On Thursday, a group of cartoonists gathered in front of the Australian embassy in London, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk in support of a 25-year-old Iranian editorial cartoonist who goes by Eaten Fish.
Eaten Fish signs his cartoons “Ali Dotani” and “RUF-115,” the number he was given at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, an offshore detention center run by the Australian government that has been slated for closure because its existence was ruled “unconstitutional and illegal” by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court. He arrived there after seeking asylum in Australia in 2013. He was awarded the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award by the Cartoonists Rights Network International in 2016 for his work from inside the detention center.
Cartoonists around the world have been drawing fish in support of Eaten Fish and posting them on social media. The Australian cartoonist Andrew Marlton, who goes by First Dog on the Moon and illustrates for The Guardian, has been reposting them along with Eaten Fish's cartoons on the website eatenfish.com. Marlton drew this cartoon about Eaten Fish’s experience at Manus Island.
Eaten Fish’s story is sad; he has PTSD and OCD that causes him to wash until his skin bleeds. He has complained of sexual and physical assault and went on a 19-day hunger strike earlier this year, at one point telling a reporter, “I have no energy left to tell my stories to Australians any more.”
Not much has been said about his life before Manus Island. He was unable to complete his refugee interview process because of panic attacks triggered by talking about his experience in Iran, said one doctor who contacted him through Doctors for Refugees.
Media organizations have called on Australia to grant asylum to Eaten Fish. He’s just one of more than 900 men who have been detained on Manus Island for more than three years. Australia tightened up its borders in 2013 when it put the military in charge of asylum operations. The country is still trying to convince the U.S. to take 1,250 refugees from its two offshore detention centers, an Obama-brokered deal that President Donald Trump has denounced.
Eaten Fish is unique because he can illustrate his situation in a way that many refugees can’t. But despite the outpouring of cute pictures of fish, no government has volunteered to take him.