We Asked a Manus Island Detainee Whether the US Deal Has Offered Hope

"It's a dangerous thing to be happy or to feel hope. The system will burn your hope and then you with it."

by Chris Shearer
17 November 2016, 12:00am

Sleeping quarters at the Manus Island detention centre. Images via

Mahmoud* is a young Iranian man who has been detained on Manus Island for around three years. We've been in contact via email for a year, and talk regularly about his mental health, the conditions of his detainment, and the threats and hopelessness that hang over his island jail.

It's all pretty awful, but at a certain point I—like the rest of Australia—stopped being shocked by the things he told me. I realised we'd both come to tacitly accept that he would always be there. Indefinite detention had somehow really become infinite.

So when I heard that Australia had

Illustration by Ashley Goodall

worked out a deal with the United States to resettle those deemed to be "genuine refugees," I actually felt hope for Mahmoud. Sure, the deal is highly uncertain, but some hope is better than none. So I reached out to see how he was feeling about the news.

VICE: Hi Mahmoud. What do you think about this new deal with the United States? Would you be happy to be settled in the United States?
Mahmoud: I would be happy, as the US is a country where I could rebuild my life. But the general mood on Manus is sad. Australia has never planned anything humane for us and this deal is looking suspicious. Nothing has happened and I don't think it's likely to happen.

So you're not enjoying any new sense of hope?
No. It's a dangerous thing to be happy or to feel hope. The system will burn your hope and then you with it. The system is designed to create hope by occasionally promising resettlement, then once you're feeling hopeful they destroy you.

Let's say you do get to go to the the United States. What would you want to do with your life after so long in detention?
I don't know and I find it hard to think about as detention has really affected my mind and I need sanctuary to first regain my soul. I would probably continue my studies. Probably in human rights law. My experience here will help me help others as I have learned a lot in this place.

Two incarcerated children filmed with a hidden camera

What does sanctuary look like?
Sanctuary is being away from the people who have tried to hurt me. This means the security guards and the people who have profited from misery.

There is some concern that Trump will block the deal when he is inaugurated next January. The Australian Government has said another option could be a 20-year visa deal with Nauru, which they're trying to negotiate. What would you want to do if this deal is cancelled?
Nauru is not a place to live. But also going back home is not an option either. Lots of the people here would face harm and persecution.

As an aside to all this, the Australian Government is also planning to permanently ban people who've been detained on Manus Island or Nauru from ever coming to Australia. Why do you think the government wants to stop you from even visiting Australia?
I think it's very simple. They want to get away from their responsibility and dump people on Manus and on Nauru, if they're not able to find a third option.

Manus Island

Would you some day want to come to Australia if you were allowed?
No, never. I will stay away from Australians. Once, a foreign colleague warned me about staying away from Australians and I didn't listen but now I've learned. My colleague was a Chinese Malaysian who lived in Australia for many years. He warned me that I'd be harmed and I didn't really understand him at that time. Now I do.

Are you angry at Australia?
Well let's not forget that Australia is a democratic country and its government is chosen by its people. There might be some people caring and opposing this cruelty and not agreeing with the government, but there are a greater population that voted for them to destroy and eliminate refugees.

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