Manus refugees could be building 'a better Australia'

7:49 am on 4 February 2019

Refugees who could be building a better Australia are having the best years of their lives wasted in detention on Manus Island, an artist says.

Manus Island refugees including Shaminda Kanapathi (left) Abdul Aziz Muhamat and Omar Mohammed Jack.

Manus Island refugees including Shaminda Kanapathi (left) Abdul Aziz Muhamat and Omar Mohammed Jack. Photo: Dan Ilic

Dan Ilic, a satirical comedian from Australia, recently returned from Papua New Guinea where he filmed refugees for Doha Debates.

The debates will address statelessness and the global refugee crisis later this year in Qatar.

Mr Ilic said he was surprised by the resilience of some of the refugees after six years of detention, although others had lost hope.

"There are folks who never leave their room, who never leave their bunk and they are so despondent, and they are so angry, and they are so hurt by what is happening to them," he said.

"When I was on the island I saw two gentlemen who were in hospital who the local people say are on hunger strike. But what the refugees, who are their friends, say is that they aren't on strike. They have stopped eating and stopped consuming water because their brains have collapsed and they just cannot do anything.

Dan Ilic reading Behrouz Boochani's book at the Manus airport.

Dan Ilic reading Behrouz Boochani's book at the Manus airport. Photo: Twitter / Dan Ilic

"They are so despondent there is no ounce of hope left."

The comedian had traveled to Manus on a tourist visa but was apprehended by police when they found him interviewing refugees.

"You won't be able to get to Manus Island if you apply for a journalist's visa," Mr Ilic explained.

"Some of the footage had to be deleted. I managed to save one of the hard drives by putting it in my shoe," he laughed.

"Everyone in PNG while very officious in their work was also very kind. They did try to lock me up at the police station but unfortunately they couldn't find the keys so I just hung out with them in the office."

The comedian was escorted to the airport on Manus and interviewed by an immigration official on arrival in Port Moresby. His passport was seized but returned in time for his flight back to Australia the following day.

Mr Ilic said a lasting memory of his visit to Manus would be the strength of character of some of the refugees.

"Refugees are painted as angry, dour and sad the entire time but these folks often have great senses of humour and excellent, perceptive minds that are open to joy and open to fun times," he said.

"They need that as a release for the immense pressure that they're under. And you never hear this."

Evidence of this openness can be found in humorous passages in the award winning book No Friend but the Mountains by Kurdish writer and Manus refugee Behrouz Boochani, Mr Ilic said.

Behrouz Boochani and Dan Ilic.

Behrouz Boochani and Dan Ilic. Photo: Twitter / Dan Ilic

Once back in Australia, the comedian reflected on how his country was wasting the potential of young lives in offshore detention.

"These are young men in their late twenties. They are giving the best years of their life to being a prisoner on Manus Island when they could be giving the best years of their life to building Australian society or New Zealand society," he said.

"These are smart folks who work in information technology, who work in business management, who work in marketing.

"Entrepreneurial, clever people who could be contributing to a better Australia."

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