Australia

It's 'absurd' to return human rights prize winner to detention, say refugee advocates

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Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese refugee who has been on Manus Island for more than five years, was named the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate at a ceremony in Geneva on Thursday.

Advocacy groups have claimed it is "absurd" and "cruel" to return a Sudanese refugee to Manus Island after he was permitted to visit Switzerland to receive a major international human rights award. 

Abdul Aziz Muhamat, who has been on Manus Island for more than five years, was named the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate at a ceremony in Geneva for his work informing international audiences about the conditions in offshore detention.

Abdul Aziz Muhamat at the 2019 Martin Ennals Award ceremony in Geneva.
Abdul Aziz Muhamat at the 2019 Martin Ennals Award ceremony in Geneva.
EPA

Switzerland granted Mr Muhamat a temporary visa for the ceremony, but he will return to the detention centre on February 23 - a move that has been condemned by advocacy groups. 

"It is absurd in the extreme and cruel that he is collecting this award and going to be returned to imprisonment on Manus Island," Lucy Honan of the Refugee Action Collective told SBS News.

"He should be given the award and then given Australian citizenship and allowed to resettle in Australia immediately." 

Mr Muhamat's award comes just weeks after another Manus Island detainee, Iranian Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, won Australia's richest literary prize for his book detailing life on the island.

Ms Honan pointed to the two men as examples of what refugees can contribute to society.

"Scott Morrison was talking all week about the terrible nature of refugees who come to Australia by boat and Aziz is just the answer to that," she said.

"He [Mr Muhamat] is a fantastic guy who has won this international recognition for being a promoter of human rights. That's the calibre of person that Australia has kept in these camps for more than five years."

Sudanese community leader Kenyatta Wal also called on the government to allow Mr Muhamat to settle in Australia.

Lucy Honan from the Refugee Action Collective.
Lucy Honan from the Refugee Action Collective.
SBS News
 

"I believe someone like Abdul Aziz, if given the opportunity and the chance, will positively contribute to this beautiful nation we call home," he told SBS News.

"All of us who are here in Australia came here as refugees."

Mr Wal, who founded the Federation of South Sudanese Associations of Victoria, said he hasn't been able to find out the exact number of Sudanese people stuck in offshore detention.

Mr Muhamat told ABC Radio on Thursday that he hadn't thought about seeking asylum in Switzerland because he wants to return to Manus and "follow the queue".

Sudanese community leader Kenyatta Wal wants Australia to give Abdul Aziz Muhamat a chance.
Sudanese community leader Kenyatta Wal wants Australia to give Abdul Aziz Muhamat a chance.
SBS News

"I made a commitment with myself and the people I care about ... I promise those people, no matter where I go I will come back to Manus because this is where I belong and this is where I started something with them.

"I need to make sure everyone on Manus Island and Nauru will get to a safe place."

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