• An illustration from the SBS VR documentary 'Inside Manus'. (SBS/Inside Manus)
"In Sudan they killed us physically, but here they're killing us mentally, which is worse."
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

15 Aug 2017 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 16 Aug 2017 - 8:16 AM

Imagine having the name you were given at birth replaced with a series of letters and numbers.

Imagine being imprisoned, indefinitely, in a foreign land after trying to escape persecution or death in your home land.

Imagine being unable to see your family for years - unable to feel their loving touch.

This is the reality, effectively hidden behind a media blackout, for many of the 800 people detained on Manus Island, one of Australia's offshore immigration processing centres.

Some 700 of those detainees have been identified as refugees, and some of them have been there for nearly four years. 

Three current detainees have told their stories, in their own words and their own voices, for Inside Manus a new SBS virtual reality project launched at the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 15, and available now on the SBS VR app.

Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a 25-year-old Sudanese man who fled the conflict in Darfur, Imran Mohammad, a 23-year-old Rohingya who escaped ethnic violence in Myanmar (Burma), and Amir Taghinia, a 24-year-old who fled religious persecution in Iran, give Australians an insight into life on Manus Island through their first-hand accounts.

"We didn't commit any crime, but we are imprisoned, which makes me feel like an animal," Mohammad says.

"When you are imprisoned in Manus Island you feel like you're losing yourself. You don't know who you are."

Muhamat also describes the loss of identity he has experienced in detention.

"We didn't commit any crime, but we are imprisoned, which makes me feel like an animal..."

"They took my name. My father give me that name. They took it away from me. They just gave me letters and numbers: QNK002," Muhamat says.

"For the last three years no-one called me with my name. They just call me QNK.

"In Sudan they killed us physically, but here they're killing us mentally, which is worse."

Released as part of Untold Australia season two, an SBS series exploring powerful stories of diverse and remote communities, Inside Manus combines audio recordings from the refugees with hand-drawn animations of scenes behind the fences on Manus Island and of the three men's home countries and families. 

"If I had any idea about the boat journeys, I would prefer to be killed in my country," Mohammad says.

"You see people die in front of you, and they just throw them on the ocean. No mercy. Mothers, their babies die on their laps."

Muhamat says he felt he had no other option that to flee Sudan and risk his life as a refugee. 

"We are running from the people who are chasing us, day and night," he says.

"They want to harm us. They want to kill us. They want us to do things that we are not supposed to do. It's your own sisters - same mother, same father - they want us to rape her and shoot her.

"And if you have a heart you will never do that and you will look for an alternative way. And the alternative way that we looked for is the oceans."

"I am not QNK002, my name is Abdul Aziz Mohammad. I have the same heart as you do have." 

In April 2016, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court declared the Manus Island detention centre illegal and unconstitutional.

The centre is scheduled to close in October 2017, but the resettlement of the men detained there remains uncertain.

Despite feeling that his life is "so dark" now, Mohammad tries to remain hopeful, and dreams of one day becoming a doctor, having children and helping others.

And Muhamat hopes to reclaim his name, his identity, and his life: "I am not QNK002, my name is Abdul Aziz Mohammad. I have the same heart as you do have. We have the same family as you do have. We have the same blood as you do have. We have the same face as you do have. What is the difference between you and me?" 

The SBS VR app is free to download and is available on the Samsung Gear VR, Apple iOS and Google Android devices.

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