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‘In my new home, I am loved.’

May 25, 2020 • 15m 47s

After five years on Manus Island, Imran Mohammad was resettled in Chicago. But the coronavirus shutdown has brought back memories of detention and isolation.

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‘In my new home, I am loved.’

230 • May 25, 2020

‘In my new home, I am loved.’

IMRAN:

Hi.

RUBY:

Hello, good morning, Imran. It's Ruby.

IMRAN:

Hi Ruby, Can you hear me?

RUBY:

I can hear you. Can you hear me?

IMRAN:

Yes.

RUBY:

So that's recording now?

IMRAN:

Yes.

RUBY:

Excellent. Thank you. And can you tell me a little bit about where you are at the moment?

IMRAN:

So I live in Chicago. I live in Uptown. It's a very beautiful day here. It's sunny and it's not raining today, so it's good.

**

[Theme music]

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Since the US resettlement deal, more than 700 refugees have left Manus Island and Nauru to find sanctuary in America.

But the coronavirus shutdown has left many of these people isolated and without work or support.
Imran Mohammad spent five years on Manus Island.

He wrote recently in The Saturday Paper about how isolation has brought back memories of the detention he thought he had escaped.

**

RUBY:

Imran, I'd like to go back. Can you tell me about when you first found out about the US resettlement deal and what you thought at that time?

IMRAN:

It was 2017. I received my paper, but I didn't believe it. I didn’t express my happiness in front of my friend. I went back to my room and I just jumped.

Archival tape - unknown:

We in the United states have agreed to consider referrals from UNHCR on refugees now residing in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.

IMRAN:

I was detained for more than seven years. So, you know, holding that paper in my hand was just beyond words.

Archival tape -- reporter:

The United Nations refugee agency says the deal is a much needed long term solution, but there should be options for everyone on Manus and Nauru.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Even if the US filled its promise and took 1250 of them, there would be 400 who would still need resettling.

IMRAN:

It's a ticket to my freedom. And that's all I wanted in my life. But, you know, there are many other refugees who are waiting, too. So, you know, every step was difficult.

RUBY:

What would you like people to know about what life was like on Manus Island?

IMRAN:

I was taken to Manus in 2013. I was 19 when I was there and I was there for five years.
I lost too many precious years from my life. You know there were many refugees from many countries and everyone is different. Everyone has a story to tell. And everyone has suffered differently from that place because, you know, the intention was so cruel.

And the men became so depressed during their time on Manus they lost their hope. And, they didn't feel like they were human. Every day was different. They came up with some ideas every single day to make us suffer emotionally and mentally. It was something that I just didn't expect from Australia because, you know, I came to Australia to seek safety.

RUBY:

Can you tell me about the plane trip to America?

IMRAN:

We were so happy we couldn't sleep because we knew we'd leave that hellhole. I was at the airport in the morning with some of my friends and we were saying goodbye to PNG after almost five years. It was one of the happiest day in my life. I never imagined that I would ever live in America. When I landed in L.A... There was a security guard and I will never forget his words. He said welcome to your new home. And it was the beautiful thing that someone said to me.

RUBY:

And so from L.A., you went to Chicago. Can you tell me a bit about your first impressions of the city?

IMRAN:

I came with one of my friends in Chicago, and they have been living together because we are in Manus and camps. And I was really, really overwhelmed. I didn't feel anything. But I was welcomed by my caseworker. She was at the airport and we came home. My caseworker gave us a tour of the apartment. And she gave us the keys and, uh, okay, now we have keys. So it was strange. It was a bit scary to be free. I mean, you know, you want to be free, but we became used to living in confinement, then being free.

The next morning we left our apartment. We couldn't sleep and we talk shit all night. And we left our apartment in the morning and we just walked. We had no idea where we were going. My friend and I got lost four, five times, I guess in two weeks, and we didn't know how to get back to our apartment.

RUBY:

And Imran, tell me what it was like when coronavirus hit.

IMRAN:

It was very unexpected. You know, there are so many rumors and, you know. People are getting sick. We didn't think that it would happen. I was unprepared. I think everyone was unprepared.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Imran, in 2017 you were told that you were getting out of detention on Manus Island and would be able to resettle in the US. You’ve been there for two years now - can you tell me a bit about what it has been like?

IMRAN:

Back home, I didn't go to school at all, so I had no idea how things work. And also, it's a different country and it took me a long time to understand the system. I'm still learning. And I know that there is so much more to learn. So I completed my high school diploma in just nine months and I was very happy. And it was my first certificate in my life. And I was the first one in my family to have a high school diploma.

RUBY:

Congratulations.

IMRAN:

And then I started taking my college classes this spring. So it was my first semester.

RUBY:

Do you know what you want to do after college?

IMRAN:

I've been thinking about different fields and I’m struggling because, you know, there's so many options. It's quite overwhelming. And I was thinking about law and I was thinking about social justice. And then I was. I started thinking about nursing.

I started taking biology statistics and English 101 and fine art. The professors are very patient and helpful. So they helped me a lot. You know I need to get an education because I knew that it was the only thing that would open my doors and be a voice for other people.

RUBY:

Tell me about how coronaviruses changed your studies.

IMRAN:

So all of a sudden, in March, I received an e-mail and the school said it's gonna be closed for a whole week.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Chicago is another area that needs a lift as coronavirus cases continue to climb.

IMRAN:

It was unexpected. We didn't have any information about coronavirus at that time in March.
I was receiving tons of emails from school and from friends and it was overwhelming.

Archival tape -- government:

To avoid the loss of potentially tens of thousands of lives we must enact an immediate stay at home order for the state of Illinois.

IMRAN:

They were trying to conduct their classes remotely. And I had to teach myself lots of new things about the Internet, about Zoom, about all these things. I was scared and I thought I would not be able to, you know, complete my courses.

There are many students who dropped out because they were just freaked out. It was the same for me, but I just said, no, I can't give up. The coronaviruses interrupted everything. I mean, everything. I used to see my friends and I loved going to school. Now I can't do any of it.

RUBY:

Can I ask you - if it’s ok - how has that made you feel?

IMRAN:

I feel like I'm back in detention again because I'm just at home all day, all night. These things feel pointless at times. You know, my mood fluctuates a lot. I lived in many detention centers and, you know, I was so strong in those places; but when I got my freedom, I thought I would never, ever experience that isolation again in my life. But now I am struggling with my old memories because all those traumas are coming back sometimes. So I am struggling with two things: with the current situation and with my old memories. And I think everyone is. All those men who were on Manus and in other camps that are struggling in so many different ways.

RUBY:

Do you stay in touch with other refugees, who have also been resettled in America? Can you tell me about how they’re coping with the pandemic?

IMRAN:

So there are many refugees who are very vulnerable and they don't know how to apply for their unemployment benefits and their employers are not helping them. They are working for their companies for a long time. And, you know, they were just left with nothing. I tried to help but I needed the papers, documentations, and they couldn't read their documents. And they had no idea what I was talking about. And they couldn't send me their papers and I couldn't help them.

RUBY:

I'm wondering if you can tell me what your thoughts are about Australia now?

IMRAN:

I'm in still shock because, you know, they're just a handful of refugees who are just stuck in detention. You know, they're just handful of refugees in Port Moresby, in Nauru and in Australia. I mean, I just feel over more and I feel guilty to be free from time to time. I just want the Australian government to change their policy. I mean, it's their country. If they want to have policies in place, that's fine. But we are human and our human rights should be respected and protected and there are brothers and sisters who are living in detention for nearly eight years. And I just can't forget. And I will not forgive them either until all of them are free.

RUBY:

Imran, can you tell me what you are hoping now, for your own future?

IMRAN:

I'm very grateful to be free. And, you know, I have lots of Australian friends and they have worked for my freedom for a long time and they are still fighting for my friends’ freedom. I never forget their support and their love.

And in my new home, I am loved. And it's beautiful here. People are kind. And I do see a bright future ahead of me. It's not going to be easy, but the good thing is that things can be done. It's possible. I have control over my life. I just have to remain positive and keep moving forward.

RUBY:

Thank you for speaking with me today, Imran.

IMRAN:

Thank you for your time.

[ADVERTISEMENT]

**

RUBY:

Also in the news…

A Labor-led coronavirus parliamentary committee will seek to compel the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to explain how the JobKeeper wage subsidy program was overestimated by 60 billion dollars.

Late on Friday it was revealed the Government has revised JobKeeper from costing 1-hundred-and-thirty billion dollars, down to 70 billion dollars.

Labor, unions, and advocacy groups are now calling on the government to expand JobKeeper to include more workers.

**

And the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a further easing of restrictions in the state.

People will be allowed to have up to 20 people in their homes, and to stay overnight at private residences and tourist accommodation from the first of June.

Some entertainment and cultural venues will also be reopened with limited numbers, but those who can work from home will be urged to continue to do so.

**

And the Northern Territory Government has confirmed restrictions on travel within the NT will be lifted in less than a fortnight.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner said biosecurity zones, which limit travel to remote communities, will be removed almost two weeks ahead of schedule, on June 5.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

After five years on Manus Island, Imran Mohammad was resettled in Chicago. He says arriving in America was one of the happiest days in his life. But the coronavirus shutdown has brought back memories of detention and isolation.

Guest: Writer and Rohingya refugee Imran Mohammad.

Background reading:

Resettled refugees in Covid-19 lockdown in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app. I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

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230: ‘In my new home, I am loved.’