FML17: A person in all but name

I need to know the identity of FML17.

Not for any particular reason. He’s nothing to me. Not now anyway. He’s dead. Died on Friday, after falling from his bunk bed. Who does that? Falls from a bunk bed and dies?

My daughter fell from a bunk bed once. We were watching a movie in another room when we heard an almighty thud and felt a tremor in the ground. We ran to her bedroom and there she was in a ball on the floor, bleeding from her mouth, her nose and her ears, as if the fall had broken open her skull but the only way the blood could escape was through the existing holes in her head. It was horrific. And I guess I thought that she might die.

So it’s possible.

FML17 did die. And the police said there were no suspicious circumstances. Excuse me? Really? A guy falls from his bed and dies — not just any guy either, but an asylum seeker — and not just any place, but the Melbourne Transit Accommodation Centre — and it’s not suspicious?

Everything about it is fucking suspicious.

The Melbourne Transit Accommodation Centre is a fancy way of describing a detention centre for asylum seekers. It’s a euphemistic way of describing a place where Australia locks people up for seeking a better, safer life; people that Australia doesn’t want.

FML17 was held for six years before he died. Six years! For committing a crime? No, not strictly. He was held for six years because John Howard — yep, former prime minister and “Christian” — broke the law to make sure FML17 got lost in the system. What happened was, FML17, a Sunni Muslim man whose family had to flee the Taliban, entered Australian waters in an Indonesian fishing boat near Ashmore Reef, about 320km northwest of the coast of Western Australia. At the time, Ashmore was inside Australia’s migration zone, which meant if you landed on the Reef you could demand to be processed as a refugee. Big problem for Australia, because people were doing it all the time, and a giant political headache for John Howard.

But Johnny Howard had an ingenious solution: excise the Goddamn Fucking Reef from the migration zone, he ordered. No more refugees. No more problem. From that moment, if anyone landed on the Reef (or was towed back to the Reef by the sneaky Australian custom vessels) they no longer had the right to claim refugee status (since they weren’t officially within the zone); they no longer had the right to be treated like human beings either. They could just be locked up as criminals and lost in the system.

FML17 was one of 1600 people snagged by Johnny Howard’s masterstroke.

He was 17 years old in 2013 when the fishing boat he was on got towed back to Ashmore Reef by Customs. He was taken to Australia and processed not as a political refugee but as an “illegal maritime arrival” — then he disappeared. Detention centres in Perth, in Sydney, then in Melbourne.

But he turned up again on Friday. Dead on the floor, below his bunk bed. Not suspiciously dead though. Totally fucking normally dead.

In the six years between FML17 getting caught and turning up dead, what Johnny Howard did regarding Ashmore Reef was deemed illegal by an Australian federal judge. FML17, seeing his shot at freedom, began proceedings in the same circuit where that decision had been made, and was waiting for his case to be reopened — so he could escape the labyrinthine detention centre system that is Australia’s last line of defence against asylum seekers.

Last line? No, not really. Seems to me that falling from your bunk bed in the night and dying in circumstances that the police say are not suspicious is the actual last line.

So … I need to know who FML17 was — and actually it is for a particular reason. I need to know because I’m hanging on to the belief that I live in a world where it’s not acceptable that a man dies in custody, after six years of incarceration for having tried, as a teenager, to reach safe haven and have a better life, and for that death to go unnoticed … and for his story to never be heard … and for his name never to be known … as though he never existed at all.

FML17. Is there anything more inhumane than allowing a man to die as a number, rather than as a person? I hate to say it, but Australia, my adopted country of origin, is a nation that allows people to die without personhood, without a story, without an identity … all for seeking safety.

So I want to know the name of FML17 and I want to know his story.

It matters.

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