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On a mission for Manus: Grandmothers set up secret line of communication

Melita Luck, Bridget Carr and Janet Wilson sitting on a couch talking to refugees on Manus Island via Facebook.
Melita Luck, Bridget Carr and Janet Wilson talk to the men of Manus Island on Facebook.

ABC North Coast: Miranda Saunders

A small but dedicated group of grandmothers has joined an expanding underground movement aimed at supporting the detainees involved in the Manus Island stand-off.

The women, from Kyogle in northern New South Wales, keep the men's spirits up and talk to them about simple "everyday things".

The movement has sent phones into the camp and bought credit in order to open crucial lines of communication with the men who are staging a protest after the official closure of the detention centre.

One of the grandmothers, Bridget Carr, has spoken to one refugee by phone, but said Facebook communication was less expensive.

"His English isn't that great but on Facebook we can communicate really well," Ms Carr said.

"Really, nothing much happens in his life. He says it's boring because there's nothing to do."

Ms Carr said communicating with the men was a small thing, but "incredibly important".

The most beautiful letter

Another grandmother in the group is Melita Luck.

Ms Luck first answered the call in 2014 from Australian human rights and refugee advocate Julian Burnside to write letters to the refugees on Manus and Nauru.

She thinks her letter, with her phone number on it, was one of the few letters to make it through.

"After seven months, I got a phone call and that was my first connection," she said.

It was an Iranian asylum seeker who had fled Iran.

Ms Luck said she almost put the phone down, believing that it was a call from a call centre. "But I thought you don't get call centre calls at 10pm," she said.

"He said 'I want to thank you for sending me the most beautiful letter I have ever read'."

The Kyogle women believe there are hundreds of fellow Australians talking daily to the men via social media and by phones smuggled into the detention centre.

Melita Luck talking to Manus Island refugees on her tablet via facebook
Melita Luck from Kyogle talks to Manus Island refugees who she has befriended via facebook.

ABC North Coast: Miranda Saunders

Special fund set up

Ms Luck has also sent money for solar panels funded by a special fund set up through the network.

"We have sent them through this fund, so we've put money in that fund and then they've gone into town and somehow they've managed to get solar panels recharging things," Ms Luck said.

Grandmother Janet Wilson, also from Kyogle, is glued to her phone and tablet and keeping in constant contact with the men she has befriended.

Two Manus Island refugees standing in the detention centre.
Two of the 600 men who are living without essential services in the Manus Island detention centre.

ABC North Coast: Miranda Saunders

Her biggest concerns at the moment is for the gay community in the detention centre, because gays are frowned upon in Papua New Guinea.

Ms Wilson has spoken to a number of detainees who have been attacked outside the detention centre.

For Ms Wilson, the connection with the refugees is a labour of love.

While it has taken a huge emotional toll on her, she says she continues to do it for one reason:

"As a mother I think we all want the best for our children and these men were sent off, often by their families, because they were afraid they would be killed. Their families wanted them to have a better life."