Feb 19, 2017
The Iranian cartoonist known as Eaten Fish has broken a weeks-long hunger strike he held to protest against the handling of his claims of abuse while in immigration detention on Manus Island.
Eaten Fish posted on Facebook on Saturday afternoon that he would end the protest, which was into its 19th day and left him “already 46 [kg] and close to [losing] my body parts”.
The asylum seeker went on hunger strike after immigration authorities told him last month his complaints of sexual assault and abuse in detention were not substantiated and he would be returned to the main centre compound to live among the alleged perpetrators.
But Eaten Fish wrote on Saturday: “I’m going to start eating just now and end the protest … I wanted to protest and keep doing it but hunger strike is turning to some thing else which I don’t want it to happen.”
The cartoonist, whose chronicling of life in detention last year won him Cartoonist Rights Network International’s award for courage in editorial cartooning, said he was being plagued by thoughts of ending his life.
“I’m scared that I kill myself by my hand before hunger strike kills me. I did protest because I need safety … Protection … I don’t want to die,” he wrote on Facebook. “I do not want to be made to suffer anymore. I need help and I need safety and I need proper treatment. I need safety and peace more than food.”
The Guardian Australia cartoonist First Dog on the Moon, also known as Andrew Marlton, said Eaten Fish told him on Sunday of a slight improvement in his condition after eating twice, including some noodles.
First Dog, who has mentored the young Iranian and spoken daily with him for several years, said he was “mentally hugely unwell but also incredibly strong, mentally”.
“I mean, you have to be to go on a hunger strike,” he said. “But his body is falling apart.”
Behrouz Boochani, the Iranian journalist also living in Manus Island detention centre, shared Eaten Fish’s post via Facebook on Saturday, writing: “I’m sorry that I have to put these words. This man needs medical treatment.”
Eaten Fish is among about 900 men in the Manus Island centre, which has been slated for closure by the end of 2017 after the Papua New Guinea high court last year ruled it “illegal and unconstitutional”.
The Iranian, after four years on Manus Island, is also among 60 men issued with a forced deportation order after being denied refugee status before the centre’s slated closure.
About half of 168 Manus detainees who have been denied refugee status are from Iran, a country that refuses to accept the forced return of its citizens.
Eaten Fish has been unable to complete interviews to determine his refugee status because of his post-traumatic illness and panic attacks triggered by questions about his experience in Iran, trauma worker Janet Galbraith has told Fairfax media.
His and others’ future hopes may hinge on completing the refugee determination process and applying for resettlement in the United States.
The resettlement support centre, contracted by the US state department, has begun preliminary interviews for refugees on Manus Island. Security vetting interviews by the US Department of Homeland Security would follow.
The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has declined a standing offer from New Zealand to accept 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres in favour of pursuing a deal for the US to consider taking up to 1250 refugees.
That is despite the agreement, brokered by the former Obama administration, not binding the US to accepting a single refugee and the US president, Donald Trump, describing it as a “dumb deal” and the “worst deal ever”.
Last Thursday, Turnbull met with his NZ counterpart, Bill English, who said the offer to take 150 refugees still stood but “so far, they haven’t taken it up”.
Turnbull said he appreciated the offer but Australia would pursue the deal struck with the Obama administration for the US to take up to 1250 refugees.
“This offer from NZ has been available for some time and it is one that we appreciate but our focus is on completing the arrangements with the United States,” Turnbull said.