Meditations from Manus

This article comes to us from inside Manus Regional Processing Centre

Imran Mohammad Art: Jessica Ottavi. Image: Human Rights Law Centre/Get Up

This article comes to us from inside the walls of Manus Regional Processing Centre. Imran Mohammad is a member of the Rohingya ethnic group of Myanmar and has been officially declared a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Over the coming year, Imran will author a number of articles for Honi Soit. This is his introduction.

My only wish is to live my life in a safe place, like my fellow human beings. I left my homeland when I was just 16, crossing the river into Bangladesh in the middle of the night. I arrived in Malaysia after almost 16 days on a boat, where I saw people die for lack of water and food, and babies die on their mother’s lap as there was no milk left in their breast. Dead bodies were thrown into the ocean. We were shot at by the Thai navy. I had no idea how we survived — I was numb and nothing made sense.

My name is Imran Mohammad. I was born on April 10, 1994 in Arakan state in Myanmar. My ethnic group is Rohingya and this small minority of people have been persecuted and subjugated for many decades by the Burmese government. Although we were born in Myanmar, we have never had any sense of independence. Rohingya people are not given any identification by our government, and so I am stateless.

We live our whole lives in great fear. We witness gang rapes, murders of innocent people, and the imprisonment of young Rohingya boys. The only option we have to escape persecution and find safety is to leave by boat, travelling from one country to another, even though we know that it can cost us our lives. After experiencing threats of death in my very young life, with some luck I managed to survive and left everything that was so close to my heart behind.

In spite of so many terrifying obstacles, we reached Malaysia. The  country was beyond my imagination, as everything was in order and the people were looked after by its government and provided the necessary help from the authorities. I could have never envisioned a country like Malaysia because my own government was so cruel to my people and had stripped my freedom and identity. Going to school every morning was a dream I never got to fulfil, moving freely was never in sight of my mind, and fighting for my fundamental rights was never possible.

Malaysia was a great country for its people and immigrants with legal documents, but because I didn’t have the necessary documentation it was still painful for me. I could not work or study. I couldn’t go outside, as I would be chased by Malaysian police and asked to show them my passport, which of course I never had. My Rohingyan brothers were working in construction sites all day long and then during the nights they stayed in the mountains so that they weren’t caught by the Malaysian police.

I cried every morning and afternoon when I watched children taken to and from school by their parents. I didn’t even have someone who would ask me whether or not I had eaten breakfast. Most days I had to survive with one meal. I was made to work hard and didn’t get paid what I was supposed to. It was not a country where I could accomplish my basic dreams as a human being.

I left Malaysia in search of the life that all human beings deserve. I was hopeful of a life in a place that is safe and which would give me the opportunities to contribute to this world. I knew I wanted to study and work and, more importantly, provide help to fellow human beings. This is my main objective and, I believe, the key to our human unity. I thought I would be respected in Australia and have the life that I have always dreamed, so I started moving towards Australia via Indonesia.

A portrait of Imran Mohammad.
Art: Jessica Ottavi

Unfortunately, I was arrested by Indonesian police and imprisoned for almost 18 months inside a detention centre. The trauma I suffered was heartbreaking. I was released after I received refugee status from the UNHCR. I waited there for such a long time to be processed for a third country, yet sadly there was no hope for me and the many others who risked their lives in hopes of making it to Australia to live a safe life.

I arrived at Christmas Island on 13th of September 2013, after a four day boat journey. It was then I discovered I would face another relentless war in my young life. As soon as I stepped onto the land of Australia, my heart was broken into a thousand pieces once again, as I was told I would be moved forcibly to Australia’s offshore detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Indefinitely.

I was upset that I was moved here against my will, but what has really broken my heart is the knowledge that the detention centre was intentionally built to make refugees and asylum seekers suffer. It would take me decades to explain how we have been soaked in the rain and heated in the burning sun at Australia’s hands. Despite being a country that holds its head high with great pride in preserving human lives, I was almost killed at their hands during the riot in our camp in 2014.

I have committed no crime, however myself and hundreds of men have been imprisoned for almost four years and still have no clear view of our future. I would rather be in a prison cell than in this inhumane setting, as at least I would know the date of my release.

I was recognised as a genuine refugee almost two and half years ago, yet I am still stuck in political limbo. Despite being twisted so painfully, I am determined to keep hope alive somewhere in my heart. I have remained the human being I have always been by counting the blessings I have received throughout my hardships. One of my teachers taught me an idiom, which I truly believe: whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

I have matured and have gained a strong grasp of the English language. I am aware of my abilities, which cannot be taken away. I know that I was sent to this earth for a reason and I will give my sweat and blood to create a better world.