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Australia: From Manus Island to Melbourne: we do not even know what we are being punished for

Friday 14 August 2020, by siawi3


From Manus Island to Melbourne: we do not even know what we are being punished for

Mardin Arvin


I wanted to escape war, I wanted a peaceful life. I still have these dreams

Refugees wave at protesters participating in a ‘Free The Refugees’ rally at the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, 13 June 2020. The refugees detained at the hotel have been medically evacuated from Australian detention in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Photograph: Michael Dodge/EPA

Published on Fri 7 Aug 2020 21.00 BST

With patience and perseverance a mother bird holds food from her mouth and shares it with her baby birds. The babies are raising their heads and poking out their little beaks for something to eat.

I do not know which insect she had caught. I cannot see from here. From where I stand I see the little bird and the nest she has made, but they are far away. It is as far away from behind the tall fences that keep people imprisoned.

In my opinion motherhood is a symbol of sacrifice, whether it is a mother bird or the mother of a human being. It is difficult, and it is rare, to care for someone more than you care for yourself.

Read more: I left Manus Island but it’s hard to feel free while my refugee brothers and sisters are still detained

The mother of Alan Kurdi, the Kurdish Syrian child, must have loved him in the same way. Just imagine – it makes me choke with sorrow. In order to escape war, and in hope for a decent future for her child, that mother had to flee her homeland. She left the rest of her family behind in Syria and confronted the sea, she journeyed on a decaying boat that split apart along the way. Everyone in the boat ended up in the water. Alan lost his future, and his father will never see him grow up. The mother also perished.

She had promised him a future as she packed his belongings, no doubt while the bombs were dropping and the bullets were firing. She had told him about a better place, a place where Alan would be happy. But the final images Alan saw before his life ended were the massive and furious waves that merciless swallowed him.

I think to myself that if Alan were to have survived would he be leading a happy life now?

War never brings happiness; in my view it is terrible for both sides. No one wins in the end. A good victory is one where no lives are lost in the process; no one wins when either superpowers or smaller nations sacrifice lives.

Life continues. Out there, beyond the fences, where we could be leading a life of our own

Refugees lose their lives to war, political persecution or economic exploitation – they flee their homelands and no one knows whether they end up living a happy life or not. The future is unknown, no one knows what the future holds.

Like me, I have not been able to feel the touch of my mother’s hands. I have not been able to hold her for all these years. It has been years since I have had the chance to see her wrinkled face, to see her fading smile, to see her staring back at me. This is what I dream for while incarcerated, locked up without ever having committed a crime. I have been imprisoned without charge, just like the young Arab man who used to sit on the dirty floor. Or the Afghan man who used to lean on the palm tree looking at the photo of his child; he would spend his time like this for six years. His child is growing up and probably does not recognise his father.

The story of each refugee is a tragedy in itself. None of these stories have an ending. Sometimes when we board those boats – those floating coffins – they never reach their destination.

I do not understand the contradictions, this discrimination. The land that God has bestowed on us and which we struggle over, lands from which me and people like me are banished. I am a prisoner now because I dared to dream; these dreams I will never realise.
Mardin Arvin at Hillside Camp in Manus late 2018.
Mardin Arvin at Hillside Camp in Manus late 2018. Photograph: Supplied

I wanted to escape war, I wanted to flee hardship – I had these dreams, I at least wanted to avoid these things in life. These are not luxuries or fancy things. I wanted a peaceful life. I still have these dreams.

The mother bird takes flight. The baby birds are still eating. Life continues. Out there, beyond the fences, where we could be leading a life of our own. But we are still in here.

A remote and isolated island surrounded by water as far as the eye can see. Where else could we go from here? I remember when we left the prison camp the sun was shining. We were restless as we sat in the bus, we were smiling. We had a reason to smile.

We thought that after six years we would be able to live a free life. That was not to be the case. We entered a city, but we would not experience freedom. Instead, we entered a multistory hotel – Mantra Bell City hotel in Melbourne. This is our latest prison.
‘My only desire is to hold my son’: the grief of indefinite detention
Read more

I always think to myself, what crime did I commit that I have to pay with this form of punishment? I am a simple person who just wants to live my life. I want a good life. But after what I have gone through I now have to spent months confined to a single floor, in a hotel and in a room with a few people; my world is limited to the narrow corridor of the third floor of this hotel.

Just imagine it, that your whole life and all your interactions are restricted to that one floor and that one corridor. I just want you to picture this life for yourself. You cannot go for a walk, you cannot go on a trip. Oh God, what does going for a walk even mean?

In my view, it is easier for a prisoner who knows they are making amends in prison for their wrongdoing in contrast to us who do not even know what we are being punished for.

• Mardin Arvin is a Kurdish Iranian writer who has been imprisoned by the Australian government since 2013: Manus Island (2013-2019), Port Moresby (2019), and Melbourne (2019, ongoing). He works in four languages: Kurdish, Farsi, English and Tok Pisin; and he is conducting research and writing a book while incarcerated. His writing has been published in Meanjin.

• Translated by Omid Tofighian, an award-winning lecturer, researcher and community advocate. He is adjunct lecturer in the School of the Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales and honorary research associate for the Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney. His published works include Myth and Philosophy in Platonic Dialogues (Palgrave 2016) and he is the translator of Behrouz Boochani’s multi-award-winning book No Friend But the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison (Picador 2018).