Posts Tagged ‘Manus’

MEA nominee Aziz Abdul Muhamat suffers under Australia’s endless detention policy

December 4, 2018

 wrote for Al-Jazeera about “Manus and the deepening despair of Australia’s endless detention policy”, saying that fellow refugees are the only lifeline for men who wonder whether they will ever escape the remote Pacific island where they have been held for more than five years under Australia’s harsh off-shore detention policies. His focus is on MEA nominee Aziz Abdul Muhamat []. As interviews with this man are difficult to come by, here the full story:

Aziz Abdul Muhamat has been supporting his fellow refugees on remote Manus Island. He's now been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award [Bill Code/Al Jazeera]
Aziz Abdul Muhamat has been supporting his fellow refugees on remote Manus Island. He’s now been nominated for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award [Bill Code/Al Jazeera]

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea – Aziz Abdul Muhamat had agreed to meet me for an interview near the East Lorengau refugee transit centre at eight in the morning. The 25-year-old Sudanese man is a nominee for a global human rights prize – the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award – for his advocacy work on behalf of his fellow refugees on Manus Island. He has been a refugee on this remote Pacific island, part of Papua New Guinea, for more than five-and-a-half years.

But Muhamat wasn’t answering messages. Later, I would learn that it was because he’d been up until the early hours, giving words of hope to desperate men – men who have been self-harming. Men have been dousing themselves in petrol. Men suffering from depression, grief and anxiety, marooned on an island and withdrawn deep inside themselves.

‘Transition centres’

As of October, there were around 500 male refugees remaining on Manus. Perhaps another 100 were asylum seekers whose bid to be recognised as refugees had failed. Getting precise data on them – and whether they have moved to the capital, Port Moresby – from Australia’s government has been consistently hard for years. Luck was not on the side of these men when they tried to get to Australia from Indonesia, coming face-to-face with a new Australian policy to halt boat arrivals once and for all – and, according to the government, stop deaths at sea. From 2013, authorities began intercepting boats and taking those on board to Australia’s Christmas Island. Eventually, the refugees were flown to Manus or the tiny republic of Nauru. With the agreement of the government in Port Moresby, it was decided that the men on Manus would be housed in an Australian navy base. The detention centre was shut in late 2017 – its last remaining men violently ejected and moved on to “transition centres” – after a large cohort spent several weeks resisting the power, water, food and medicine cuts, gaining a sizeable amount of media coverage. For many, though, the only transition was to a deeper state of despair.

Muhamat was at the forefront of the refusal to leave the centre, borne from a glimpse of freedom when the men were suddenly reminded of the power that came from being able to make their own decisions on when to shower or sleep. “I never felt that I’m free in five-and-a-half years, except those 24 days,” he said. “I felt that people are calling my name, ‘Aziz’, instead of Q and K and zero, zero two.

Suicide attempts

Australia closed its main detention camp on Manus Island a year ago and the men now live in ‘transition centres’ with only rudimentary support; those at the East Lorengau centre protested against the conditions last month [Al Jazeera]

Having been moved from the prison-like detention centre, the refugees are now in poorly-serviced camps which they are free to leave. But most stay put. A much-vaunted “US deal” to allow these refugees to settle in the United States is their remaining hope, but for many, it is fading fast. More than 400 people formerly held in Nauru – where Australia detained families and children – and Manus Island have already been resettled in the US  The ones I’ve spoken to have jobs, rented apartments, cars – in short, new lives. Of course, they’re still scarred from their time in detention, but they’re off the islands. 

But many Iranians, Sudanese, Somalis and others are simply not being accepted by the administration of President Donald Trump under the deal struck by the government of his predecessor, Barack Obama. They have either been outright rejected, or have applied for resettlement and spent the year in vain waiting for replies.

A mental health crisis grips the remaining men. Suicide attempts and self-harm are rife. As the stress and anxiety increase, men like Muhamat and the Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Bouchani continue to work round-the-clock providing impromptu counselling to their grief-stricken friends and counterparts. Australia’s government has repeatedly promised that these men will “never” settle in Australia, lest “people smugglers” begin selling their product once more. The hope that came with news of the so-called US deal has for some become an unbearable disappointment. 

In the face of that, I’m struck at the incredible strength of character on display by many of the young men I met. “We tell these men, we give them false hope for them to go and sleep,” Muhamat said one afternoon as we sat in my hotel room. “We do it because we want to keep them positive, we want to keep them alive.” When asked if he needed to head back at any time to deal with the desperate messages coming up on his phone, he replied: “It’s OK, Behrouz is there.” 

The despair is as great as at any time in the past five-and-a-half years. For Muhamat, the day-to-day ritual of helping others over the years – liaising with journalists and lawyers, teaching English to other refugees, talking friends out of self-harm and suicide – has been part and parcel of survival. “As long as what I’m doing, people are getting a benefit out of it, I don’t actually feel that pressure,” Muhamat said. At the time of writing, a newly-elected independent member of parliament from Sydney is attempting to get a bill through the parliament which would see the evacuation of psychologically or physically ill men from Manus.

But glimmers of hope come and go on Manus. Later, I see a message from a refugee reporting a man’s attempted suicide, his second in two days. After he fails to hang himself, he tries another desperate act – overdosing on tablets and drinking shampoo.

“Human rights lectures are little more than a joke” but so is this article in the Herald Sun

February 27, 2014

People hold candles at Light the Dark - a vigil in response to tragic turn of events on M

(People hold candles at Light the Dark – a vigil in response to tragic turn of events on Manus Island that left one person dead and 77 injured. Source: News Corp Australia)

On 26 February the Australian Herald Sun contained an article by Rita Panahi under the provocative title: “Human rights lectures are little more than a joke. In it she hits hard at some countries that criticize Australia’s interception and detention policy of refugees. “Being lectured to by China and Iran about human rights abuses is a bit like taking advice on etiquette from Miley Cyrus. It’s not just the pot calling the sparkly stainless steel kettle black, but then accusing it of racial profiling.” Quite rightly she points to the irony that Iran feels “emboldened to attack, despite the fact the young man killed was supposedly fleeing that country.”[The riots in Manus Island detention centre escalated into a riot on Monday and 23-year-old Iranian Reza Berati was killed’]

Even China, with its record of silencing dissidents, felt entitled to question Australia’s record. China’s Foreign Affairs Vice-Minister, Li Baodong, criticised our asylum policy and expressed concern for “the protection of refugees and asylum seekers and the right of the children of refugees”. He said: “We have also asked about whether these refugees will be illegally repatriated to other countries.”

In looking at the China’s own human rights record the author then states: “Of course, China’s human rights abuses are not restricted to terrorising pregnant women. According to Amnesty International, “harassment, surveillance, house arrest and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise and censorship of the internet and other media has grown. Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, and of Falun Gong practitioners and Christians who practise their religion outside state-sanctioned churches, continues”. China and Iran indeed also execute more people than any other country.

However, to conclude now that these nations have “no right to question any country, let alone one with values of freedom and fairness, such as Australia” is a bit much. If only ‘sparkly’ clean countries are allowed to address human rights issues, it is going to be extremely silent. Would it not be preferable to have a substantive discussion of human rights issues? One that would include – in the case of Rita Pahani – at least a mention of the statement by Amnesty International – so eagerly quoted on above on China – on Australia’s refugee policy. It should not have escaped the author as the Amnesty statement came just two days before her own writing.

To help in her research: On Monday 24 February, Amnesty International in a report took a swipe at Australia for the way the country has responded to the global refugee crisis. Amnesty said Canberra should have accepted more refugees fleeing the bloody crisis in Syria.  The group said the country had the capability to take in seven thousand five hundred Syrian refugees. The rights group also called on Canberra not to send and detain vulnerable refugees on Islands in Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru.”

Human rights lectures are little more than a joke | Herald Sun.