'I don't have dreams': my pen pal on Manus Is­land

The Guardian Australia - - News / Politics / World News - So­phie Tre­vitt with Mustafa Golem

Five years ago I wrote some­one I didn’t know a let­ter. It was a bit awk­ward. I didn’t know what to say. I de­scribed my fam­ily. I said I was study­ing law at univer­sity. I wrote that I thought what our gov­ern­ment was do­ing to refugees was wrong. I in­cluded my ad­dress so the some­one I was writ­ing to could write back. I sent the let­ter to an ad­dress on Ju­lian Burn­side’s web­site and it pre­sum­ably got bun­dled up with oth­ers and sent to Manus Is­land.

Five years later a “Mustafa” com­mented on a photo of a refugee rally I posted on Face­book, and asked whether I was the So­phie who had writ­ten him a let­ter. He posted a photo of an en­ve­lope with my hand­writ­ing on it, and my Can­berra ad­dress.

“When you sent let­ter you were 23 in 2014 and now you are 27 in 2018, but I have spent my en­tire life on one bunk. I don’t know what is world or free­dom.”

When I wrote the let­ter to Mustafa I was liv­ing in Can­berra and study­ing Law at ANU. I worked for the Greens as a po­lit­i­cal staffer. I lived in a leafy sub­ur­ban street and went for morn­ing walks up Mount Ainslie and drank at the lo­cal pub af­ter work.

When Mustafa found me on Face­book in July this year he was still trapped on Manus. He wrote to me, “World is not for me. It’s all for you … en­joy it ... World is yours.”

“Some peo­ple like me die with dreams. But now I don’t have dreams. I am a dead man.

“Sorry.”

Since I wrote to Mustafa I have moved to Alice Springs. I have be­come a lawyer. I have fallen in love. I spend my week­ends ex­plor­ing this ex­tra­or­di­nary red desert coun­try. I live with three won­der­ful women and four dogs.

Mustafa has spent those same five years im­pris­oned by La­bor and Lib­eral gov­ern­ments on Manus Is­land. Three weeks ago he was fi­nally granted a glimpse of mercy and re­set­tled in Amer­ica (is it called “mercy” when a tor­turer stops tor­tur­ing you?)

He found a copy of the re­ply let­ter he wrote me that I never re­ceived. Be­fore he gave the let­ter to an Aus­tralian guard and asked them post it for him, he copied it out word for word and kept it. He sent me a photo of it: “Dear So­phie … My name is Mustafa and I am from Pak­istan and I am 24 years old.”

He ex­plained that he had to leave Pak­istan for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. He wrote about his fam­ily – that he was scared for his lit­tle broth­ers and sis­ters, that his par­ents were still alive and very young and that he loves and misses them. He wished me a Merry Christ­mas and a Happy New Year. He asked me to keep writ­ing.

I didn’t, be­cause I never re­ceived his let­ter.

By the time Mustafa found me on Face­book, his fa­ther had died. He died in Fe­bru­ary this year, six months be­fore Mustafa was fi­nally freed. He has been re­set­tled in the USA. His mother is now very sick, he thinks from the worry.

“I lost my youth, my eye sight, my 12 friends were killed and my fa­ther ... I lost ev­ery­thing …”

“I am free now. For­ever. But trapped from the in­side.”

Kevin Rudd’s La­bor gov­ern­ment locked up Mustafa on 19 July 2013. Mal­colm Turn­bull’s – and now Scott Mor­ri­son’s – Lib­eral gov­ern­ment kept him there un­til Septem­ber 2018.

There can be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for steal­ing five years of Mustafa’s life, for tak­ing the fu­tures of 12 of his friends, for in­still­ing such pro­found de­spair in the hearts of chil­dren that they lose the will to live, and for tear­ing fam­i­lies apart.

The Lib­eral and La­bor par­ties have spent years con­fect­ing the lie that they are faced with an im­pos­si­ble choice between peo­ple dy­ing at sea and killing them slowly in off­shore de­ten­tion. But can we re­ally be­lieve that the same politi­cians who are will­ing to in­def­i­nitely lock up in­no­cent peo­ple are wor­ried about lives lost at sea?

We have stolen five years of Mustafa’s life be­cause the Lib­eral and La­bor par­ties de­cided that it was an ac­cept­able price to pay to win elec­tions. And fi­nally, maybe, the Aus­tralian pub­lic are say­ing no more. The vot­ers of Went­worth made it clear that they no longer have con­fi­dence in a gov­ern­ment that per­se­cutes hu­man be­ings and wil­fully lets our planet burn. Opin­ion polls show that pub­lic sen­ti­ment is turn­ing. Lib­eral MPs have spo­ken up about their dis­com­fort with their party’s pol­icy.

Here is a so­lu­tion. Bring the chil­dren, the fam­i­lies and the des­per­ate peo­ple who have asked for our help to Aus­tralia. In­crease our for­eign aid (which is no­tably at an all time his­toric low) in the re­gion and sup­port our re­gional neigh­bours to process asy­lum seeker claims quickly and hu­manely so peo­ple are not forced to take dan­ger­ous boat jour­neys from Indonesia to our shores. And then put those who are found to be refugees un­der the Con­ven­tion on a plane and bring them here quickly and safely.

Aus­tralia is a big and gen­er­ous na­tion. We could have helped Mustafa five years ago and we can help the kids of Nauru and Mustafa’s friends on Manus now. The only thing hold­ing up this regime of ut­ter cru­elty is po­lit­i­cal will.

• So­phie Tre­vitt is a lawyer based Alice Springs and works for an Abo­rig­i­nal le­gal aid ser­vice. She is a mem­ber of the Greens and has been ac­tive for years in call­ing for the end to Aus­tralia’s pol­icy of off­shore de­ten­tion.

Pho­to­graph: Jonas Gratzer for the Guardian

“When you sent let­ter you were 23 in 2014 and now you are 27 in 2018, but I have spent my en­tire life on one bunk. I don’t know what is world orfree­dom.”

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