Walid Zazai speaks from Manus Island to Palm Sunday rallies

Walid Zazai. Sydney's Palm Sunday rally.

Thousands of people rallied across Australia for refugee rights at the annual Palm Sunday rallies on March 25. Melbourne had its largest rally in years as people called on the government to close down the detention centres, bring them here and let them stay. Walid Zazai, one of the men on Manus Island, sent this speech to refugee activist in Australia. The speech was read out at Palm Sunday rallies across Australia.

After the rallies Walid Zazai tweeted: "A heartfelt Thanks to all Australians who came out today for us We really appreciate it. Thanks to all of you lovely people for your incredible support for refugees. Our hopes are came alive after seeing you lovely people on the streets for us. You are our strength. Love from Manus [Island]."

Here is the speech.

* * *

December 31, 2017. As the clock ticked towards midnight, I felt both dread at another long year and hope for what seems unimaginable to me — FREEDOM.

Hello everyone, my name is Walid Zazai. Thank you for asking me to speak again. Much has changed since last year’s Palm Sunday Rally.

On August 7, Hamed Shamshiripour died on Manus [Island].

On September 21, 24 Manus men left PNG for the US, the first to be resettled under what Donald Trump called a “dumb deal”.

On September 29, Rajeev became the sixth Manus Island refugee to die in the past four years. His death follows those of Reza Barati, Hamid Kehazaei, Kamil Hussain, Faysal Ishak Ahmed and Hamed Shamshiripour.

November 2017 is a month I hope one day my memory will erase.

On April 27, 2016, PNG's Supreme Court ruled detaining men in Manus Island Regional Processing Centre is illegal and unconstitutional.

October 31 was set by Australia as the final day of Manus Regional Processing Centre (RPC). The plan was to force us to move to unfinished places with less security, less medical care and less community support.

On November 1, we were left alone with no services in Manus RPC. Australia tried to starve us out, but thanks to you caring people in Australia and PNG, food was smuggled to us as we resisted pressure to move.

The crueller Australia became, the more caring we were to Manus brothers, and the more people outside cared about us.

But eventually Australia won. On November 27 and 28, we were bashed and dragged and forcibly moved to Hillside, West Haus or East Lorengau.

Nothing changed, except the location. I don't understand how the new accommodations are not illegal and unconstitutional.

By December, my mind started to be overcome with dread. It increased the closer we got to the end of 2017. But time doesn't stop and 2018 came.

By March 25, about 80 men out of the 2000 have been settled in the US. Only 80. Hundreds of men have been refouled. They either gave up waiting for freedom and safety, or they were forcibly sent back to danger.

On March 25, I have been detained by Australia for 1695 days. During those four years, seven months and 22 days, I lost my youth and I became a man in Australian immigration detention. I still dread 2018.

I still have hope. I hope that soon all the men, women and children who asked for asylum but were sent to Manus or Nauru will be settled in a place of peace and security.

I hope more people will go to the US soon. I hope that [Prime Minister Malcolm] Turnbull will say “Yes” to the amazing [NZ PM] Jacinda Arden and let 150 men settle in New Zealand. I hope Australia will stop the cruel policies. I hope Australia will live up to its international obligations for asylum seekers.

I hope that my feet will walk on the streets of a safe land where I can yell “I am free”. I hope to work and pay tax. I hope to earn an income to support my mum and my aunties and their children.

I hope one day soon I can study and widen my mind. I hope I can eat at a restaurant with my friends, with you. I hope to own and run a restaurant for you to visit me.

I hope to love and marry. I hope to play cricket in a league of free people. I hope. I hope.

Finally, I thank you.

Thank you to our growing number of advocates and friends. Thank you to the people who act — who write to their MPs and talk to their friends about the injustice in this place. Thank you to the religious who take the love for your neighbour seriously.

Thank you to the people who know the equality of humanity and act to make it happen. You have empowered us and given us a small voice.

Please keep speaking for us, yelling for us, screaming for us. Please continue putting peaceful but loud democratic pressure on the people who hold our freedom in their hard hands.

Please tell them our wish and our prayer is simply either: "Please bring us to Australia, let us go to NZ or grant us our freedom somewhere safe".

Thank you. With love and blessings from Manus.

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