Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese refugee who has been held in Australia’s notorious offshore Manus Island processing centre for over five years, has won the prestigious Martin Ennals human rights prize, the UN refugee agency UNHCR has said.
“Recognized as a true leader, human rights and humanitarian advocate, Muhamat has tirelessly cared for fellow refugees, and eloquently drawn the world’s attention to their plight,” the UNHCR said in a statement.
It is the first time that the major prize has been awarded to an individual focused on refugee issues and who has been a victim of human rights violations by a Western democracy.
Muhamat, from the Zaghawa ethnic group of Darfur, in north-western Sudan, was granted refugee status in early 2015 but has been detained on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea since 2013 as he has not found a host country, according to the Swiss-based Martin Ennals Foundation.
“I have the deepest admiration for Muhamat, for his courage, his humanity and indomitable spirit,” said Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, who met with him earlier this week.
“His testimony is a wake-up call to the world about what happens when policies dehumanize and mistreat other human beings.”
In the statement late on Wednesday, UNHCR urged Australia to find solutions for all detainees on Manus and other remote Pacific islands “as a matter of urgency”.
As part of Muhamat’s peaceful advocacy for the many hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers held by Australia in offshore detention centres, he sent over 4,000 messages to report on his experiences for the multi award-winning podcast, The Messenger.
UNHCR continues to urge that solutions be found for all refugees and asylum-seekers under Australia’s ‘offshore processing’ in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Switzerland granted Muhamat a temporary visa allowing him to travel to Geneva for the prize-giving ceremony on Wednesday and he will return to Manus Island soon after, according to award organisers.
The annual Martin Ennals Awards are named after a Nobel Peace Prize-winning British human rights activist.