This week marks four years since Imran Mohammad was sent to Manus Island. He despairs for his and his fellow asylum seekers’ uncertain future and yet is thankful for the humanity of people he will never meet. By Imran Mohammad.

Four years on Manus Island

Manus Island foreshore.
Manus Island foreshore.

Australia’s prison camp on Manus Island has snatched four years from our lives. July 19, 2013 is the date on which our world was torn apart. It is impossible to describe everything that we have been through over the past four years. I was only 19 years old when I arrived and had no idea how I would survive in this gruesome, inhumane setting. 

I fell in love with writing, which has meant my survival over these four years. My passion for writing has been fuelled by my craving for both knowledge and the need to communicate facts and reality of life in the detention centre. I was encouraged by one of my teachers to develop this. I did the best I could in this horrendous environment and concentrated on studying English and writing. Now I am able to speak for myself and the many others who cannot explain their distress.

Our emotions fluctuate between despair and, occasionally, a faint flicker of hope. There is great sadness and the feeling of anticipation of moving somewhere safe is overwhelming. Our days begin on a happy note, but by evening the realisation of our situation has caused absolute devastation and hopelessness among the detainees.

Over the past four years, we have seen rioting, during which one of our men was beaten to death. We have been shot at with live ammunition. Simple illnesses have been neglected, resulting in death. We have been beaten by locals using machetes. We have seen an accidental drowning, after which the body lay in a morgue for almost a week until his friends, who kept vigil, could pay for embalming using their cigarette allowance, which they swapped for cash. After a crowdfunding page was set up by advocates to pay for his final trip home, Kamil was eventually repatriated by the Pakistani government.

The Australian government keep pushing us to go home. I am proudly Rohingyan and I am from Myanmar, but was provided with an ID card on which was written that I am stateless. There was no mention of my country’s name. They are clearly aware of the situation in my country, and would know it is impossible for my friends and I to return. Our ancestors have been stateless for decades – we don’t hold any documentation, not even a birth certificate, and we only have our language, of which sadly there is no written record, to prove our identity. There is no country that would accept us. None of us have managed to go home from Manus Island, in spite of seeking help from all the humanitarian organisations over the past four years. Some from other countries have gone home, but there are many who just cannot. If it were a choice, we would not have endured what we have in this prison.

We are begging for permanent safety to our stateless lives. Although Australia is pushing us to settle in Papua New Guinea, there is still so far as we know no visa category or any permanent settlement plans in place for refugees. We have been dumped by the Australian government and for these past years used for its own political motives. If we are left in Papua New Guinea we will be deported at some point, as we are not wanted nor welcome. This is made evident by something as simple as not being allowed to utilise an empty playing field next to our camp: it is on their land.

The uncertainty of our future is remarkably higher than it was previously. There is absolutely no clear picture on Manus Island, yet the centre is set to be demolished by October 31 this year. Demolition has already begun. Electricity and water have been cut in some places and the reduction of food is becoming more common, leaving some of us without sustenance. We are mortified to be constantly told we must move to East Lorengau Transit Centre, where we fear being neglected and suffering violent attacks by locals, which have been experienced by some so many times.

There is no need to make us suffer to such an extent, or to have imprisoned us for four years. We are asking for nothing, except the safety we deserve as human beings, an education and a chance to work, so that we can rebuild our lives. Our hearts crave the sense of belonging to a safe country where we can share our love and be loved in return.  

After suffering in this inhumane place for the past four years, with misery, lies and torment an everyday occurrence, the devastating news we received that the United States exhausted its refugee quota for this year has made us feel dead inside and caused any spark of hope we held to be extinguished. We have always felt uneasy and uncertain of what our future would be, but sadly the extreme level of depression, grief and insecurity will now become much worse.

We are told there is a possibility that some refugees will be allowed to go to New Zealand, despite the fact the Australian government has no proper plan for our future. We can’t believe anything anymore until we see it. Our hope has been ruined. It has been ruined deliberately, again and again, seemingly as a form of punishment.

It is four years this week since we were abandoned in this godforsaken place. All we want is our freedom and safety, and to be given the opportunity to grow and live our lives as normal human beings, not as the political prisoners we have become.

I would like to thank you, the people who have shared your unconditional love and irreplaceable support, even though we have never met and may never meet in person. We will be forever grateful to you.

Imran Mohammad is a Rohingya refugee who was held on Manus Island for four years. He learnt English while in detention.

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