The power of people is stronger than politicians; unite for refugee rights

This was written last month, when the Australian government was seeking to pass a bill that would have allowed the confiscation of mobile phones from anyone in immigration detention without cause. That legislation, officially called the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020, but known more colloquially as the ‘mobile phones bill’, was rejected in the Senate in early October. The outcome rode on a single Senator’s deciding vote.  A large mobilisation by people in detention, their advocates, and members of the public contributed to the bill’s defeat.

Mostafa Azimitabar, the author of this post, is a musician and human rights defender. He is in his eighth year of detention at the hands of the Australian government, after arriving as an asylum-seeker via boat. After six years on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, in 2019 Azimitabar was transferred to Melbourne, where he remains in detention. You can follow him on Twitter @AzimiMoz and support his music via Bandcamp.

Because of COVID-19, you may have been in a state of isolation for some months. We have been locked up for more than 2,600 days and placed in this cage indefinitely.

The predicament of refugees who were transferred to Australia for medical help is more turbulent than the ocean we passed through on our boat journey here, and our future is desperately ambiguous. The Australian government is diminishing our life gradually; minimising our existence with each passing day.

Our life is the size of a room, a narrow corridor, and a kitchen, with a small window to the world and life outside that fits in the palm of our hands. They are systemically reducing the scope of our existence through legislating to confiscate our phones—closing the window, suffocating us, diminishing us until we perish.

Can you imagine for a minute what that would be like? Put yourself in our shoes. You are confined to a room and your window to the world; your connection to your family, your friends, and to meaningful work, is taken away. The Australian government is attempting to bury us alive, mummifying us within these walls.

The architects of this cruel bill and those who passed it in the lower house of government are disconnecting us from our souls and hearts. The government are also disconnecting you, the public, from the atrocities they are inflicting on us. We know, as they do, that our phones are not only our window on the world but are our voice to the world.

Make no mistake, friends: this bill is an attempt to silence us. In Papua New Guinea, phones were taken away before throwing our comrades into the Australian-funded Bomana jail and no one knew what happened to those refugees. No one saw their torture because there was no way to communicate. If they had phones, people would have been aware of the torture they suffered there. The Australian government was successful in hiding the atrocities in Bomana and to an extent on Manus Island and now they are trying to repeat it in Australia, under your noses, right in front of you. They are silencing us, cutting us off from the world.

The Australian government has ‘othered’ refugees for the last twenty years. It is convenient for them. It gets them more votes. More than 154,000 people signed a petition to stop this bill but the government doesn’t pay any attention. This legislation is not about taking care of children, it is about demonising refugees.

We are strong and resilient but a part of this resilience depends on our ability to be in touch with each other and our supporters. They are aiming to weaken our resistance, to further their process of othering us for political gain.

Some people look at us and see victims. I want to say that I am not a victim. I am a freedom fighter. A victim is silent against cruelty. A freedom fighter is resilient and outspoken.

Our voice is a threat to the Australian government and a threat to this system of oppression. This legislation is about distancing you from our stories and weakening our voice. I appreciate everyone who is advocating for me and the other refugees held by this cruel policy, but what we need most is for our voices to be heard. We need all of you supporters to get behind our voices, to use your rights in this country to ensure our voices are heard.

Every single one of you, all of you who are fighting for us, never underestimate yourself. Gloves off. The power of people is stronger than politicians. Step into that power.


This Opinion piece was penned by Mostafa Azimitabar, Kurdish musician, refugee, detainee, human rights defender. Views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of UAI.