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Refugee witness statements and AI images shared

National plaintiff firm Maurice Blackburn has published the first comprehensive collection of witness statements from refugees detained in offshore detention, along with corresponding images created by artificial intelligence.

user iconJess Feyder 14 April 2023 Big Law
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Social justice firm Maurice Blackburn has published the first comprehensive collection of witness statements from refugees who were detained offshore on Nauru and Manus Island. 

The 32 statements were collected in over 300 hours of interviews with people who were detained offshore, as part of a now-discontinued pro bono class action that challenged the alleged unlawful detention of a number of people in immigration detention.

Working in partnership with the refugees, Maurice Blackburn commissioned a project that combined their witness statements with AI technology to create a photo-journalistic visual account of life in offshore detention.


Maurice Blackburn principal lawyer Jennifer Kanis, who heads the firm’s social justice practice, said the significance of the statements could not be overstated.

“These witness statements and images shine a light on a dark chapter of Australian history,” Ms Kanis highlighted. “They bear witness to the unimaginable inhumanity experienced by the women, men and children incarcerated over many years.

“Our clients were degraded, dehumanised, and had their lives devalued over many years in the camps on Nauru and Manus Island.

“Their statements describe the horror of life in detention, including physical and sexual violence, racism, discrimination and self-harm.”

Ms Kanis continued: “When our class action, unfortunately, had to be discontinued due to a change in the law, our clients told us they didn’t want their stories to go unheard. 

“We are in awe of their courage in wanting to share their story.

“Along with our clients, it’s our hope that this collection of witness statements and the associated AI images serve as a permanent record and an urgent case for change to Australians and our government.”

Maurice Blackburn special counsel Nicki Lees, who worked closely with the refugees and people seeking asylum involved, said ensuring the clients were actively included in each step was integral to the project. 

“We established a reference group led by the individuals sharing their stories to ensure the project met their aims and needs,” Ms Lees outlined. 

“It was important that these people at all times felt in control of how they told their story, and that it contributed to their healing process. 

“We worked closely with the refugees through workshops and consultation to ensure the AI-generated images are an accurate depiction of their time in detention.

“The written word speaks volumes, but these images add to the power of our clients’ stories.”

One of their clients, Saman (full name not shared), was in immigration detention for over four years, including nine months offshore on Manus Island. His witness statement testifies to the appalling living conditions on Manus.

The living conditions were characterised by squalid toilets and shower facilities and incidents of physical and verbal abuse.

“By taking part in this project, I am hoping that I can shed some light on the lives of myself and so many other men, women and children inside those detention centres,” said Saman. 

“The full truth of what happened offshore and the pain we had to endure for being labelled an ‘unlawful maritime arrival’ has not been able to be properly told — until now.”

Saman continued: “I hope our stories will open people’s eyes to the painful legacy of offshore detention, and I urge the government to show greater humanity when dealing with people seeking asylum.”

The statements and their accompanying images have been compiled into a collection known as EXHIBIT A-i. The images will also be exhibited in Melbourne as part of a private event for the refugees and their supporters.