One woman lies catatonic in hospital after being raped and beaten. Another was raped and immolated. This is the world awaiting refugees released from detention on Nauru.
They say God never gives you anything you can’t handle, but Dabal is not so sure. When I call him, he’s just returning from the Nauruan hospital where his 23-year-old sister lies catatonic, entering her second week being sustained only by nutrients pumped intravenously into her. Her kidneys are shutting down; her body has shrunk.
In May, Nazanin left the Nauru refugee camp one morning on a day pass, happy to be visiting some friends who had been settled on the island – she and her family had been in detention for 26 months. “She used a bus, and I called a friend and he said she was there,” Dabal tells me. “My sister was happy to leave this camp for a day.”
She never returned. At 6 o’clock that evening, Dabal and his mother reported her absence to security guards. Something wasn’t right. In response, the guards floated theories of missed buses or an innocent loss of time, benign explanations for what the family felt was a sinister disappearance. By 7pm, several hours past Nazanin’s curfew, the camp authorities began to wonder, too. “They realise it was bigger than the things they thought,” Dabal says.
Dabal joined two security guards as they drove to Nazanin’s friends’ house. The friends confirmed she had been there, but that she had left some time earlier to return to the camp before curfew. At this point, no one knew where she was. Dabal felt sick. This wasn’t like his sister.
The guards contacted police, and gave them photos of the missing woman. Dabal was taken back to the camp to join his mother, and the pair was placed in an isolated room to wait for news. Which they did, for hours. As they waited they brooded upon how small the island was – 10,000 people occupying just 21 square kilometres – and the unlikelihood of an absconded refugee. Something terrible must have happened to her.
Police found Nazanin naked, bruised and disoriented, about 9pm that night. She was alive, but badly beaten and numb with trauma. She couldn’t speak much. It wasn’t until 11pm that Dabal and his mother were notified. In those two hours they mulled their darkest apprehensions. They didn’t know at that time that Nazanin was taken to the police station rather than the hospital. They didn’t even know if she was alive. No one told them.