MANUS ISLAND: No room for disablility in harsh detention policy
4 OCT 2016
Mehdi Savari is an Ahwazi Arab refugee from Iran, currently residing in Manus Island detention centre. He is an achondroplastic dwarf and he has also been a victim of torture. Prior to fleeing Ahvaz, Mehdi was a TV presenter and comedian.
Mehdi is just over a metre tall and his stature presents a myriad of challenges on Manus Island. He has difficulty using toilet facilities, washing his hands in the basin, and even reaching light switches in his accomodation.
His cousin (now 19 years of age) accompanied Mehdi on his journey to Australia 3 years ago and used to take care of him. Immigration has since separated the two men, and Mehdi’s cousin lives in Port Moresby, while Medhi remains in Manus island detention centre.
Mehdi has been isolated and taunted on Manus island due to his stature. Stones are thrown at him and he is excluded from social groups. He used to feel afraid to travel to Lorengau where his cousin was before he moved to Port Moresby, as he knows he will be targeted.
Friends who have been supportive over the years are now suffering with depression and unable to provide the help Mehdi needs. Mehdi now self-harms and has attempted suicide on a number of occasions.
In Mehdi’s own words:
“After I was found (to be) a refugee, I was very happy, I wanted to go outside the centre like others and start a new life. Unfortunately, my issues got worse. When I used to go to Lorengue (Lorengau) to visit my cousin many local people humiliate me and they staring at me and laughing together. Everybody calls me lik-lik man. I did not know it’s meaning. I found out later it means dwarf. I hate myself because of it.”
Earlier this year, Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court deemed Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus island to be illegal.
During his 3 years under this regime, Mehdi (like so many other refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island) has developed depression and suicidality. While structural changes to his accommodation on Manus Island would improve his ability to carry out activities of daily living (ADLs), it would not address the social isolation and abuse which are contributing to Mehdi’s depression. In this context, it would appear that if this man is to remain in detention, community detention on the Australian mainland is the obvious setting in which he may receive the facilities and care he requires.
One has to wonder whether further detention of any sort is likely to lead to any kind of positive outcomes for Medhi or the other men on Manus Island.
Doctors For Refugees have contacted Disability Services Australia with regards to advocating for Mehdi and are awaiting a response.
Refugee advocates and Doctors For Refugees continue to request that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection transfer Mehdi to the Australian mainland.