Twirling towards freedom

Hamid Kehazaei and the whispering in our hearts

What is saddest about the brain death of 24-year-old Iranian man Hamid Kehazaei is what could have saved him: a pair of shoes, or some basic medical treatment. Perhaps just a bandaid.

A bandaid.

What is most infuriating are the reports of the time it took to provide Kehazaei with adequate medical attention. The former director of mental health services at Manus Island, Peter Young, describes delay as “part and parcel” of detaining refugees in remote locations. Kehazaei cut his foot, the cut became infected, and by the time he was given treatment on Manus Island the infection was too severe. The International Health and Medical Service’s request to transfer him to a hospital on mainland Australia was denied. Kehazaei was evacuated to Brisbane’s Mater Hospital last Thursday, where he was diagnosed with severe septicaemia. On Wednesday night this week he was pronounced brain dead.

After Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young commented on the “disgraceful lack of care,” a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on the alleged delay. “The government has consistently focused on the care of this young man and his family, as well as respecting their privacy,” she said instead. “These are our primary concerns. It is disappointing that the Greens have sought to politicise this very sensitive and serious matter in this way.”

Among the concerns of those Australians who do not happen to be employed by the Department of Immigration, however, is not only that a man who sought our protection will die because he wasn’t given a fucking bandaid, but also that incredibly serious incidents, like this one, seem to go on unchecked. An Iranian man who witnessed the murder of Reza Barati in February has alleged on Facebook that he was taken to a secret compound on Manus Island, tied to a chair, beaten and threatened with rape and murder if he did not retract his police statement. Scott Morrison has remained tight-lipped, droning only that all that occurred to this man was “in accordance with operational policy.”

Horror like this cannot be buried under the weight of press statements. We don’t know all that is happening in offshore detention centres, but we know enough.

As the Abbott government approaches its first birthday, it has revealed itself to be an administration either completely blind to, or unafraid of, hypocrisy. During Sunday night’s weekly briefing session, Morrison revealed that asylum seekers have been returned to Syria, Iran and Iraq under the so-called voluntary return package. This week US President Barack Obama has more or less declared war on Iraq, and Abbott has said that he is “considering what we may be able to make available” in response to a “general request” from Obama that we provide military assistance in Iraq. Before long, we can realistically expect to see Australia sending refugees back to a country we’re at war with. All this, to supposedly protect the quality of life in a country where, as of this week, citizens are going to retire poorer and mining magnates are allowed to decide that their companies should not be taxed.

Tonight, candles will be lit for Hamid Kehazaei in snap vigils that have been organised by GetUp all around the country. A lit candle isn’t much, and it isn’t a solution, but it is a sign that not all Australians want to destroy our country while trying to protect it.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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