The Messenger

From Behind the Wire and the Wheeler Centre, The Messenger brings you into the Australian immigration detention centre on Manus Island – and reveals, in intimate detail, one man's experience of what it's really like to flee tragedy and seek asylum by boat.


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Stopping the boats. It's one of the most fraught topics in Australian politics, and most of the time it comes out in two soundbites: saving lives at sea, and securing our borders
Abdul Aziz Muhamat
'I was instructed to … select the children on the basis of how young they looked – because we wanted to send the message to people smuggling networks that even the youngest children were eligible for transfer to the island.' Greg Lake, former Director of Offshore Processing in the Department of Immigration
In this episode, Aziz tells Michael what it actually feels like to make…

'When you cry or when you scream, no one can hear you. I thought that it is a better idea for me to be the messenger … to be the voice of everyone in here.'

Imagine having a penpal, but you’re only allowed to write on Post-It notes, and they arrive in a totally mixed up order, and some of them are scribbled all over so you can hardly read them. Imagine trying to get to know someone in short snatches, sentences and paragraphs that you slowly piece together like a puzzle, over the course of days, weeks, a year …

The Messenger is based on thousands of voice messages sent by Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a refugee currently detained on the Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, to Michael Green, a journalist based in Melbourne.

Since March 2016, Aziz has been reporting from Manus in short 30 second bursts, via WhatsApp messages sent from a smuggled phone. On the day his correspondence kicks off with Michael, he’s already been in detention for 864 days.

Aziz tells the inside story – the good and the bad – of a place that consistently features in the headlines. A place some consider a necessary product of a successful border control policy, for others, a stain on Australia’s reputation from which it will never recover. A place that despite dominating the news, remains largely unknown and unknowable by the public.

This story involves Australia and the small island nations of Manus and Nauru, but it’s also a global story. Right now, people are fleeing for their lives in many parts of the world. What Australia is doing by detaining asylum seekers offshore is unique, but it might not be unique for very long. Some politicians in other countries have criticised the policy, but others want to copy it. Either way, the world is watching.

And Aziz wants to tell them what’s going on.

Discuss this series

All messages as part of this discussion and any opinions, advice, statements, or other information contained in any messages or transmitted by any third party are the responsibility of the author of that message and not the Wheeler Centre.

Further reading

More information

The Messenger is a co-production of Behind The Wire and the Wheeler Centre. It’s produced by Michael Green, André Dao, Hannah Reich and Bec Fary, with Jon Tjhia and Sophie Black and the team at the Wheeler Centre.

Portrait of Michael Green

Michael Green

Michael Green is a journalist in Melbourne. He has written about environmental and social issues for the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Nature, Nautilus, Smith Journal, Right Now and Overland, among others. He is the coordinator of Behind the Wire, and has been working on a book of people’s stories from detention called They Cannot Take the Sky, which will be published in March 2017 by Allen & Unwin. He is also producing an exhibition at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum based on the stories in the book, which will open on 17 March 2017.

Portrait of Abdul Aziz Muhamat

Abdul Aziz Muhamat

Abdul Aziz Muhamat is a 24-year-old man from Darfur, Sudan. He is from the Zaghawa ethnicity, and with his family, he fled his village across the border to a refugee camp in Chad. He arrived in Australia by boat in 2013 and was taken to Manus Island, where he remains.