaneously because the detainees had received word that their applications for refugee status were refused.
The in side story - the real story - came detailing the violence on that Friday he explain in this letter:
"Because at the first ACM guards come in to the mess and shut the all doors so they hit everybody in mess so I was in there then when refuges saw that stage they got angry then broken everything because ACM guarders hit some body very badly they were resisted.
This was about that matter on Friday".
For the demonising of asylum-seekers by government and media to prevail all that is needed is for good people to remain silent.
I am appreciate for envelope and stamps please write your next letters in separate letters.With regards