Four years on Manus

Four years on, they’re cutting off the power and water. Inside the detention centre, men are still waiting to find out what is happening. The minister maintains everything will be resolved. These buildings will be demolished by October.

“Our emotions fluctuate between despair and, occasionally, a faint flicker of hope,” Imran Mohammad wrote this week. “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.”

Mohammad is a Rohingya refugee. Wednesday marked the end of his fourth year of indefinite detention on Manus Island. It is four years since Kevin Rudd negotiated for the imprisonment of refugees on the island. The deal has since been ruled illegal by Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court. More people have died under the arrangement than have been resettled.

“Over the past four years, we have seen rioting, during which one of our men was beaten to death,” Mohammad writes. “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.”

Mohammad was 19 when he arrived. He has learnt English while in detention. He has no documents and nowhere to go.

“We are begging for permanent safety to our stateless lives,” he writes. “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...

“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.”

There is little political capital left in these lives we have destroyed. There is even less political will. On Nauru, interviews for the proposed US settlement have stopped two weeks earlier than expected. There is no explanation.

Mohammad is the victim of brutal expedience. He describes himself as a political prisoner. He is right.

“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,” he writes.

“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.”

Mohammad has spent his entire adulthood in jail for crime that does not exist. His simple request is that he be offered safety, to make a life. It is the very least he deserves.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 22, 2017 as "Four years on Manus". Subscribe here.