In 2013 an Iranian cartoonist named Ali arrived in Australia. He was 21 and hoped to live in a country that valued freedom, a country where he’d be safe. The Australian government put him in a detention camp. He’s been in a detention camp ever since.
Ali, who cartoons under the name Eaten Fish, eventually made contact with Andrew Marlton, who cartoons under the name First Dog On The Moon. “I was sent some of Eaten Fish’s cartoons about a year ago,” Marlton says. “One of the advocates who works with a number of detained asylum seekers sent them to me and asked if I might talk to him or even mentor him.”
Marlton has been in touch with Ali ever since. This month Marlton did his strip in The Guardian about Ali’s life in Manus detention camp. “There is a real feeling of powerlessness talking to this young man who is locked up because it makes the government look tough,” Marlton says.
“Australia’s mandatory detention regime detains people seeking asylum who arrive by boat,” Marlton explains. “In most instances they are ultimately transferred to camps on Nauru or Manus Island (PNG) while their applications are processed. However applications are not processed, people remain in limbo. Asylum seekers are told they will never be settled in Australia, but they are also not able to go anywhere else — except back where they were fleeing from.
“The government claims it is a deterrent to stop people taking boats and dying at sea, however people are now dying in the camps instead. And those that don’t die suffer all manner of physical and psychological trauma as they literally wait for years, and this includes children.”
Those who know Ali say his health is failing. Suvendrini Perera and Joseph Pugliese, the university professors who founded Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites, write: “According to doctors, expert medical opinion is that Eaten Fish is the subject of trauma that caused him to seek refuge. His condition has been exacerbated by the lack of adequate care on Manus Island, and even more disturbingly, he has become the target of further violence, including sexual assault, during his detention. All previous attempts to seek help for him have failed, despite medical practitioners familiar with the case stating that he requires immediate assistance for Complex PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), severe OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Dissociation with panic attacks and somatization.”
In the essay, Perera and Pugliese study several cartoons by Eaten Fish. They told CRNI: “We wrote the article about Ali’s cartoons because in these drawings we see him trying to make visible that which is unspeakable and invisible in his prison surroundings. We have had access, authorised by him, to his medical records, and we see again and again that Ali’s attempts to call attention to what is happening to him are discounted or ignored by camp authorities. All the drawings show CCTV monitoring the scene, but none of these monitors actually sees what is happening. The drawings are visual evidence of Ali’s experience of abuse, violence and sexual assault. We find the drawings extraordinary in their detailed recording of the everyday sexual menace of life in the camp. It is remarkable that Ali is able to bear witness and attempt to communicate with us despite his desperate sense of vulnerability and increasing fragility. Ali’s records show his deterioration over the last two years — scrubbing out his eyes with soap, obsessive washing and bathing for hours because of a sense of being contaminated and infected, panic attacks, loss of memory etc. We are calling on all concerned people to make his condition known and to let the Australian government know that his treatment cannot be hidden from the world.”
Andrew Marlton (FirstDogOnTheMoon) has rallied cartoonists to contribute Save Eaten Fish cartoons to raise awareness of Ali’s failing health and spring him from the Manus detention camp. The cartoons can be found at eatenfish.com, along with some of Ali’s cartoons and an online petition to get Ali to Australia for the medical help he needs.
“It is great to feel like I’m doing something,” Marlton says, “although knowing our government, there will be little or no action. They’re not interested in the well being of people on Manus and Nauru — the only thing they are concerned about is stopping suicide because it looks bad, everything else has plausible deniability.”
UPDATE: On August 13, Ali reports that he was beaten by police at the compound after he refused to return to a section in the camp where he felt unsafe.
Ali has asked that the following be published: “I am a normal person who didn’t do anything wrong but drawing in the detention centre. Now I am a sick asylum seeker got assaulted and badly damaged and so sick. I been limited in high watch and isolation for seven months. Now I am asking help from all the world.”