Thursday April 28, 2016

'Worse than prison' Refugee speaks from inside Papua New Guinea's detention camp

Abdul Aziz has spent three years in detention at Papua New Guinea's Manus Island camp. This week, the PNG government declared the camp unconstitutional, and the government has ordered it closed.

Abdul Aziz has spent three years in detention at Papua New Guinea's Manus Island camp. This week, the PNG government declared the camp unconstitutional, and the government has ordered it closed. (Abdul Aziz)

Listen 7:31

For three years, Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz has lived behind high fences and under the watchful eye of guards at Papua New Guinea's Manus Island detention centre.

This week, the 850 men held on the island had something to celebrate. Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled that holding people in the camp is unconstitutional.

Speaking from inside the detention centre, Aziz tells As It Happens co-host Carol Off, "We were hugging each other and we were cheering ... and some of us were crying."

Abdul Aziz inside the Manus Island camp

Abdul Aziz says many detainees in the camp have been given sedatives to be able to sleep "only for a couple of hours" a night. (Abdul Aziz)

Many of the the detainees, including Abdul Aziz, were sent to Manus after landing on Australia's Christmas Island. Papua New Guinea agreed to take the refugees after receiving over $380-million dollars in aid from Australia.

Abdul Aziz says news that the camp is illegal has raised hopes that he and others would be allowed to return to Australia as refugees.

"We have no freedom of movement...we have CCTV cameras everywhere. We have security guards everywhere."  - Manus Island refugee Abdul Aziz

So far the Australian government says it won't accept them.

"Today we were feeling sad," says Aziz. "There is no other country on the earth that wants to take us. We don't know what to say." 

Australia's Prime Minister has insisted that the detainees at the camp are now the responsibility of Papua New Guinea. 

Papua New Guinea has offered Abdul Aziz and some of the other detainees refugee status in the country. But he has refused to accept it. He says he landed on Australian territory, and should be given status in Australia.  

"We never sought asylum from Papua New Guinea," he says. "When we came to Papua New Guinea they told us that you guys are here only for processing. We are not going to resettle you here." 

Aziz paints a bleak picture of daily life at the Manus Island camp. He says he's been subjected to physical and verbal abuse from guards, which he describes as torture.

Abdul Aziz sits inside the fence at the Manus Island camp

Abdul Aziz has been detained at the Manus Island camp for three years. He says conditions are so bad "If I explained, people wouldn't believe me." (Abdul Aziz )

Aziz tells As It Happens that hundreds of the detainees depend on sedatives given out by camp doctors in order to sleep. 

"We have more than 400 people every day that take sleeping drugs to sleep only for a couple of hours," he says.

At the end of our interview, Aziz had a message for Canadians:

"We are just asking from the Canadian authorities if they can offer at least a small opportunity to move us from where we are," he says.

"We've had enough of suffering, we've had enough of torture." 

For more on Abdul Aziz's story, take a listen to our full interview.