Abdul Aziz Muhamat (Aziz) is a compelling and tireless advocate for refugee rights. He has been trapped in the Australian offshore immigration system on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, since October 2013, along with hundreds of other refugees and asylum seekers.
He belongs to the Zaghawa ethnic group of Darfur, in north-western Sudan. In 2013, the conflict forced him to seek asylum. He flew to Indonesia and travelled onward by boat for Australia. His boat was intercepted by Australian authorities, who forcibly transferred him into the country’s offshore immigration system at the Lombrum naval base, on Manus Island. He was granted refugee status in early 2015, but remains on Manus Island, along with several hundred other men who were transferred there after arriving in Australian territory by boat and seeking asylum.
Aziz is one of the primary public voices among the men held on Manus Island and regularly speaks out on international news media. For two years, he sent over 4000 thousand voice messages to report on his experiences for the multi award-winning podcast, The Messenger.
Working with several Australian and international human rights and refugee advocacy organisations, Aziz has worked continuously on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island in order to allow them to leave the island and be resettled in safety and security. He has also working tirelessly advocating for humane living conditions and adequate medical care.
He has been deeply involved in various kinds of peaceful resistance, including letter writing to politicians, a mass hunger strike (for which he and dozens of others were arrested and held in PNG police and prison cells for up to four weeks without charge in January 2015), and various periods of non-cooperation and peaceful and silent protest.
The centre fell into its worst crisis on 31 October 2017, when Australian authorities and contractors left Manus Island, having sought to close the site in the naval base and force the refugees and asylum seekers to move to three other facilities close to the main town on Manus Island. The men refused to leave. From the beginning of August, they held daily peaceful protests – demanding instead to be granted freedom in a third country. The men remained in the centre without provision of food, water, electricity or medical care for 24 days, until they were moved by force by PNG authorities.
Aziz was one of the leaders of the protest movement, During a 24-day standoff, Aziz also played the role of the welfare coordinator, overseeing the equitable distribution of smuggled food and medicine; facilitating doctors’ consultations by phone for those who were ill; and liaising with donors and advocates in Australia who sent money to pay for necessities.
Abdul Aziz Muhamat was granted refugee status in early 2015. However, he is still in Manus, as are many other men, because he has not found a host country. New Zealand offered to accept 150 of them, but Australia opposed this. Abdul Aziz Muhamat is determined to secure the departure to a third country of all refugees and asylum seekers who fell victim to Australia’s offshore immigration policy.