Manus Island Refugees Share Their Stories In A Powerful New Campaign Against Offshore Detention

"I learned English by writing a page of my life story every single day."

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An aspiring teacher, a stand-up comedian and a father who has spent the last three years separated from his wife and children are among a number of men on Manus Island who have shared their stories with refugee advocates, as part of new campaign designed to draw further attention to the plight of those trapped in Australia’s offshore detention centres.

Launched today by the Human Rights Law Centre in partnership with GetUp following a recent visit to Manus Island, the campaign aims to “show the unseen stories of men who have been held in illegal and indefinite detention.”

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“I spent my time on Manus Island interviewing the men our government has warehoused there for the last three years,” said HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy Daniel Webb. “I met one man who speaks seven languages, two of which he taught himself while in detention. I met another guy who didn’t speak a word of English when we first sent him to Manus but who has now written a book.”

22-year-old Imran Mohammad fled Myanmar at the age of 16, and told the HRLC that he learnt English “by writing a page of my life story every single day. Each day I would take that page to a teacher in the camp to correct my mistakes,” he said. “I have been here for three years, and my story is now over 1100 pages long.”

Photo 11-08-2016, 5 28 50 PM

Imran Mohammad

Another man, Nayser Ahmed, became separated from his wife and children while travelling to Australia. They now live in Sydney, while he languishes on Manus Island. “The thing I miss the most about my kids … is sitting down for dinner together,” he said. “Every night here I think of that.”

Other men featured in the campaign include a stand-up comic from Iran, a volunteer kindergarten teacher from Burma, and a Pakistani computer science graduate whose favourite TV show is Breaking Bad.

The Australian government has come under increased pressure to find a permanent home for the more than 850 men currently living on Manus Island, after the facility was ruled illegal by Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirmed that the centre will be closed, but has maintained that none of the prisoners will be settled in Australia – despite the fact that 98 per cent of the men whose claims have been processed have been found to be genuine refugees.

“Whatever the policy challenge, continuing to harm these men is not the solution,” said Webb. “The only viable and humane way forward is to bring them here.”

Images by Matthew Abbott, via GetUp.