Detained on Nauru: ‘This is the most painful part of my story when you realise no one cares’

In this excerpt from the book They Cannot Take the Sky, Benjamin talks about his years detained on Nauru, and his undying hopes for the future

Benjamin was taken to Nauru in 2013 with his family. He told the first part of this story on Christmas Day 2014. He is still on Nauru.

You just have to cope with it

We were in Offshore Processing Centre compound number 3 the family compound in the Nauru detention facility for a year and three weeks. In that time lots of things happened between us and Wilsons, the security guards running the camp, especially with my father because everyone trusted him. So if problems happened, people would tell my father and my father would try to help. But after a couple of months the Wilsons tried to somehow punish us as a family, you know, for just simple things. One day my father was in the line for food and the Wilson didnt let him go inside he sent another family in rather than us. My father tried to just talk to them but suddenly they called the police. Police came and they sent my father straight to custody.

My father had a stroke when he was in custody. Hes a little better now, after four or five months, but hes still really not able to use the left side of his body very well.

Because of the stroke, they sent my father alone to Darwin. They gave us a time to visit just before he left. There was a neck brace around his neck and he was in a wheelchair. I could just see him for 15 minutes and then they took him away and sent him to Darwin. I was 18 at that time and my sisters were all minors. There wasnt a guardian for us, but they let us be inside a camp. My sisters, they all got lots of problems. They couldnt sleep at night. Me either.

I went to the psychologist and I told her, Ive got these types of problems, and she said, You just have to cope with it. You cannot go to where your father is. You just have to wait until he comes back. I warned them that if they didnt give me any answer at least tell me how my father is I would suicide, and she laughed at me and said, Go, do what you want to do. And so I cut my wrists and my hand, because I couldnt control it anymore. It was too much for me. And the funny thing is, they didnt care. They said, If you keep trying to do this we will send you to the custody too.

My sisters came and they saw lots of blood coming out of my body and they called Wilson.

When my father heard that I cut myself, he did his own protest. He sat in the wheelchair and he didnt eat, he didnt move, he didnt drink anything.

Im still feeling that Im not a human

After this, things happened to my father too. When he first went to Darwin he was in the family camp. He was a single male but he was in the family camp. I had a friend over there in the family camp who was looking after him. I was little bit OK because I knew my friend was helping, but after my fathers protest they sent him to the single camp. In the single camp he was totally alone. There was nobody to help him. When I heard this I tried to talk to immigration about it and tell them that this was not fair, what theyre doing to my father, that my father needs someone to help him. But they didnt answer me, they just forgot about it.

Children play near a fence at Naurus Australian-run detention centre.

After two months they sent my father back here, to Nauru. He was still the same. In that time they didnt do any medical checks for him. He was just wasting his time over there. My case manager came and said, Your father is back in Nauru. I was so shocked and a little bit happy too because I thought that maybe hes OK. I went to OPC1 with my sisters to see him. I was sitting there with my sisters, talking with them, and suddenly one of the cultural advisors came his name was Darryl and he told me, Your father has to go back to the gaol. I asked him, Why? I tried to tell them it was against the rules if someone is not medically well, you dont put them in custody but they didnt care. I said, If you want to take my father you have to take me too because I need to look after him.

My father was in custody for three days and they just let me be with him only for one night. After that we went to OPC1. We were there for months. They kept sending my father to court for what had happened, just for a simple argument. We just kept going to the court, every day, and at the end of it they found that my father was not guilty and they sent us back to OPC3.

For now I dont have any plan for my future because I am still feeling that I am captured. Im still feeling that Im not a human. Im still thinking about whats happened in the past. I cant think about what I am now, and what Ill do in the future.

I just need to get my freedom first, then Ill try to find my way somehow.

Nearly two years later, in October 2016, Benjamin continued his story.

We have beautiful dreams, but everything has been ruined

Im still here.

I came here when I was 18 and now Im nearly 22 years old. I wasted all of the best time in my entire life, the time that I was about to make my future happen, the time that I promised myself I would study hard and become the best. But I couldnt, because of the Australian government.

Five months ago, my neighbour, his name was Omid, he burnt himself right in front of my eyes. We have beautiful dreams, we have beautiful futures, but everything has been ruined. We are all exhausted.

That day, my neighbour Omid, he burned himself in front of me and I still cannot forget it. Omid was a good person. I still feel unhappy, I still feel stressed about him. I still punish myself, Why didnt I make him stop? But I didnt know that he was gonna do it, and he did it in front of me. He burned himself. I tried to go and put the fire out on his body, but I couldnt do it and he died. And I still punish myself because I think that if I was a bit smarter I could have saved him.

Omid Masoumali, a 23-year-old Iranian refugee who set himself alight in protest outside a refugee compound on Nauru. He died in a Brisbane hospital on 29 March 2016.

When the UNHCR people came to our settlement to talk to refugees, Omid and his wife were the first ones they met.

I dont know what happened but I just saw that Omid and his wife went to their house and after like five to 10 minutes Omid came back and he was soaked in petrol and he was shouting, Im tired and we are all tired and I cannot take it anymore.

He was actually complaining to the government of Australia.

Its enough. Whatever we have suffered in all these years, it is enough, for we are innocent people. Were not terrorists. We are innocent people and we were just seeking freedom.

And then he just turned the lighter on and set himself on fire. I ran to him and tried to put him out with blankets but I … he was still conscious when we took him to hospital. He was there, he was having so much pain. The hospital here is a very, very bad hospital. When this kind of incident happens, the Australian government asks for an ambulance aeroplane to come to Nauru immediately, but for Omid it took like 12 hours or more than that. He was suffering from the pain and no one could help him. The ambulance came late and he died. After he got back to Australia, the Australian government didnt even pay for the body to be transferred to Iran. Omids family paid for that.

He burned himself to show it around the world, to big countries, that there is no hope, there is no happiness, there is no life here.

Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru protest their indefinite detention by the Australian government.

This is not a place that I can live

The payments that we receive from the Australian government are very low. We get just $200 each per fortnight which is not enough for all of us, you know. Living here is very expensive. The food and everything is all imported from Australia. You have to spend all your money just buying your food.

We are still having stress about water. When we were in the camp we were having problems with showering we only had a right to shower for three minutes and now we are outside we still have those problems. Just today they told us that theres a shortage of water so you have to be careful with it. We were protesting and they sent me to court for unlawful assembly, which I dont understand. I should have a right to make a peaceful protest so I can tell the world that this is not a place that I can live. We are desperately seeking other powerful countries to help us and release us from this inhuman policy. This is the most painful part of my story when you realise no one cares.

I wanted to study. I put myself into danger coming to Australia. My main requirement was having freedom freedom of speech, a society where people respect human rights. My plan was to study hard. I had finished my diploma of pure maths and physics, but I wanted to study more … maybe civil engineering or electrical engineering. But with all these punishments in these three years I became so lazy I cannot even read a book right now.

I always try to forget the bad incidents that happened to me before, so I just go to the gym. Try to lose some energy so I can relax. Its not a very good gym, but at least it is something. This is the best vocation you can have: going to the gym and coming back home.

I always try to be charming

My dad is much better … he is physically good now. But mentally hes worse than before. Most of the time he is at home and not doing anything, because there is nothing to do. He feels guilty because he is thinking, I have ruined my childrens future.

There is a very, very cold relationship in every family here. I mean, you get frustrated very quickly. You cannot talk fairly and make good decisions, because your mind has been punished a lot. Our life is like this, you know? We are unhappy so everything goes in a bad way. For example, I always try to keep my family motivated. I always say, like, Im 100% sure that in 2017 we are gonna get out of this island. I always say this. Every month Ill say that next month there will be good news from the immigration department of Australia. I always try to motivate them, but they always say, No, its an illusion.

Ill try to do something, but it always turns out that I make it worse because I have hope. They say, No, you lied to us. My sisters always say, You lied to us last year. You told us that we were gonna go out of here in 2015, but we are still here and its 2016. These kinds of things.

The Australian immigration minister, Peter Dutton. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

We talk about immigration, we talk about whats gonna happen, we read all the media. We try to make our own observations from there. It always turns out that we discuss it for two hours and we finish in a very unhappy mood. I have to say, we have those conversations every day. [Laughs.]

Sometimes time goes very quickly, but sometimes, it really kills you. Like when we reach the end of the year, because we expect something magical, like at Christmas … that Santa brings a gift. We wait to see if maybe Mr Peter Dutton will announce something that we have wanted to hear for all these years. But it never happens. [Laughs.]

I usually dont show my pain or my frustration to my family. I try to keep it to myself. Whenever I go inside our room, I always try to be charming. This is what I do, I always try to keep the energy up, because I dont like to upset them. I am upset, but I never show it.

If I want to be honest, the only thing that I enjoy is going to gym and coming back home. But my family doesnt enjoy that. My sisters want to go to a decent shopping mall, buy some good food, buy some good clothes. Or maybe they want to go to a cinema, or a zoo. But the only entertainment that we have here is just drinking alcohol. Forget whats happening and just get drunk for a night.

I have good friends here, even Nauruan friends. The Nauruans I hang out with, they really understand our situation and most of them have been studying in Fiji and Australia. They are qualified people and they respect humanity. When you hang out with them, you enjoy it, because they dont get insulted if you say something about the governments of Nauru or Australia. These two governments have created all these traumas. The people are innocent, you know?

The problem with my refugee friends is we cant really tolerate each other anymore. I mean, we live here without excitement. We see each other every day, talk about the same old things. We get tired of each other. Im not saying this in a bad way, but this is a human being you feel discouraged. Seriously, we dont have anything to say to each other anymore! We know everything, whatever happened from when hes born until now. Its like time has been stopped.

Photographs of Australian-run asylum seeker detention facilities on Nauru. Photograph: Google / Remi Chauvin

It will be like Im reborn

My situation has changed. Ive learned how to be strong and keep myself motivated, so Im not doing any self-harming and suicide. Sometimes the Australian government makes me worse. For example, when Peter Dutton says refugees are uneducated, or Scott Morrison says we need to live here forever so Australias borders are safe and sound. I just try to heal my pain so I dont get really out of control. I have learned that even if I … did something crazy to myself, nothing will change. I just have to make myself healthy, so if I get out of here I could try to show the Australian government that Im not a bad person, Im actually a very useful person, and a very successful person. And Im surely gonna do that.

I have read books about what successful people have done in their lives. For example, Mahatma Gandhi, Barack Obama, and also, Larry Page, founder of Google, and all of those people. So many people I cannot count them [laughing]. Ive read their books, Ive learned from them with all the struggles they had, they could still manage their lives and become successful.

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