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Four years too many - Stories read out at the Bellingen Vigil on 19 July 2017

Story 1                               

 IMRAN    AGE 23
I love writing. I wasn’t a writer before I came here, in fact I didn’t really speak any English. But after about a week of being on Manus, I went to a class. There was a teacher there who told me to find something to do to help get through each day. So I started writing every single day. At the beginning I had no idea what I was writing. Writing was more about survival. But after a few months I realized I was writing my autobiography – a book about who I am, where I come from and why I am here. After four years, my book is almost finished. But I have not yet written the last chapter. The last chapter will be about the country where I go to in the future. I am saving the last chapter for that.

 In 2014, during the riots, I came very close to dying. I saw Reza Barati killed. My room was the first the locals attacked. I tried to escape the compound but as soon as we left our room, the local people ran for us. I hadn’t slept peacefully since arriving on Manus. But it got worse after that. I have lost many things in the last four years. I’ve also lost my father - who disappeared in Burma. The rest of my family escaped but he has been missing for over six months. It is the most devastating thing that has ever happened in my life. I have lived with fear and sadness for the last four years. But the worst part is being without hope. Wasting away without a glimpse of hope for the future. Our hope has been destroyed again and again. The Australian government has no proper plan. They have deliberately made us feel like this is the end of the world. For me, I would love to study and I would like to have a family. My father’s dream was for me to become a doctor. If I can, I would try to become a doctor. But right now, things are getting worse. They’re about to close the centre but we have nowhere to go. If Malcolm Turnbull was in front of me I would tell him that I am just a young person who left my country because I was persecuted. I came to your country with an open heart - I have been stateless for my whole life. I would give my sweat and blood for your country.. We deserve the right to safety. We should not be left in PNG. I’d like to thank many people in Australia for their support over the last four years. Because of their unconditional love and unwavering support, we have survived. They have never been to Manus  but they know we are just the same – people, like them .

Story 2
         AMIR  AGE 23
When I was a little kid – just five or six years old – I had my own bike. I loved it but one day the chain came off. I had a look and was able to fix it myself, I remember feeling so proud. Ever since, I have taken pride in being a bit of a repairman. By the time I was about 12 I was always carrying a little bag of tools with me wherever I went . Throughout my life there have been a lot of things I have had to teach myself. I was only 14 when I had to leave my country. I escaped and made it to Malaysia all by myself, leaving my family behind. I was on my own and for the first time I had to cook for myself. There I was at 15, just making it up.
 Many people would say that your early 20s are the best years of your life. But for me, I’ve been forced to spend these years in the Manus prison. The worst part about being here is the disempowerment. You have no control over your life. You don’t get to decide where you sleep, where you shower, what you eat or even the toilet that you use. The system is implemented this way to make you suffer. To take away your power and your hope. For me, the worst moment of the last four years was when we were all on hunger strike. We felt humiliated and like they were breaking us. So we went on hunger strike. They sent in the Wilson guards. They picked us up off the ground. They forced us to stand and they took us to solitary confinement in Chauka. That was the first time I found out about that secret place. So much has happened in his life in four years, but I thought to myself, “Where are you? What has happened in your life? You are just a piece of flesh in the corner of a cage. Not an identity, just a number.”

 I feel like everything the Australian government is doing is designed to force us to go home or go into PNG. They are squeezing us out of the camp, but not to the airport where they will take us to safety, they are squeezing us into the PNG community where we are not safe. It’s hard to have ambition and hopes and dreams right now. If I ever get out of here, I’ll need some time to get back to who I am. I will need to go to a peaceful place, a sanctuary. My dream has always been to be a useful person – to contribute to the world. Really I want to be a human rights lawyer because I believe in a world that is fair to everyone and where all people have rights.

story 3

MADU       AGE 21
I’ve always been a shy person. I’m friendly, but I am shy. Movies were always my escape. I was always watching movies as a kid. I saw my first movie when I was 7; it was Rambo. Since then I haven’t been able to stop. My mum and dad were always telling me off for spending too much time watching movies and not enough time studying. It’s hard to get movies here, so I listen to a lot of music instead. Music makes me happy. It’s my escape. I love pop music; right now my favourite song is “What Do You Mean?” by Justin Bieber.
 So much has happened in the time I’ve been stuck here. The hardest moment was when my father passed away. He was attacked and badly beaten. He was taken to hospital and was there for two months - I thought he would get better. He died at 12pm on 18 March 2015, but I couldn’t call my mum for a week. I couldn’t even see him. I couldn’t see his face or say goodbye, I couldn’t even hug my mother. I couldn’t do anything at all. It was the most painful moment of my life. When I was sent here I was only 17. I was a child. When I turned 21, my friends organised something to celebrate. But the truth is I have only had bad experiences in here. These are the years in my life when I’m meant to be going to university and building my future. But I’ve been here for four years and I can’t do anything .The situation here is getting worse and worse. They have shut down classrooms. Closed the gym. They tell us every day that we can’t stay here. They say go back to your country or go to the Transit Centre. But we aren’t safe out there in the community. That is the worst thing – they are trying to push us somewhere where we will not be safe. I don’t know why they are doing this to us.

 I think some people will get to go to America, but not everyone. I’m frightened that I won’t be picked to go to America. I don’t know what they will decide, but we can’t stay here. I came to Australia for safety - I came to seek safety. I suffered a lot when I was in Burma. I escaped but now I am here and still suffering. I still have hopes and dreams. I want to study. I would like to study civil engineering because I’m good at maths. On my first day in safety, I would call my mum. I would call my mum to tell her that I finally have my freedom. My mum has been waiting a long time for me to be free.

Story 4

NASEEM      AGE 23
My childhood dream was to be a famous cricketer. I was a pretty good medium pace bowler. In Pakistan I was studying a Bachelor of Economics before I had to flee. I also worked for an NGO. We worked in education, health and anti-drug programs. I was really passionate about our work on women’s education – helping young girls to go to school .There was a high rate of illiteracy and women did not go to school. I remember going to school and seeing the look in the eyes of my little sister and my cousin. I could see they wanted to go to school too but my community didn’t give girls that opportunity. I wanted to change that. My little sister has always been so brilliant – much smarter than me. Now that she is able to go to school she has been top of her class every year. That’s why I worked for this NGO, but our work started to cause problems with the Taliban and that is one of the reasons I was forced to flee.
The last four years… Really I have no words to describe how we’ve suffered. Every minute, every second, every night, we die a little bit. I have missed many Christmas celebrations, when we cook food and the whole family comes together. The worst moment of the last four years was when my friend Kamil died. I will never forget speaking to his wife and mother. They were just crying and crying. His little daughter came on the phone and said she to me that she needed her papa’s body. Her voice took my sleep away from me for a long time. From the beginning, they have tried to break us. When the Taliban tell you they will kill you - you know you are going to die. But here in this centre, you just wait with no hope, and get told to go back home.

 I have missed out on so many things over the last four years – good things and bad things. My cousin died in bomb blasts. My uncle was shot in front of my house. I didn’t get to say goodbye to them. Manus is always a hard situation. People are so stressed and depressed. There is always a lot of pressure. The Australian government wants to close the centre but we don’t know where we will go. There is the US deal but we don’t know what will happen. Personally, I have family and friends in Australia. I have cousins in Melbourne and Sydney who are Australian citizens. So I want to go to Australia. I would also go to America, but I have not heard anything yet. We  don't know when anything will happen. Or if anything will happen. We are just waiting.

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