About Polly Chester

Polly is a thinker, writer and social worker with passions for human rights, caring for the environment, social justice, social policy, epistemology, philosophy and psychology

My letter to Manus Island: The truth about Australians

After human teeth were recently discovered in a meal at Manus Island, Polly Chester has had enough, and she’ll be sending her own letter of apology.


If the threat of enduring war, torture and persecution weren’t enough, I’d confidently propose that finding human teeth in a meal would be an event powerful enough to trigger post-traumatic stress disorder.

Multi-layered oppression and sustained abuse of human rights tend to do that to a person.

I’ve spent hours today wondering how betel-nut juice stained human teeth made their way into the meal of an asylum seeker in the Oscar compound of the Manus Island detention centre. With each new possibility considered, the distress mounts. Whether this was a deliberate or accidental occurrence makes no difference. Because either way, this, is absolute pits.

It is a viscerally and psychologically disturbing event.

The incident follows a plethora of other equally disturbing revelations regarding our Government’s attitudes toward, and treatment of, asylum seekers. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott rather indulgently boasted about Australia’s sadistic border protection policies, including the unconvincing caveat that he had included his own in the collective Australian conscience, which had also been “gnawed upon” by strict policies of turning back the boats. It is now common knowledge that people smugglers have been paid to ensure that boats do not reach Australian shores, despite the long running argument made by the Government that people smuggling was the trade they were trying to demolish.

If Abbott’s insane dichotomist wafflings weren’t confusing enough, during his recent visit to Syria, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton stated that the tough border policy in Australia facilitates better assistance to refugees currently fleeing Syria. This assertion is an idealistic over-simplification of an urgent, highly complex situation.

Further confusion stems from his praise of Jordan for opening its borders and synonymously pledging that Australia would do no such thing. The actions of the Jordanian Government send a strong message: There is no time for orderly queues when war rages next door.

Meanwhile, on Manus Island, the Government has enlisted the services of Transfield employees to initiate an intervention, one that discourages refugees from seeking asylum in Australia; Transfield seemingly trusting that the media will follow suit in helping them spread their reverse PR campaign.

The basic human rights and freedoms to which we are all entitled are denied to those in detention centres. Detention centres that are devoid of spiritual, emotional, social and physical safety. People need to be taken out of harm’s way, and this is a matter of urgency not just for civilians fleeing Syria, but also for those currently in Australian-run offshore detention centres.

At a recent “Light the Dark” Amnesty International vigil held to honour the lives of those lost at sea, I asked one of the organisers what I could do to help. I have since begun written correspondence with an asylum seeker held on Manus Island. Apart from providing social support for one individual, one of the main reasons I wished to do this was because I want to be part of relaying a very clear message to refugees and asylum seekers:

Real Australians say, “welcome.”

Real Australians wouldn’t put human teeth in your food. Nor would they sexually, physically, emotionally or psychologically abuse you. They wouldn’t deny you medical treatment. The powerful decision makers who instigate, or are complicit in, the abuses you endure do not speak for real Australians.

Real Australians say welcome, and they mean it. It’s a shame that none of us hold the immigration portfolio, but we’re doing what we can.


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