One of the refugees beaten with an iron bar on Manus Island has spoken about how he thought he was going to die until he was rescued by another Manussian who, he says, saved his life.

Kamran (the Guardian has given the man a pseudonym because of concerns for the safety of his family in Afghanistan) has described how he and two fellow refugees were attacked as they walked back from the beach at Lorengau on Wednesday afternoon.

He and two refugee friends were heading for the bus that would take them back to the Australian-run detention centre, a 45-minute drive away inside the Lombrum military base.

Kamran (not his real name), a refugee on Manus Island who was attacked

Kamran (not his real name), a refugee on Manus Island who was attacked by a group of men in Lorengau in August 2016. Photograph: Matthew Abbott/GetUp

“A group of seven local men approached us,” Kamran said through an interpreter. “They were very drunk. One had a huge iron bar about two metres long.”

“One of my friends managed to quickly hide in the bushes, but the men surrounded me and my other friend. They were abusing us, saying things like ‘this is our country’ and ‘you do not belong here’ and ‘go back to your country’.

“They demanded cigarettes and our clothes and the shoes that we were wearing. Then the man with the iron bar started hitting us with it. I fell to the ground and tried to protect my head. The man kept hitting me with the bar and the others were punching me. I passed out for a few seconds. I thought my life was over.”

Manus island: photos show aftermath of violent attack on Afghan refugees

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The assault only ended when another Manussian man stepped in to stop it. He pulled the men to their feet and walked them, bloodied and confused, to the police station.

“One local man came and helped us. He stopped the beating.”

Even after the attack had finished, Kamran thought he had sustained life-threatening injuries. He collapsed at the police station and was carried to a police 4WD and taken to hospital.

“I was so scared. I thought I would die. There was so much blood. I collapsed and the next thing I know I woke up in the hospital. It was in and out of consciousness until the next morning.”

Kamran, a member of Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic and religious minority who fled the Taliban in his homeland, says other refugee friends have been assaulted on Manus too.

“We are all very scared. After three years of this I am exhausted. I fled my country looking for safety. I still haven’t found it.”

But Kamran said he was grateful to the man – unknown to him – who stepped in. “I want to thank the PNG man who helped me. I also want to thank my refugee friends who helped me and looked after me in the hospital and back at the detention centre. They are very kind people.”

Manus refugee after attack

Kamran and two refugee friends were heading for the bus that would take them back to the Australian-run detention centre, a 45-minute drive away inside the Lombrum military base. Photograph: Matthew Abbott/Reuters

Calls by the Guardian to PNG police on Sunday night and on Monday morning have not been answered. The Guardian understands no arrests have been made. Kamran remains in the medical unit of the detention centre.

Daniel Webb, the director of legal advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre, was on Manus Island and witnessed the aftermath of the attack on Kamran and his friends.

He told the Guardian that other refugees who saw Kamran and his friends walking bloodied through the town towards the police station had been frightened by the assault “but they were not surprised”.

“I spent the week interviewing the men our government has locked up on Manus for the last three years,” he said. “I met some truly amazing people – men of different ages, from different parts of the world and with different stories to tell. But what they all have in common is they are tired.

“After three years of all this, they’ve had enough. These offshore camps are dead-ends. We must look at humane policy alternatives. First and foremost, we must bring them here.”

Australia’s entire offshore detention regime in PNG faces an existential challenge next week.

Next Monday PNG’s supreme court will hear a legal challenge to the offshore detention centre from the lawyer Ben Lomai, who has argued the detention regime is a breach of the country’s constitutional guarantee to liberty. The case has been fast-tracked by the court and a judgment could be delivered in weeks. Lomai has argued the men must be returned to Australia and compensated for their illegal detention.

Ninety-eight per cent of the men held on Manus whose asylum claims have been assessed have been found to be refugees – that is, they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country and are legally owed protection. Most have been held on Manus, without charge, for more than three years.

A similar legal challenge against the detention centre has already succeeded. In April the supreme court ruled that the offshore processing system established in PNG was “illegal and unconstitutional”. Superficial changes to the detention regime have since been instituted but the men remain in detention.

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