The action was lead by Moruya’s Bernie Richards who has almost 20 years experience with the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration, including time as a Senior Investigator with the People Smuggling Strike Team.
“I used to go to Christmas Island, Broome, Port Hedland etc to do an initial analysis of people arriving by boat to see where they had originated from and whether they had any claims for protection,” Ms Richards says.
“I’ve interviewed hundreds of refugees who made it to Australia by boat when investigating people smuggling organisations.”
Posted by Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla on Tuesday, 22 August 2017
The death earlier this month of thirty-one year Hamed Shamshiripour near Lorengau on Manus Island prompted today’s protest action.
“This is the latest in a long line of tragedies in the offshore detention regime for which the Australian Government must be held responsible,” Ms Richards says.
“Many of Hamed’s friends on Manus and in Australia, including myself, appealed to authorities for treatment for his serious mental health problems. That treatment was not provided.”
The Guardian Australia published a letter on August 9 from the chief medical officer of Australian Border Force, Dr John Brayley, who twelve months earlier had indicated his awareness and interest in Mr Shamshiripour’s deteriorating mental health.
Questions remain around the Iranian refugee’s death, self-harm and foul play are both being suggested.
After four years in detention on Manus what doesn’t seem to be in dispute is Mr Shamshiripour’s mental state.
ABC journalist Eric Tlozek, who says he knew Mr Shamshiripour wrote, “He [Mr Shamshiripour] became increasingly isolated and desperate. I last glimpsed him alive when I drove through the centre of Lorengau town last month.”
“Then, last week I watched his body being loaded onto an aeroplane. He was leaving Manus Island, but not the way anyone wanted,” Mr Tlozek wrote.
The Guardian reports of, “Shamshiripour’s chaotic presentation, erratic and unpredictable behaviour, and unstable state…the subject of repeated entreaties from health professionals during his time on Manus.”
Ms Richards says even people within the local Manusian community knew that Mr Shamshiripour needed mental health attention and had also appealed to authorities.
“I was personally sent photos of his body. As an ex-police officer, there are indications that Hamed’s death may not have been suicide and this really needs to be investigated independently, Ms Richards says.
“I ‘spoke’ to Hamed quite a few times on Facebook Messenger when he was healthy and not suffering from mental health issues. Once his situation deteriorate and he became more unwell, it became more difficult to connect with him.”
Those gathered outside the Nowra office of the Liberal Member for Gilmore today feel Australia is responsible for Mr Shamshiripour’s death and argue that the Turnbull Government has a duty of care that is being ignored or forgotten.
Tension seems especially high on Manus at the moment as the Australian Government moves to close the detention centre by the end of October. It seems the future of many of the 803 refugees housed there remains unclear, a deal with the Trump administration to settle detainees in America still unresolved.
Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla believes the publication of the fruity Trump-Turnbull phone conversation suggests that safety and refuge for the 1,200 people on Manus Island and Nauru is false hope.
“Refugees are being placed in a more dangerous and untenable situation,” Ms Richards suggests.
“Further tragedy is inevitable unless the Australian government pursues a humanitarian policy and brings those on Manus and Nauru to Australia.”
Today’s group of 20 – 30 protesters tried to speak with Ms Sudmalis but were told she was out of the office on other business.
“Sadly we have found that our local member is just not listening or doing the work that she should, despite at least two years of trying to engage with her,” Ms Richards says.
“At her last village stop in Moruya, Ms Sudmalis expressed shock that there were children still in detention, despite us repeatedly flagging this as an important issue.
“We have provided factual information to her on more than one occasion, but she ignores any approaches we make,” Ms Richrads says.
As at June 30, the Department of Immigration reported 42 children in the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru.
Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla suggests close to 130 other kids are living in the community on Nauru.
“That’s lives left without proper health care, education, or safety, and Ann Sudmalis as our local member of parliament presides over that,” Ms Richards says.
About Regional spoke with and emailed the office of Ann Sudmalis for comment on Tuesday morning ahead of today’s protest, no response has been received.
The group says it will also be presenting its concerns to the Labor candidate for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips, and Mike Kelly, the sitting Labor member for the neighbouring seat of Eden-Monaro.
“Both the Liberal – National Government and the Labor Party continue to peddle the misconception that they have stopped the boats and that mandatory detention has resulted in deterring people and stopping people smugglers,” Ms Richards says.
“Those detained on Manus and Nauru are in effect the human hostages of this approach, losing their lives and their human rights as a result of such a deeply warped policy.
“Australia has had a successful past of settling refugees. We can seek to solve problems, draw on our past successes and just evacuate them before there are more deaths or injuries,” Ms Richards pleads.
The Refugee Action Collective has raised over $17,000 in the Eurobodalla to date for emergency legal and medical responses on Manus.
“Regional people have big hearts,” Ms Richards says.
“We see the value of mateship, of a fair go, and how we are actually connected, by virtue of our Government’s actions, and our tax payer money being spent on locking up people and breaking human rights.”
Thanks to About Regional members – Cathy Griff, Patrick and Meagan O’Halloran, Kym Mogridge, and Rosemary Lord for supporting local news and stories.