Manus Island 2013 – my reflections

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

Four years on, and I still feel like my time on Manus Island will never leave me. It’s something that is incredibly hard to move on from. But let me start from where I was, and move to where I am now.

Four years ago, I arrived back home. Following a flight from Port Moresby to Brisbane, and then back to Melbourne, we arrived back to a building in effective lockdown. There was an outbreak of Norovirus heading around Melbourne, and our college was not exempted. A number of families had come down with it, and as such we had to be warned that we would be exposing ourselves if we headed up to our rooms. I believe most of us ignored that warning, just wanting to go and see our families.

I believe we all got sick. Not a very pleasant return home.

We had a couple of weeks off before our corps placements began. Liesl and I were heading to Rosebud Corps. We felt like we did well, but the review that happened following our placement didn’t go as we had thought. It was only on reflection of that time that I realised that perhaps I had been affected by my time on Manus Island more than I realised. Should I have talked to someone? Possibly. But I didn’t realise until well after the fact.

After college, we were appointed to Devonport. It was here that I sought out ways to take my experiences on Manus Island, and put them to good use. I wrote to politicians, and met with the local member, talking to him about my time there, and why I feel convinced by my faith that we need to do more to welcome Asylum Seekers and Refugees (He was a former Pastor, so I felt the faith aspect was a reasonable one to discuss). I saw an ad for the local Amnesty International group, and I started attending that.

Ben being led out by the police after being arrested

And I got involved in the local Love Makes A Way group, based in Launceston – eventually taking part in a sit in at Senator David Bushby’s office. (I wrote and preached about this and you can find my sermon here.)

Since moving to Rochester, I still seek out ways to be involved and attempt to bring about change to our government’s policies which lock up innocent people, who have committed no crime by seeking asylum.

But my time in Manus will never leave me. I think for the most part, this is because I have no resolution.

For all of the people I met on Manus Island, I only know of two who were living in Australia. These were two young boys who stuck in my head, partly because while I was there, they had their Boat ID’s shaved into their hair. I think it was observing this that partly led me to ensuring I used the community members names whenever I could – when we reduce people to a number, we reduce their humanity, and we reduce our willingness to care.

But for the rest of the community members – I have no idea. I can only assume that most of those who I met in the Families Camp were most likely moved to Nauru. And I have to assume that most of those in the SAMs camp are still on Manus Island.

And that’s what eats me up the most. That these wonderful people, these people that have so many skills and passions, these people that were fleeing awful situations that could have added so much value to our society – I’ll never know where they are, I’ll never know what they’ve been able to do with their situation, and I’ll never know what might have been.

I sympathise with those still in the detention centres – while my experience was only a month on staff when I knew when my time was up, and I knew that I would be heading home – it still affected me mentally. I can’t even imagine how those who have been there for four years are coping, and what damage it has done to them.

And so, I will continue the fight. And I encourage you to as well. I hope that by sharing a bit of my experience – as limited as it was, in some ways – I hope that it has shed some light into what life is like in the detention centres. And I hope that you can see that things need to change. We need to hold our government to account to this, and have them step away from party politics and show some actual leadership and determine a real and humane solution.

One of the best things you can do is writing to or calling up your local member. You don’t need to have all the answers – all you need to do is let them know that this is an issue that you care about and want them to act on. The more people who let their local members know, the more they will feel they need to represent the desires of their electorate.

You can also donate to organisations that are actively helping Asylum Seekers and Refugees. There are many out there, but the three that I will promote are the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), the Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD), and Love Makes A Way.

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Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 30

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

7 March 2013 – The start of the journey home.

We left Manus Island today. We packed up our stuff, had a debrief, and headed to the airport. After checking in, we waited. It got to the time the flight was supposed to leave, and we got word that it hadn’t left Port Moresby yet. So we went back to base, had lunch, then headed out once more.

Because of the delay, we missed our connecting flight to Brisbane. So we stayed over night in Port Moresby, and catch a flight to Brisbane then Melbourne tomorrow. At least I’m still home tomorrow, but later in the day. Will probably be 5 by the time I get home.

Right now, it’s 4.45am. While I have a comfortable room, I feel like I can’t be comfortable. I’ve had disturbed sleep, and feel like I can’t switch off my mind, but my mind isn’t doing anything. I was just laying in bed, not doing anything. Hopefully its nothing. But something I do need to watch out for, and talk to Psycare if needed.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 29

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

 

6 March 2013 – 1 day to home!

My last shift was – and at the same time, was not – very interesting.

Just after lunch, we got called to an impromptu meeting to let us know that there would be a number of arrests that afternoon by the PNG Police following investigations into the Christmas eve riots. We were told to act as normal, but to distance ourselves from what was going on. The situation could have got out of hand very quickly, particularly if some decided not to go. P said he saw G4S staff getting into riot gear, just in case. Thankfully, apart from a crowd watching what was ahppening, it all went quietly. I didn’t even notice when they left.

The tough thing is that most of the guys I had made connections with were the ones taken. If they are charged, it could put their claims for asylum in jeopardy.

After shift, I went into the families to say goodbye. There were some very touching moments from people saying they would miss me, and one family writing their names down and asking if I would pray for them.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find W and V. I really wanted to say goodbye to them in particular. They probably had the biggest impact on my time there, and I will be sad to leave them here.

I am sad to leave, as there is so much work that can be done here. But I am convinced that the right people are here, working as hard as they can with the resources they have to make this situation tolerable for the community members.

Mentally – Good, looking forward to being home.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 28

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

5 March 2013. 2 days to home!

Day shift today. Was a good day, nothing major happened. We did have one guy try to leap through the canteen, but that dissipated pretty quickly.

I worked the canteen in the morning, and ipads in the afternoon. The changes we made to the ipads – having a charger each, and placing the table across most of the door does make it smoother, though I think I need to make sure that both staff are on the other side of the table.

For most of the afternoon, I was the effective shift leader, as neither of the actual shift leaders were down there. I don’t mind taking on the extra responsibility, but it would have been good to know why they weren’t down there, and when they would be back.

Last shift tomorrow. While I’m really looking forward to being back home, I am going to miss people here. I’ll say goodbye in SAMs during my shift, but I’ll pop into Families after dinner.

Mentally – Good. Sad to be saying goodbye, but excited to head home.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 27

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

4 March 2013. 3 Days to Home!

A day off today, and I feel so much better because of it. I feel refreshed and energised, and ready for my last two shifts.

I did some reading, watched Star Trek and Bad boys, talked to Liesl and relaxed.

I also got to drive today. One of the local girls had to go home because her son was sick, and because I was the only one with a day off, I drove her to town. it was quite good – there’s some beautiful scenery. I wish I had taken a camera.

Two shifts to go. I’m looking forward to heading home. While I’m going to miss a lot of people from here, I’ve got lots of exciting things to get on with this year.

Mentally – great, good and refreshed.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 26

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

3 March 2013 – 4 days to home!

Another night shift. Last one, thankfully. I’m wrecked.

On shift today, I started in the canteen with C, then ran the iPads tonight. Had a couple of issues, where I ran out of iPads, but I survived. P told me to take a break at one point because he was worried about my hydration. Gave me an opportunity to talk with one of the guys – an Iraqi who has an 18 day old child. It must be so tough for him. He shared some of his story, and seems like a really nice guy. It’s a real shame he’s here, like every other person here.

Mentally – wrecked. I’m so tired. I was rosered on for a day shift tomorrow, but I talked to P [guy in charge of rostering] and told him that I would be useless, so I’ve got the day off. Will be good to rest, then two day shifts before I head home.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 25

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

2 March 2013. 5 days to home.

Another night shift. I knew it was a bad sign when I was yawning at lunch time. I’m feeling really tired, but I’ve got to go on.

They changed how they did the internet, running it out of room 3 and 4. It’s better, as it’s cooler, but a bit more stressful as you can have more guys around you. At least when it was room 5, you could keep them out of the room.

Mentally – super tired. I wanted to go to church tomorrow, but I think I might sleep or watch a movie instead.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 24

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

1 March 2013. 6 days to home.

My day off today, and boy do I need it. Starting to feel really tired – I’m rarely getting up before 7am.

I watched some Star Trek today, and did some reading. Also got to chat with Liesl and Annabelle tonight. Can’t wait to see them again.

Water restrictions are getting a bit old. They need to fix one of the pumps, but that will take time. Until then, you need to plan when you will take a shower, and hope they don’t cut the water off early.

Worked out today that I can transfer movies to my phone [from my eeepc, which didn’t have enough memory to play the movies] and watch them on there. I’ll be watching a few movies over the next couple of days.

Mentally – good, but tired.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 23

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

28 February 2013. 7 Days to Home!

Quiet day today. Night shift again. This afternoon, we had a supply of iPad Chargers delivered, so we now have more chargers than iPads. It means we can give a charger out with each iPad, so they will keep their charge throughout the day. I have a feeling that with a better battery, they will actually have better WiFi reception, and hopefully less problems.

Helped one guy with a Quran today. I’m hoping that I might be able to open up a conversation with him, that might lead to a conversation about the Bible. We’ve got an Arabic Bible, so that might be helpful.

Mentally – Good. Feeling tired with these night shifts, and I have another two after tomorrow’s day off. I’m hoping for some day shifts to finish off our time here.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 22

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.
27 February 2013. 8 days to home.

An… interesting day today. Started with reading, I’ve started Miracles, by C.S. Lewis. Hopefully I can understand what he’s saying a bit better this time.

This afternoon I helped out in the canteen. All was going fine until one guy tried to buy something with his friend’s card. I enforced the rules and refused to serve him. He flipped, tried to pull the counter off, swore his head off at me, kicked the door of the canteen, and made quite a commotion outside. I stayed inside, out of harm’s way, but it still got the adrenaline pumping.

Then tonight, due to illness, I ended up shift leading, while two families team members came over to help out. It was a quiet night, but one moment really stuck out. One of the Hazaraghis had got frustrated in the afternoon when we ran out of phone cards. He came up to me tonight, and apologized to me. I told him that I completely understood, and that we were trying to get the system working better. It wasn’t much, but that he made the effort to apologize for his actions really stood out to me.

Mentally – Good, but wondering how my energy levels will go; as for the rest of the week I am on nights.