This election is an opportunity to vote for humanity and freedom | Behrouz Boochani | Opinion
Christina Coombe was a 56-year-old Australian woman who died last week after a long battle with cancer. Before she left this world she attended a pro-refugee rally calling for the release of those on Manus and Nauru. She also visited an art exhibition in Melbourne which showcased the work of Farhad Bandesh, an artist still on Manus. Also, just a few days before she passed away she cast her vote for the federal election and supported a candidate who opposes the policy of exiling and imprisoning refugees.
Christina was a woman who for years resisted the inhumane and merciless political program of consecutive governments; she actively resisted the policy that exiles and imprisons refugees on Manus and Nauru. Her political participation was not limited to fighting for refugees; she also tried to play a significant role in important social campaigns such as climate change action.
I have known Christina since 2017 when the Australian government withheld food and water from us for 23 days before transferring us to new camps in Lorengau town. During those days many refugees were extremely traumatised because the local police beat most of us. One of the people they physically attacked was a young musician named Moz. I remember he suffered intense mental anguish and his hands would not stop trembling. During that crisis it was Christina who communicated with him to offer support. Every day she would talk to him for hours by phone and comfort him; she treated him as a human being, a friend, a family member … an equal.
Christina committed herself wholeheartedly to the resistance of the refugees stuck in Manus, the resistance of forgotten people. Now she has departed from this life but Moz is still suffering from the same political strategy.
I asked Moz about Christina and he said: “The main thing I can say about this woman is that she helped empower me to continue resisting. She was like a fighting spirit who suddenly came into my life and stood by me as I tried to pull myself out of the depths of darkness … Christina reassured me there was hope.” However, Moz also indicated something else: Christina’s greatest wish throughout all these years was that one day Moz and the other refugees experience freedom. During this whole time she was fully aware of the violence directed at the people held on Manus and Nauru. It was as though she lived and suffered with us throughout this time.
Christina could be seen as someone who represents an emancipatory consciousness – she is a symbol for a significant group within Australian society – those who have never been indifferent to the humanitarian crisis and tragedy unfolding on these two islands. She was someone who remained active in this cause until her dying days. She never stopped fighting for change.
Throughout these years many Australians have tried to support the forgotten human beings on these islands using many approaches. They have tried to assist people whose bodies and souls have been used as instruments for politics and power. They have tried to help human beings incarcerated without charge; human beings who have been ignored by the mainstream media; human beings who at the same time struggle to expose the violent face of the Australian government for all to see; unique human beings whose faces are unknown; human beings who are an important part of the refugee resistance; human beings who have no choice but to resist; human beings who have no way of turning back to the countries from which they fled.
This is the reality – during these six years the refugees have endured unrelenting affliction. However, a large part of Australian society have also been traumatised by this political program, and they continue to suffer in different ways. There are many untold stories about the relationships between Australian citizens and refugees in Manus and Nauru. Christina’s life is inspirational, but she is only one example. A lot can be learned from this one person and others like her.
This is the reality: Manus and Nauru are a part of Australia. These prisons have had a profound effect on Australia’s political culture and society. It is true that the current generation is not fully aware of this reality but, undoubtedly, in the future Australia will come to fully understand the consequences of this political strategy and its violent impact on the nation.
Just imagine the hundreds of Australian citizens who have worked in the prisons on Manus and Nauru throughout these years. The difference between this group of people and people like Christina is significant. Christina resisted the policy of exile and hostage taking of refugees and the others facilitate it. The group of people who have worked there have had a role in our torture and have been affected enormously as a result. They have inflicted all this violence, and in turn all this violence has been ingrained in them. By extension, they have imported all this violence back into Australian society. They exist within Australian society, I know that many of them suffer from mental health problems. Because of this a significant number of them have made claims against the government or against the companies contracted to run these prisons and have in some cases taken them to court.
A massive part of Australian society has been worn down by this ruthless political strategy. This policy of exile and incarceration of refugees has also injured the Australian people, and this is exemplified by those who have worked for this prison industry.
Many Australians want a change to this situation; clearly, this is a demand made by the wider society. I’m telling Christina’s story because I think that it is vital for Australians – and of course for refugees on Manus and Nauru – that everyone fights against indifference. Christina went out to vote for change even as she was breathing her last breath.
This election is an opportunity for the Australian people to impact a central political issue and restore Australia’s broken political landscape, they have the chance to move society towards a brighter future … to instil justice … freedom … humanity … a cleaner environment.
Christina’s message for us is that the main pillar of any democratic system is a commitment to humanity, justice, freedom, love and compassion. Australians must vote for those politicians who want to work for a future that embodies these values. Christina had this vision for Australia’s future. She voted with her heart.
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