Manus Island: What happened to make Hamed go from 'a good guy' to a man to be avoided?

Manus Island: What happened to make Hamed go from 'a good guy' to a man to be avoided?

Manus Island: What happened to make Hamed go from 'a good guy' to a man to be avoided?

Updated 19 August 2017, 7:35 AEST

Last week a man Eric Tlozek met while covering the situation on Manus Island was found dead, in what police say looks to have been a suicide.

I met Hamed Shamshiripour outside the police station in Lorengau, the only town on Manus Island, last November.

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I was standing with another asylum seeker when Hamed approached. He was excessively friendly, shaking my hand and speaking intensely to me.

Then he turned his attention to the asylum seeker next to me.

He kissed him on each bicep, then his chest, making the man uncomfortable. Suddenly, swiftly, he darted forward and kissed the man on the lips.

The other asylum seeker recoiled and pushed Hamed away, but didn't seem too angry. "Stop that," he said.

Both men were Iranian. They were standing where the buses pick people up to go back to the detention centre.

Bemused Papua New Guineans sat under a sprawling fig tree nearby, chewing betel nut and watching the spectacle as Hamed moved back in.

"C'mon," he said to the other Iranian man. "I am here for you, I am ready." He raised his eyebrows then ran his tongue along his lips. The other man watched him tensely.

When Hamed darted in and aggressively grabbed him for another kiss, his friend was ready. He smacked Hamed across the head — hard.

Then he hit him repeatedly, fast, swearing at him. Hamed turned to run and earned a hard kick up the backside. But his friend wasn't finished.

He gave chase and belted and kicked Hamed around the dusty police-station car park. Every time Hamed got clear, he earned another kick to his behind.

The locals watched bemused and fascinated. I was standing in the middle of the circle the two men made as they ran, unsure of how to respond.

Police came to investigate the commotion. One officer screamed abuse at both men and another came forward and feinted a punch at Hamed's head, making him cower on the ground.

His friend stopped instantly. He was panting but was immediately back in control. His anger was a demonstration. I ushered him into a car and we drove away.

"He wanted me to beat him," the other Iranian man said as we left. He was flushed and breathing heavily.

"I always tell other people not to beat him, but sometimes I have to. I don't want to beat him, but I am Kurdish, and when people threaten us we fight."

Hamed had been hanging around the bus stop for most of the day. His friends said he spent most of his days there, ranting to himself and seeing if he could provoke the locals.

"Hamed used to be a good guy," they said, "but now he is crazy".

Over the next few months, I heard more reports about Hamed's behaviour. Local Manus people told me his behaviour was erratic, sexually-suggestive and frightening.

His friends had asked authorities to help him many times, and he had repeated run-ins with the police.

Hamed initially well-liked by all

Whenever I saw Hamed on Manus Island, it was a brief, intense conversation or a glimpse of him walking, hunched forward like he was in a hurry.

Sometimes you would see him gesticulating wildly to a group of confused Papua New Guineans, who would usually nod politely then swiftly move away.

Yet Hamed was a man who initially was well-liked by the other detainees on Manus Island.

He learnt guitar from YouTube and would entertain other asylum seekers. He was apparently friendly and compassionate.

In his last few months, Hamed became a person to be avoided.

He was teased by local children, chased by local men and closely watched and intimidated by police.

He became increasingly isolated and desperate. I last glimpsed him alive when I drove through the centre of Lorengau town last month.

Then, last week I watched his body being loaded onto on aeroplane. He was leaving Manus Island, but not the way anyone wanted.

Death surrounds the detention centre

Everyone in the detention centre has been touched by death. The first story I covered on Manus Island was the trial of two men accused of killing Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati.

The evidence was graphic. Mr Barati was beaten to death in front of his friends during riots in the centre in February 2014.

A number of men kicked him while he lay on the floor. One centre worker hit him repeatedly in the head with a piece of wood with a nail in it. A guard dropped a large rock on his head.

The asylum seekers who watched Mr Barati die, or saw his body afterwards, still talk about that moment with horror in their eyes.

One of the two men convicted of murdering Mr Barati escaped from jail months ago and is still at large.

An Australian guard and a New Zealander who were implicated in the death by witnesses remain in their respective countries and have never been charged.

Later in 2014, Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei died from an infection on his leg.

Last year Pakistani detainee Kamil Hussain drowned when he fell into a waterfall on Manus Island.

And then just before Christmas, Sudanese refugee Faysal Ishak Ahmed collapsed in the centre and died not long after.

Each of these deaths has added to the sense of hopelessness and desperation amongst the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Push to close the centre met with resistance

Hamed's death came as authorities stepped up their efforts to close the detention centre. They have been pushing refugees to move into a so-called "transit centre" close to the main town on Manus Island.

The men inside the detention centre have been holding daily protests against the move. They don't want to stay in detention, but they believe the transit centre, which is too small to fit all the detention centre's residents, isn't safe.

A recent spate of robberies and attacks by local people on asylum seekers has only made the detainees more fearful.

The streets of Lorengau were previously full of asylum seekers shopping and socialising. But since Hamed's death, their numbers have dropped.

Many are staying in the centre, scared to leave. They say they're stressed, sick and now completely lacking hope.

The Australian and Papua New Guinea Governments are promising to close the centre by the end of October.

United States officials were in there last week, interviewing detainees for resettlement in the US.

That process has been slow and the US Government is yet to say if any of the men from Manus will actually be accepted by the United States.

But the closure deadline is creeping ever closer and no new options have been offered.

It's possible that this is deliberate, to increase the pressure on the men inside to return to their countries of origin. This ignores the fact that refugees are legally owed protection.

If someone has been found to be a refugee, by what Australia says has been a fair and robust process, they have a well-founded fear of persecution.

So if the men are being pushed to return, that means they are being pushed back to a place where Australia and PNG believe they are at risk.

Essentially the men inside the centre are being told to leave as the place is demolished around them.

If all of them said yes tomorrow, there would not be enough space to house them in the transit centre.

The excess would presumably be "resettled" in PNG, something that has proven difficult and dangerous to some who have already tried.

Extra police are being flown to the island to help force the detainees out. The detainees say they have no option but to resist.

There's a flashpoint coming, and perhaps Hamed won't be the last person to leave Manus Island in a coffin.