As It Happens

'One of the worst places on the planet': Manus refugee in Canada worries for those left behind

Amir Taghinia arrived in Canada last week through private sponsorship after being detained at Manus Island for years. The 24-year-old Iranian refugee is grateful for a fresh start but worries about the friends he left behind.
Amir Taghinia is an Iranian refugee who was detained on Manus Island for four-and-a-half years. Last week, he arrived to Canada through private sponsorship. (Amir Taghinia/Twitter)

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Amir Taghinia is one of the lucky ones. The 24-year-old Iranian refugee had been detained on Manus Island for four-and-a-half years. But last week, he was finally able to make his way to Canada through private sponsorship.

It's just days after the Australian government shut down the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. And for the hundreds of detainees who have barricaded themselves there, the situation is nearing a breaking point.

There is still no drinking water, food, medical supplies, or power. And the next steps for many of the detainees is unclear. Australia refuses to take them. There's accommodation in Papua New Guinea, but many refugees are refusing to leave for fear of their safety. 
Asylum seekers protest possible closure of the detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, in this photo made from Australia Broadcasting Company video on Tuesday. (Australia Broadcasting Company via Associated Press)

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Taghinia about the worsening conditions at the detention centre and his fears for the welfare of his friends who are still there. Here is part of their conversation.

Mr. Taghinia, welcome to Canada.

Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

What did it mean to you to land in Vancouver and to step off the plane?

I'm glad to be in here and I would like to say thank you to all the Canadians and the Canadian government. I'm still in shock and I cannot believe I'm in Canada after spending four-and-a-half years in one of the worst places on the planet. 
Amir Taghinia with two of his sponsors Linda and Wayne Taylor of Coquitlam, B.C. (Michelle Elliot/CBC)

You were 15 years old when you escaped Iran because of religious persecution. You were Christian. How did you end up on Manus Island?

I left Iran when I was 15 years old and I went to Malaysia. I was living in Malaysia for five years and I was looking desperately for a permanent solution as I couldn't go back to Iran. Eventually I ran out of visa and I had to leave Malaysia. I went to United Nations for Refugees and they were flooded with refugees. They were basically saying, "If you have other alternatives, go for it. It's going to take years and years and years." So I asked around, friends, and here and there. They said, "You need to seek asylum."

Australia was obviously the nearest country to Malaysia. I went to Indonesia, got on a boat, and went to Australia. After arriving in Christmas Island, I was detained there. They told me, "We've got a new policy. We do not want you. We don't take you anymore. We will send you to Papua New Guinea." Two men grabbed my arms and they put me on a plane and they sent me to Manus Island.

What are conditions there? We've been covering this story most recently because of the hundreds of men who are there, who are detained, just living in deplorable conditions.

Whatever word I use, whatever story that I tell you, it wouldn't be enough. We had a mixture of everything there. The thing is in all of these places they were providing people with food and water but right now I have got 600 of my friends there that are without food and water. I spent four years and a half in that centre and filthy, unhygienic, unsafe, daily humiliation from Australian guards, daily attacks — whatever you name it, we have experienced everything.

So the authorities want the men to move from the detention centre to another place in town, a town called Lorengau, where it's been reported that there are quite serious security problems for these refugees to go there. Plus, the actual facilities are not ready to accept anybody. Now these men have refused to leave where they are and they've been cut off from food, water, electricity and supplies. Is that a fair description?

Yes. You see, the best, shortest and brief way to explain it is — out of the frying pan and into the fire. These people are fleeing persecution. These people are fleeing war torn [places] and death, basically. And now, the Australian government is putting these people in much worse situation to convince them to go back home and punish these people in a so-called protecting their borders. But the actual thing is that the Australian government is doing this to gain political outcomes. They've got political agendas. They've got a coming election. Their parliament is almost a hung parliament. T

Food, water and power have been cut-off to asylum seekers at Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. (Australia Broadcasting Corporation/The Associated Press)

Now you're in Canada and you are safe but it's clear you still have a connection with these men who are on Manus Island. What are they telling you? 

As they have cut power and everything else it is very hard for them to communicate with me. I have prepared some solar panels for them to be able to charge their phones before I was leaving Papua New Guinea. I have been trying to keep very close contact with them. I receive pictures and videos from them and they send me messages so I can feel exactly what is happening. My soul, my heart, my thoughts are all there and I know what they are going through. The only thing I can do now is to make awareness and tell people, "Please, Google this, Manus Island, and see what is happening there."

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Amir Taghinia.

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