Toronto, Canada: Refugee advocates have described a Rohingya asylum seeker's escape from Australia's offshore processing centre on Manus Island, and successful resettlement in Canada, as unprecedented and extraordinary.
Jaivet Ealom, 27, has spoken publicly for the first time about his high-risk and secretive journey to freedom in a series of interviews with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Canada.
Jaivet Ealom staged a daring escape from Manus Island before eventually making his way to Canada. CREDIT:COLE BURSTON
Ealom says he escaped from the Manus Regional Processing Centre in May 2017 and boarded a flight to Port Moresby by posing as an interpreter.
He then lived for six months as a fugitive in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands before arriving unannounced in Canada, where he was granted protected refugee status.
"Nothing like this has ever come to light before," Paul Power, the chief executive of the Refugee Council of Australia, said.
"It is extraordinary. I've never heard of anything like this."
Other sources in the refugee sector confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that they had never heard of a similar successful escape from offshore detention and resettlement in a third country.
Ealom was detained in Christmas Island for six months in 2013 and then spent 3½ years on Manus Island. He said his escape plan was influenced by the plot of the hit US television show Prison Break.
"I realised I had to take things into my own hands and do something," he said. "I was stateless, I didn't have any documentation. I could see things were just going to get worse."
The extraordinary journey of Jaivet Ealom, who escaped from Manus Island Detention Centre and became a politics student in Canada.
An Iranian asylum seeker, Loghman Sawari, fled from Manus to Fiji in January 2017, but was deported and returned to PNG. He was arrested for using false information to obtain a passport, but the charges were later dropped.
Amir Sahragard, an Iranian asylum seeker who was detained on Manus at the same time at Ealom, said he had no idea where his friend had gone when he vanished from the island.
He was stunned to discover his friend was living freely in Canada.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "He was the only one who ever escaped from there and made it out."
The Manus Regional Processing Centre was closed in October 2017.
A spokesperson for the Home Affairs Department said that regional processing arrangements on Manus Island were the responsibility of the PNG government.
"Persons under regional processing arrangements are free to depart a regional processing country at any time to pursue migration options," the spokesperson said.
"Any person seeking to voluntarily depart for their home country or to a country to which they have right of entry, is permitted to do so and, where appropriate, is provided with financial assistance to do so."
The department said 699 refugees have been resettled in America under the deal with the US government while another 26 have been resettled in other countries.
In November, Iranian asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani, author of the award-winning No Friend But the Mountains, travelled from PNG to New Zealand for a literary festival and overstayed his visa.
He said he had been offered resettlement in the US but was also open to resettlement in a third country.