After another restless night of interrupted sleep, I was awakened by the sense that there was someone in the room. I opened my eyes to see a piece of green coloured paper lying next to my pillow. I knew that green meant the note came from the medical centre, so I looked closely at the slip of paper to see what sort of appointment I had. It was a meeting with the psychologist at 11am, so I got up straight away, had a hurried shower and made my way down to the medical centre, in order to be there on time.
The Christmas Island Detention Centre consisted of eight compounds, capable of housing120 single people in each compound. A medical centre, a kitchen and canteen, English classrooms, a library, internet services, sporting facilities, including a gym, and so on. Everything was facilitated on site in the detention centre. Every compound could be locked up separately and was also entirely surrounded by an electric fence. Escape from detention was impossible. The centre was maintained by the Department of Immigration, but its day to day running was contracted out to a private service provider. Over one thousand people from a variety of nationalities were locked up there for identity and security checks. I was one of them.
I showed my appointment slip to the security guard outside the medical room. He, in turn, took my identity card and the green appointment slip to be checked at the medical counter, then showed me into a waiting room. The walls of the room were painted white and a table was placed in the middle of the room, surrounded by four plastic chairs. On the table was a cloth, on which I noticed the image of a kitten playing with its mother. The picture took me back to the memory of playing with my mum when I was 9 years old.
At the appointed time, a woman entered with a file, followed by a man. They sat down at the table and asked me to do the same. The woman, who introduced herself as Kate, informed me that they had been asked to submit a mental health report on all clients detained by Immigration for more than one year, which is why I had been called to meet the psychologist. She introduced me to the man, who turned out to be an interpreter.
Then she started to probe me about my past.
I described everything to her. Again, I was forced to re-live every atrocity I had experienced and which I had hoped to forget. Again and again, I had been tortured in these so-called interviews. In that one year, I had faced about seven to eight interviews with Immigration, the Federal Police, ASIO, my legal representative and now the psychologist as well. Every detail of our conversation was translated word for word by the interpreter.
Tormented, as I told my story, I sobbed uncontrollably. So, concluding that I was suffering from mental problems, she started to teach me how to focus my mind, so that I could sleep more easily. But, as I looked down, trying to control my tears, all I could see were the kitten and the mother cat, drawing me back to a past when I was nine years old. I was the youngest in our family and very picky about eating, so my mum would sing to me as she tried to feed me. On this occasion, I had run out into the front yard of our house, with Mum chasing me, trying to feed me at least a morsel. I kept on running. Suddenly, a shell came whistling from the army camp to land directly on our home, exploding with an enormous roar, an example of the way the army conducted their training by testing out their artillery on the homes of minorities. If anyone was killed or anything was damaged, there were no repercussions. Minorities were simply regarded as second class citizens.
We had escaped by a hair’s breath, but our home was destroyed in a second. Dark smoke enveloped the area. The smell of explosives was everywhere and we were coated in black soot. When the shell exploded, my mum hugged me to her, like a hen hiding her chicks in her feathers to protect them from predators. I started to howl. And, as these memories surfaced, I started to howl right there, in that white room, in front of the psychologist.
Startled, she stopped her attempts to teach me how to concentrate my mind and find a way to sleep. She stood up, gently rubbed my back to calm me down, told me to take a rest and prescribed a daily sleeping tablet. Having collected the tablets, I returned to my room, swallowing one to give me blessed oblivion.
Later, I heard from the interpreter that, according to the psychologist, her recommendations had little effect on the variety of inhumane policies of the Immigration Department.