A Leader of the Manus Island Detention Centre Blockade Speaks Out
Abdul Aziz Muhamat has been held in detention for more than four years.
Abdul Aziz Muhamat was still a teenager when he fled his home in Sudan. His country was mired in conflict—the Sudanese Armed Forces locked in a bitter struggle for power against the Sudan Revolutionary Front. He is just one of some 500,000 people who have been displaced amidst the chaos and violence.
Fearing for his life, like so many others from the Darfur region of Sudan, Aziz flew to Indonesia. There, he found a people smuggler who promised him safe passage to Australia. Instead he was taken to Manus, where he's been held for more than four years.
Despite being found to be a genuine refugee in 2015, he has still not been resettled.
Now 24, Aziz has emerged as a leader inside the Manus camp. Armed with a mobile phone, he has been smuggling news from inside the notoriously secretive centre to the outside world. He's even made a podcast, recording more than 3,500 WhatsApp voice memos and sending them to Australia producer Michael Green.
And the pair are still making episodes, even two weeks after all Australian staff evacuated the Manus centre—leaving some 600 detainees without water, power, or food.
"Yesterday when immigration walked in, they destroyed the tank that we had managed to collect rainwater... so right now, as we speak, we don't have potable water," Aziz tells VICE from Manus via WhatsApp. "Also, there's a shortage of food—no food—and no electricity.
"But all these things are not our main concern. Our main concern is that we want freedom."
WATCH: Aziz speaks out in an interview filmed by Amnesty International Australia on Manus Island
There's also the concern of security—the main reason the detained men refuse to leave Manus for alternative accommodation in a nearby town. They fear violence from locals. But with Australian staff gone, there is little security inside the centre either. To keep watch, the detainees have set up patrols.
Aziz alleges that the PNG police and immigration officials are working under instruction from Australian Border Force. He says they have been tearing down the centre's fences, and destroying the detainees' rationed water supply in an attempt to spark conflict.
"When they walked in, they were aggressive. They wanted to provoke us. But we sent a clear message to the world: We are peaceful, it doesn't matter what you do, how you treat us... we're still going to stay in this place. We believe that from this place, we will gain our freedom," Aziz says.
But with vital supplies running out, and no medical services available, about 200 men have had to leave the blockade. The ones who remain are in limbo. The deadline to remove them passed over the weekend, with no action from the PNG Army. It was a relief, many of the men feared violence—but they have no idea what is coming next. So they wait.
"The situation is really critical right now. It's just getting worse, and worse, and worse each day that passes. But people are really determined to stay inside the detention centre," Aziz says. "We believe that freedom is not free, you have to sacrifice for it. And the sacrifice we are taking right now is the water, and the food, and the electricity and we are struggling with starvation."
Manus Island detainees are asking the Australian public to sign a petition calling for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to accept New Zealand's offer to take 150 refugees. You can sign the petition here.
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