Posts Tagged ‘Refugee’

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 [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/finalists-mea-2019/]. 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 Men suffering from depression, grief and anxiety, marooned on an island and withdrawn deep inside themselves.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.

https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2018/12/manus-deepening-despair-australia-endless-detention-policy-181203070732724.html

Mourning “Ndinga Man” – Cameroon’s famous musical dissident

March 24, 2014

In Foreign Policy magazine of 19 March, Alex Gladstein has written a very complete and moving story about the great Cameroonian musician, political prisoner and human rights defender,  Lapiro de Mbanga. He died of cancer this past Sunday, 16 March 2014, in Buffalo, New York. Known as “Ndinga Man” to millions of Cameroonians, Lapiro escaped President Paul Biya’s regime in 2012, after three years of political imprisonment. He received asylum in the United States.

Mourning a Musical Dissident.

Like a Greek Tragedy: the story of the World’s Oldest Refugee – from Syria

February 14, 2014

This post is not about human rights defenders and not really about the treatment of refugees in Greece. It is simply such a story – published by Behzad Yaghmaian in the Globalist of 11 February 2014 –  that I could not resist sharing it. The original title is: “Syria’s Civil War and the World’s Oldest Refugee; A reflection on our collective failures as human societies“. Once you have read this, you will agree that Greece, Germany and the UNHCR should quickly find a solution on humanitarian grounds:


(Sabria Khalaf, 107-year old refugee of the Syrian civil war (c) Behzad Yaghmaian)

In her own words with English subtitles:

Read the rest of this entry »

Amnesty International says new Greek legislation fuels asylum-seeker abuse

May 24, 2013


Undocumented immigrants in the courtyard of a detention centre in Fylakio, by the Evros Riber in northern Greece (Reuters)

(Undocumented immigrants in the courtyard of a detention centre near the Evros River in northern Greece – (c) Reuters)

I would be amiss in not reporting the criticism by Amnesty International of  my adopted home country: Read the rest of this entry »

Call for Nominations 2013 for the Nansen Refugee Award now open

January 24, 2013

Do you know of anybody who has gone beyond the call of duty and shown outstanding dedication and service to the refugee cause? Or maybe a group of people or an organization? Any person can nominate candidates (individuals, groups of people or organizations) but self-nominations and nominations of current or former UNHCR staff are not encouraged.

Each laureate for the Nansen Refugee Award is selected in line with the following:

  • The deed for which the person/entity is nominated should either take place outside the framework of normal professional duties and/or go beyond the call of duty;
  • It should demonstrate courage;
  • It should raise awareness for refugees; and
  • It should, in a significant way, benefit the beneficiaries the Awardee serves and possibly also the country/area where the Awardee operates.

The independent Nansen Refugee Award Committee, chaired by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, selects the annual laureate by a unanimous or majority decision.

Ms. Ingrid PrestetunMs. Ingrid Prestetun, Coordinator, Nansen Refugee Award Programme, UNHCR Geneva.

Download the nomination form here (EnglishFrench) and send it to: Nansen@unhcr.org