Refugee Council of Australia
Jetty on Manus Island

Until when: The forgotten men of Manus Island

Breaking their bodies

Breaking their bodies

Bodies, as well as minds, are being broken on Manus Island. This is made worse by pre-existing untreated or under-treated conditions, including injuries from torture, and by the stresses on their mental health. Matters were made worse by the conditions during the forcible closure of the RPC and the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the centres since the closure.

For example, the Guardian has reported on an Iraqi refugee who is losing sight in one eye, after he lost sight in the other eye when he was beaten during the 2014 attack on the RPC, and a Somali refugee who received only Panadol and a bandage while living with a suspected broken femur for days.

This account is based on RCOA’s interview with Reza in October 2018, unless otherwise stated.

Reza (not his real name) is a 40-year-old man seeking asylum.74 Reza says that, when he was first transferred to Manus Island, his body reacted badly to a vaccine he received. He developed significant swelling and numbness in his legs, and could not walk. He also had high blood pressure, diabetes, and issues with his heart and mental health.

He was transferred to Australia where he spent 19 months, most of it in a wheelchair. He spent time in various hospitals, and eventually his health improved enough so that he could walk and exercise again, and his diabetes was controlled.

When he was returned to Manus Island, his health declined and his diabetes was no longer under control:

When I was returned to Manus Island, I had to stand in the queue to get food. I couldn’t tolerate it and would become dizzy and faint. They would take me to hospital and give me IV and then send me back. It was my daily life.

Reza was transferred to Port Moresby, where he spent six months in the hospital. He takes around 18 pills a day and is worried about their effect on his kidney and liver. He has high blood pressure and cataracts, and has lost the control of his bladder. His diabetes is no longer under control because of his circumstances,

I have so many wounds in my body at the moment which don’t heal. … The doctor tells me to be careful about what I eat. But I am in this motel [where people who are in Port Moresby for medical treatment are kept] and don’t have a special diet. They give me whatever they give the others. I have to eat that food otherwise I can’t take my medications, but then the food is not good for someone who is diabetic….

My mental health is declining rapidly. I have nightmares every night. I wake up and see this table in the middle of the room and on it there are tens of medications, I have to take them all at various times of the day …You know what I think sometimes if someone tells me let’s go to the mountains, let’s go to a picnic, I can’t do that anymore because I have to carry a fridge with all my medications inside it.

Here they don’t treat you, they just give you something temporary to reduce the pain. If I go for example and say I have pain in my back, they give me Panadol. They don’t treat you, they give temporary relief with tons of pills.

In January 2018, Reza went on a hunger strike for three weeks and refused treatment. His friends told us he was protesting against the lack of medical care. He was eventually confined to a hospital bed and force fed, reportedly on a court order. Hospital staff raised concerns that he would die if not transferred to Australia.

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