A refugee who has been helping disabled people on Manus Island has pleaded to be flown off the island for medical treatment after being the victim of a vicious, unprovoked attack over the weekend.
Masoud Ali Shiekh, 27, says his condition has deteriorated after being hit with a rock when a group of around seven young men confronted him as he walked a friend to the bus stop near the transit centre at East Lorengau on Saturday
“The thing is there is no X-ray. It is broken. There is no scan. There is no anything. The injury is deep in the head and I can’t open my eyes,” a desperate Mr Shiekh told Fairfax Media from the Lorengau hospital. “When I stand up I feel like I would fall.”
Mr Shiekh says he was hit with a rock when a group of young men confronted him near the transit centre. Photo: Supplied
Mr Shiekh said he was shocked by the attack because he thought he was well known to the local community, working as a volunteer for a small organisation providing wheelchairs and other aids for the disabled.
Now he is fearful that relatives of those arrested over the attack will come after him. He is also convinced the threat of violence against outsiders will be ongoing. “It shows me that they don’t want us in their community,” he said.
He is also concerned about the level of hygiene in the hospital, worried that the gaping wound in his forehead will become infected when his dressings are changed. “I wish I could find treatment. There is no treatment here.”
Pre-attack: Masoud Ali Shiekh, 31, a Somali refugee and former aid worker based on Manus Island. Photo: Matthew Abbott
A former humanitarian aid worker with the United Nations refugee agency and Save the Children in Yemen, Mr Shiekh spent more than two years in the Manus Island detention centre before moving to the island’s transit centre after being recognised as a refugee.
In a move advocates fear will escalate local tensions, PNG officials are planning to move more than 800 asylum seekers who remain at the detention centre to the transit centre in response to a ruling by PNG’s highest court in April that their detention was illegal.
Fluent in English, Arabic and Somali, and able to converse with locals in Pidgin, Mr Shiekh told UNHCR officials of his work with the agency when they visited Manus Island earlier this year.
The officials also visited Nauru and subsequently called on the government to immediately move asylum seekers who had suffered “immense” physical and mental harm in detention to “humane conditions with adequate support and services”, a call that went unheeded. They are due to meet Border Force officials in Canberra on Tuesday.
Mr Shiekh’s arrival with another Somali national in a small boat in the Torres Strait made headlines before the 2013 election, with the then opposition claiming it could mark the start of a “torrent” on boat arrivals into north Queensland.
Then shadow immigration minister, Scott Morrison, claimed the Rudd government’s decision to reopen the Manus Island detention centre had opened “another front” for asylum seekers coming across the Torres Strait to Australia.
Mr Shiekh said he was forced to leave after receiving death threats from a people smuggling syndicate who accused him of spying on their operation in his work for the UNHCR in Yemen. His family had fled war-torn Somalia in 1993.
Telling his story publicly for the first time, he said he was confronted at a restaurant, where a gun was put to his head and he was told he had four hours to leave the country.
He went home and was told by his wife that strangers had been there asking for him. “The only option I had was to leave Yemen because I cannot hide anywhere because everybody knows me.” He has not seen his wife, parents or siblings since.
Faced with the prospect of a very long wait for a visa to Europe, he chose to seek protection in Australia after fleeing to Indonesia. “I was thinking, as a humanitarian aid worker, wherever I go I will be welcomed,” he said.
“I understand this is not the nation, but I am very shocked with the (Australian) government and how the government is dealing with human beings.
“It’s not only me. When I look at Nauru and see children and women and elderly people … I never expected this.”
Mr Shiekh was at the Manus centre during the violence of February 2014, when Reza Barati was murdered and scores of asylum seekers were injured by guards and locals who invaded the centre. “I was beaten but I was not killed. My room was like a scene of slaughter.”
Human rights lawyer Daniel Webb, who recently witnessed a similar attack on refugees at Lorengau, said the violence highlighted the urgent need to bring those on Manus to Australia.
“Despite three years of fear, violence and limbo he stayed incredibly strong and did everything he could to make the best of a truly horrible situation,” said Mr Webb, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.
“But even for Masoud, Manus has proven to be a harmful and dangerous dead end.”
Mr Shiekh said he found it very difficult to talk about his experience on Manus Island. “I cannot differentiate between a nightmare, a dream and awakeness. I have difficulty talking about yesterday, today and tomorrow. It feels like one day from when I arrived till now.”
By Michael Gordon