Split family makes plea for justice

Weekender
COVER STORY

Former Manus detention centre resident gets deported, returns for his family and ends up in prison

Uddin was sick did not get proper medical treatment in the prison and that also affected him mentally.

By MARTHA DERUAGE
WHEN families were getting together over this past festive season to celebrate, Helal Uddin wished he could have spent that time with his family in Manus instead of being locked up at Bomana Prison outside Port Moresby.
The Bangladeshi is at Bomana correctional centre while awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on his case of illegally entering the country. His case has dragged on for two years.
Faced with political and religious upheaval and persecution in his home country, Uddin became an asylum-seeker and decided to seek refuge in Australia.
Uddin,32, was a chef back in Bangladesh. He was the head chef of Holiday Inn in the capital Dhaka before coming to PNG.
He earned himself the name Spicy because of the spicy meals he made.
“I left for Australia in 2013 when Australia changed its policy for asylum seekers. For the last eight years I have been waiting in prisons.”
Uddin said despite the harsh treatment faced in the Manus Island detention centre, he met his wife and also fell in love with the country.
“During a time when I was able to leave the prison compounds I had some wonderful moments. I met and married my wife Alice in 2016.
“Our son Mohamad Ali was born in 2017. However, in 2018 my refugee status was denied and I was deported and forced to leave my family behind.
“I promised them I would return. I did and I spent a few beautiful months with my family, but needed to support them. I tried to start a small shop but was arrested again for not having a visa.
“I have been in Bomana for two years and six months.
“I am the only foreigner at Bomana and it is very lonely.
“Being in the detention centre, I have learned to speak 11 languages. When I arrived I shared a room with 51 other prisoners for 11 months.
“We slept on the concrete floor with no mattress and sometimes had no food. One night a fellow prisoner stabbed me in my neck and ear while I was in a deep sleep.
“People began to grab the man, wanting to kill him for attacking me but I told them to leave him alone.
“This man was a disturbed person with serious mental health problems and I did not want him to be killed. I asked the guards to take me to hospital but was not given any assistance or medicine. All I had was some water to wash my wounds.
“I like to keep busy. Every day I cook for the 100-plus prisoners. At 6am I boil water for tea which we drink with two crackers for breakfast. At 11am I cook rice and we have it with tinned fish.
“Sometimes outside the church, angel people visit the prison and give us fresh vegetables and protein which I start cooking for dinner at 3pm. I have friends in Australia who help me by sending me spices so I can cook good food. In my spare time I write recipes and am publishing a book called Spicy Life – Recipes from Bomana Prison.
“My case is in the Supreme Court in PNG. I hope to be released and see my family again.
“It is incredibly hard for Alice to have her husband in jail. She and Mohammad are suffering. Some friends in Australia help me to give her some money but Mohammad has malaria and medicine is very expensive. All I want is to be with my family.

Left: Uddin had worked as a chef at the Holiday Inn in Dhaka.

“I came back to PNG because of my family (wife and son). And also I love PNG people because they are open and more welcoming.
“But most of all it’s because I have a family here and have responsibilities now in this country PNG.
Uddin had a tough childhood growing up and money was always scarce. His father is a police officer working in another state and he does not support the family much.
Uddin started as a dishwasher in 2008 and worked hard to fulfil his dream of becoming a chef.
In 2009 he entered a chef competition in Malaysia with up to 500 competitors from around the world. He came second. He then worked as the head chef at the Holiday Inn hotel in Dhaka
But trouble brewed up in 2012 when he got involved in a protest after the arrest of the leader of the opposition party in Bangladesh.
“I support this party, they are for working people like me, but the police support the government and beat us the protestors. I was hit in the head with an axe and went to hospital,” he said.
“But I had to run because the police are at the hospital. I was hiding from the police in another state.”
In 2013 he found out that he could be an asylum seeker and start a new life in Australia.
“I love Bangladesh but life is very difficult, I decide to try to get to Australia,” he said.
That same year, Uddin travelled on an overcrowded boat heading to Australia. Along the way the boat ran out of fuel.
“We were rescued by Australian border guards. The guards told us that Australia had changed its policy and we wouldbe detained on Manus Island.”
Since 2015, he was detained in various detention centres on Manus Island.
“It was a terrible time. My friend Reza Barati was killed by guards, others died from medical neglect under the protection of the Australian government.

Alice Helal’s plea for her husband’s release.

“Many attempted suicide and self-harm, and some succeed.”
In 2017, Papua New Guinea won its case against Australia; the high court ruled that that it was unlawful for asylum seekers to be imprisoned in the country.
By then, Uddin started a business in Manus to support his family.
But a year later, in 2017, his refugee status was declined.
In 2018 the PNG Immigrations deported him. While in Bangladesh he tried to get a visa and return to his family.
Later that year, he did manage to return to his wife and child without a visa.
“I organised a boat but my three cousins couldn’t leave me to make the return journey alone.
“They said they would leave me in the middle of the sea and turn back so we came together. While passing between the Bangladesh and Burmese border in Rohinga district, the navy fired at us with their guns. I saw my cousins falling down.
“When I went to check on my cousins, I found all were dead. I cried and threw their bodies in the sea in Thailand.”
He was arrested in 2019 and thrown in the prison again.
He is still awaiting the courts decision and the slow process is having a toll on his physical and mental health.
Uddin is also frustrated at how slowly PNG Immigration is processing his visa.
“My life is in danger back at home. I cannot go back. That is the all point of seeking refuge in another country. I initially wanted to go to Australia but since I have my family in PNG, I would like to stay here.”
His wife Alice urged the authorities from Immigrations and the Supreme Court to speed the process has Uddin was affected physically and psychologically.
“It has been hard without my husband. He tried to support us by starting a business but that did not work. When he comes out he would be able to support us.”
Chairlady of the Gerehu Village Court and Human Rights Defender and President of the North West Human Rights Defenders Network Monica Balakau said this was a typical example of a person’s rights being abused.
“If the court process was done quickly, Uddin would have reunited with his family.
“He should not have been locked up like this. Some people, including locals, are waiting for the court’s decision for years in the prision, which is not right. Things should be processed quickly,” Balakau said.

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