People on Nauru and Papua New Guinea have been holding on without hope for 7 years. We need to get them to safety.
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Defending human rights
Mohamed Adam Ali (Adam), Behrouz Boochani, Mohammad Abdullah, Craig Foster
 
 

Content warning: suicide

, I am writing to you from Port Moresby where we have spent the past few days meeting with many of the refugees and people seeking asylum sent here more than seven years ago by the Australian Government.

If all goes well, by the time you read this, we will be back in Australia, safe with our families and friends.

The men here have no such opportunity. It’s a human crisis that has shocked me to the core. Just a handful remain on Manus Island now, the rest scattered throughout Port Moresby, recognised as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

I have met mostly young men in their late 20s or early 30s. Though they came here as teenagers, in the prime of their life, their youth has been stolen. Hopes of going to university, starting their careers, having a family... all lost to them. They are doctors, musicians, marketing executives, social workers and even athletes.

Seven years without hope is too long. Will you join me in calling on our Prime Minister to get these people to safety so they can rebuild their lives?

One man I spoke with, Ezetullah Karkar, is a champion boxer rebuilding his dignity and career despite suffering a potentially career–ending knee injury, the same injury I had on both knees throughout my football career.

The strength to battle back to health, with no support, no physiotherapy, to become a world champion, as Ez has done, is an inspirational tribute to the human spirit. Now, he fights for both his freedom and his fellow detainees, sporting a banner before his fights that says, 'I lost seven of my friends on Manus Island'. All dead. And yet he fights for their memory and for justice. Incredible.

The stories we have read and seen in the media and on our social platforms over the past seven years do not prepare you for the damage and trauma these young people have endured.

Many are very highly medicated, unable to engage in conversation for long despite being so clearly articulate, gentle and intelligent. "We eat pills like they are dinner," says a young Tamil, Shamindan, “because it is the only way we can survive each day”.

Moz, a talented young musician from Iran, speaks to us through his constant coughing attacks – diagnosed by the very limited medical attention he has been able to access – as asthma. But the medications prescribed provide him with no relief.

He is in tears as he tells us of his desperate plight for freedom. “I want to be free. This trap Australia has set for me has destroyed my life and my health.” Moz was badly traumatised after being beaten when moved from one detention centre to another. And he suffers every day from insomnia as the memories haunt him of friends long gone.

Eight men did not survive Australia’s indefinite sentence on Manus. Murdered, dead from insufficient medical care – or suicide. The latest death coming just last week when a young Afghan doctor, who had spent six years on Manus and was medevaced to Brisbane, took his own life. As one detainee told me, even for those who have left, Manus Island still exists in their mind.

These men need our help, as do those few hundred people still detained on Nauru.

I worked with Amnesty and many others to help free Hakeem, the young Bahraini footballer wrongly detained in Thailand. Through that campaign we saw hundreds of thousands of Australians stand up for a young refugee who desperately needed us.

Now, we need everyone to stand up again. And it starts with you and me. Will you join me in standing up for hope and humanity? Together, we can get these people to safety.

There are incredibly inspirational stories of humanity and leadership. Behrouz we all know, and his work here is worthy of every possible tribute we can provide, but there are many more like Shamindan, Moz, and Ezatullah. Most of these men, they tell us again and again, are alive because of the care they have shown for each other.

They keep each other alive. But how long can this continue? They are tired, so tired. You can see in their eyes, their voices, their gaunt faces. Seven years of trauma, of holding on without hope. They just want to move on with their lives. And I'm committed to helping them do so.

There are options. Amnesty has worked to get people to Switzerland, to Canada, to support them when resettled in the US. New Zealand has offered to take 150 refugees a year, for the past five years. That alone would be enough to see all those on Nauru and here in Papua New Guinea moved to safety. Australia should accept the NZ offer immediately, in my view.

We must act now to let these human beings move on. They are sick, and they are broken. We have broken them, taken their freedom and stolen their best years. We owe these men a great debt.

Please join me in calling on our Prime Minister to get these men to safety. As we have heard time and again from all we have spoken to: “Seven years is too long to suffer. We want our freedom.”

 

hi 
Craig Foster, former Socceroos captain
 

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