Opinion

A letter from Manus

My name is Imran Mohammad and I am a stateless Rohingya from Myanmar. I’m a refugee on Manus Island. There are many conflicting stories about our current situation. I believe that the public have the right to know clear information and I believe that your publication is well placed to share my story.

Somewhere in our hearts we hoped that we would be moved to safety by the end of October this year, when this prison called the Manus Regional Processing Centre is to be closed down. These hopes have been dashed, however, as we come to understand what closing the centre really means.

We were told that the N block in Foxtrot compound would be closed down by now. They said it would start on May 28. So some Sri Lankan men moved from N block to Oscar classroom a few days ago. Now they are staying in the classroom. No one has come from the authority yet. So we don’t know what is really happening. We understand that by June 30 the compound will be fully evacuated and the area locked. No one will be permitted to enter and electricity will be turned off.

Choices for refugees are: to be moved to accommodation in the Papua New Guinean community; to temporarily relocate to the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre on Manus Island; to return home voluntarily, with reintegration assistance; or to move to a third country, perhaps the United States, where they have the right to reside.

For those who have not been assessed as refugees, the options are: return home voluntarily, with reintegration assistance; be removed from PNG by the government of PNG, without any reintegration assistance; or be temporarily moved to the Mike compound. In the coming months, other compounds will be closed and demolished.

This statement was read to us by PNG immigration officials and even though it wasn’t a game, it felt as if they were play-acting. It was very easy for them to bring some papers and read them out, but such an announcement will completely demolish our lives and leave us in limbo, with nothing. Most of us had no idea what they were saying, as there were no interpreters for any community, neither was there anyone from the Australian immigration department. None of us slept the following night. Everything is going to be destroyed again.

Many of us have been imprisoned for almost four years. We have deteriorated physically and mentally. However, now we are expected to live a normal life in the community in PNG, with no chance of healing and without help and support.

On this island we have been robbed, beaten up and assaulted. Lives have been lost. Yet it is the refugees and asylum seekers who continue to be punished. It is believed that we will never be able to build a normal life in PNG as we are introduced as criminals by the Australian government. As a result there will be no respect for us if we are to stay here.

Many Australians have visited Manus Island and having seen and experienced it with their own eyes their initial reaction is that it is not a safe place to stay. They have seen how traumatised we are. When we go into town we are desperate to go back to the prison centre. One day, one of the Wilson Security guards asked me why we are impatient to return to our prison camp. He just couldn’t understand our situation, that although we are completely sick of this hellhole, it is the only place where our mind can relax. We are trapped, but we know we are not going to be robbed, beaten up or assaulted for no reason.

Not long ago, Australian security guards and PNG police officers used to search our rooms every two or three months. We were moved from our rooms at 6am and placed in the heat of the sun until the search was over. We were escorted by Wilson Security guards to use the toilet, the door of which we were not allowed to lock. Our belongings were stolen or confiscated because someone just thought that it was contraband, when in fact it was not. There is no way to describe the real torture we have suffered in this environment.

We still remember how they made us suffer when they first opened the doors after the PNG Supreme Court found the camp was illegal. We were allowed to go to the transit centre and stay overnight with our friends who had moved there. But they changed the rules regularly and without notice, and left us on the street. We were allowed to enter the transit centre in the morning, where we left our bags in our friends’ rooms and then went to the local market to buy food so that we could cook a decent meal. When we returned in the afternoon, we were denied entry. Others who came back later in the evening couldn’t return to the prison centre because there was no bus after 6pm. They spent all night on the street in front of the transit centre. On one occasion, I was refused the use of the toilet. The locals who work there do what they are told on the radio and we can never question someone who is in charge. If we ask questions, we are put in confinement straight away. This is life on Manus Island.

It is anticipated that more violence will take place in the coming months, as the locals who work here lose their jobs. They have been working in this environment for almost four years and the money that has been brought has improved their lifestyles dramatically. Everything will be gone from their lives overnight and they will have to go back to their previous lives. They will be left with nothing again. Just think for a moment how desperate they will be and what will happen to their families. Furthermore, they don’t want us here if they are not making money from us.

Our prison centre will be closed down by October 31, 2017, yet the war on us will become even more extreme. We don’t know how many years we are going to be kept in the transit centre. We don’t know what will happen with the United States process if we are forced to move to other places in PNG. Why are the 70 refugees who agreed to settle in PNG still in the transit centre without any indication of resettlement? After four years, we still know nothing about our futures.

What we know is that there is no place for us in this world. If there was, we would have been resettled somewhere and we would not have suffered beyond our ability to cope in this minefield.

We don’t expect any hope from the Australian and PNG governments. It has always been felt that we would never leave this island alive and it has become apparent the abuse and torture implemented by both countries is unending. All we want to say to both governments is we would rather die than suffer to such an extent. We are desperate enough to want you to put some poison in our food and kill us all at once. We will eventually die here. The world knows it, so why not today?

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 3, 2017 as "A letter from Manus". Subscribe here.

Imran Mohammad
is a Rohingya refugee held on Manus Island. He learnt English while in detention.

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