A merciless fear provoked by last night’s events has gripped the Manus Island camp

A merciless fear provoked by last night’s events has gripped the Manus Island camp

Originally Published in The Guardian.

Behrouz Boochani is a journalist and an Iranian refugee held on Manus Island since August 2014. The Guardian invited Boochani to keep a diary of the countdown to the closure of the Australian-run detention camp that closed on Tuesday.

Wednesday 1 November

Last night the refugees were in a state of absolute exhaustion, starvation and thirst. They drifted into sleep as they wasted away. We have not been able to sleep well during recent months; the possibility of sleeping at night has been completely disrupted, particularly in recent weeks. Nightmares have been an inseparable part of our sleep and our lives. After the generators in Oscar compound have been shut off, many have left their hot tents and moved into other camps. As people are moving to other camps I observe this horrendous scene playing out before me. Their movements resemble people who are left wandering due to war, but it is people seeking refuge in a neighbouring country.

Rooms and tents are crammed with people, and the atmosphere is filled with tumult and a deafening ruckus. It is a tropical ecosystem out here, full of insects and oppressively hot. Without the benefits of having power, insects chew into the skin. The constant, unbearable fear is provoked by the events last night. This relentless fear continues to haunt us, a merciless fear has gripped the camp. Fear of being attacked, fear of being murdered. We decide to assign some people to watch the camp and inform others in case something suspicious happens or police attacks us.

Nevertheless, if any incident occurred last night, would there have been a place for us to take refuge? Surely not. And this is the reality of Manus today. If we are attacked, we will be nothing but a group of defenceless bodies. It took a long time for everyone to fall asleep, or maybe they were just pretending to sleep. Sleeping with absolute exhaustion, sleeping with starvation, sleeping with thirst. This is the most disastrous situation ever.

At 7am in the morning, the generators suddenly shut off. Subsequently, all refugees wake up at the same time. After a few minutes, dozens wander around the camp again. The heat is unbearable out here. This is hell out here. Hunger makes everyone angry, the atmosphere is full of tension out here, and there is struggle and tumult. In these tragic circumstances, a refugee has cut his wrist and his chest using a razor. It has agitated the situation even more for a while. It is like throwing a match into gunpowder, adding fuel to the fire. Shouts come up and tension rise. It takes a while until the situation becomes stable again. But the fear remains.

 When the power is cut off the water in the toilets is also automatically cut off. This means the toilets have become even filthier. They stink to high heaven, it is extremely annoying and debasing. It is so humiliating. I have witnessed with my own eyes how a human being can degrade another human being, using toilets as a technology of torture. It is utterly disturbing when one comes to the realisation of the cruel machinations of a human being, of what a human being is capable of.

At 9am PNG immigration officers come and tell us: “You have to leave this place, there is no way you can stay.” However, it is very dangerous outside. In the past, refugees have been attacked several times, even the police cannot guarantee their safety. We are stuck here, no way to go forward, no way to go back.

Senator Nick McKim comes to see us again. He tries to enter the camp, but immigration officers threaten him in a manner that resembles a form of faux respect: “If you do not leave here within five minutes, you will be arrested.” He has to go. It is like a war zone here and people have become refugees all over again. They have become homeless in the detention centre; their faces are frightened, distressed and weary. Their eyes … their eyes are looking up at the sky, they are looking up at the clouds. Looking forward to rain. If it rains, the weather will cool down. Also, they can save water. They have trust in the Manusian ecosystem. It is a tropical ecosystem out here; it will rain in the evening for sure. Nature will not abandon us. Right now, there are hundreds of men out here with their clothes stripped off, they are wandering around.

We have no idea what will happen tonight. It is both horrific and surreal when the threat of an attack and abandonment is fused with extreme starvation, thirst and instances of self-harm. The worst part of this oppression and debilitation is the humiliation. Throughout this whole ordeal we have been utterly debased. The situation in the toilets, the lack of food and water, the insulting visits by Australian and local representatives and guards, the looting of out belongings, the abandonment … the abandonment … It is humiliating to be thrown into this prison space for years and now left to deteriorate.

There is a rumour in this camp that the navy is ready to attack. The fear is unbearable. We have taken control of the camp and refuse to be forced into a place we are not wanted and where we do not feel safe at all. However, even though we have experienced a glimmer of autonomy by deciding to stay here against all odds, it is like we are now living under the sword of Damocles. The edge of the sword is looming over our heads.

I am worried about my physical health. I have become very weak over this past week. I have not slept. I am extremely concerned about my whole state of being. I am no longer afraid of experiencing nightmares as I sleep. I am now undergoing a surreal experience where the horrifying reality of my waking state has taken on the characteristics of the most harrowing nightmare, and this nightmare is more horrendous than I can ever imagine.

  • Translated by Moones Mansoubi

Picture-2017-11-01 00.13.41




A common narrative is people washing up on tropical island after their boats have become lost at sea.

The refugees on Manus Island did embark on a dangerous voyage by boat but that is not why they are now in this predicament, at least not directly.

Fleeing their home countries for security reasons they arrived on Australian shores and asked for protection.

Unfortunately for those on Manus the Australian government had just implemented a policy to send all people who arrived by boat to offshore processing centres.

These centers are in developing nations who this colonial power can bully and bribe with money.

Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island fits the bill for this policy which seeks to send a message to other refugees that Australia is not a welcoming humanitarian country (as many believe).

After some three years of locking refugees in the derelict centre on Manus the PNG supreme court ruled this incarceration unconstitutional.

A series of events have lead to the current situation where detainees feel safer in the cage they have so longed to escape from than outside.

Even when not surrounded by wire on Manus they are still held captive by the ocean and the administrative chains which deny them the freedom we take for granted.

Fearful for their lives if they leave the center and move to the new accommodation closer to town they are now isolated.

Gradually all staff and nearly all services have been withdrawn from the center.

The 615 men have stockpiled water and food preparing for what now is an unknown future.

As  October 31 draws to a close some areas of the center still have services – power, unpotable water.

Unable to record an interview about of poor reception Farhad sent me some voice clips explaining the situation at the center.

Download from Radio4all

Terrified some men are now sleeping and others are keeping watch, ever fearful of attacks by locals.



Across the Void: Behrouz Boochani

Across the Void: Behrouz Boochani


When the Australian immigration department incarcerated Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist fleeing the oppressive Islamic regime in Iran, they made a huge tactical error.

Seasoned at fighting human rights abuses in his home country Boochani has continued inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.

He’s not the only voice speaking out from inside this prison like facility but he is one of the loudest.

Voices like his will be part of what brings this unjust, unfair system to its knees.

His writing has featured in major newspapers in Australia, and around the world, and is opening up the gates of this prison and exposing the human rights abuses occurring inside.

After several failed attempts I finally managed to record an interview with Behrouz, coincidentally just when he announced he had shot and co directed a film from inside Manus – ‘‘Chauka, please tell us the time’.

This interview was recorded by using Skype from my computer to ring Behrouz’s mobile. Due to this occasionally there’s some odd bleeps and bloops.



The Chauka bird of Manus Island.
The Chauka bird of Manus Island.

A review of Chauka, please tell us the time.

By Arnold Zable.

‘Chauka, please tell us the time’ is a remarkable film,’ shot on a mobile phone, in restricted and distressing circumstances by Kurdish-Iranian journalist and writer, Behrouz Boochani.

Incarcerated since mid-2013 in the Manus Island Detention Centre, Boochani co-directs the film with Amsterdam based Iranian filmmaker and editor, Arash Kamali Sarvestani.

Far removed from the action, Sarvestani, honours Boochani’s vision, and works with him, across a vast distance, to create a poetic, hypnotic film, which is both a work of great artistry, and a damning inditement of a brutal policy.

At the heart of the film, the central thread around which all the others are woven—is the chauka, a bird that is sacred and central to Manus Island culture.

The camera roams through the centre, and beyond, and conveys the torturous ordeal endured by the 900 men, incarcerated in the prime of their life, for over 40 months now, endlessly waiting, aimlessly pacing, enduring the heat, the erosion of hope, and destruction of the spirit.

The many visual and aural threads include tense phone-calls back home, hinting at family breakdown and the unbearable pain of separation: ‘I am parted from my child,’ one asylum seeker laments in his three-minute weekly call. Referring to a child born after he fled his country, a detainee says: ‘I haven’t had a chance to hold him, touch him or feel his presence’.

We hear the incessant whirring of fans, the dentist-like drill of the fumigation apparatus. We witness the wasted lives of men, their loss of agency: ‘I have no control over this’, says one. ‘Look mum, please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Look mum, I am stuck here’, pleads another.

Boochani’s mobile phone pans over the cramped living spaces and the tiny cubicles, partitioned by sheets and tarpaulins to create a fragile and claustrophobic privacy.

We hear the comments of broken spirits: ’I prefer to be dead because I have nothing anymore… no one is waiting for me, and I am waiting for no one. I have lost everything.’

There are startling, poetic surreal-like images—rows of empty white plastic chairs leaning against the wire through which can be seen the unobtainable sea; the exuberant, beautiful faces of Manus Island children, dancing just beyond the wire, images of cats, contrastingly free, at home in any space within and without the wire.

The soundtrack compliments the imagery—with two recurring sounds in particular—a haunting Kurdish folksong, sung by one of the inmates, and the chirping of the chauka bird.

The folksong is a lament, a cry of longing, and the birdsong, a homage to Manus Island culture. The theme of the Chauka, and what it symbolises is a brilliant conception.

Through an ongoing conversation with several Manus Island men, we begin to understand the deep significance of the bird, and the ongoing colonial history of the island.

We come to see the cruel irony—the name of a bird that means so much in Manus Island culture, being used as the name for a high security prison within the wider prison, which, for a time, was a place of isolation, and punishment.

We come to understand that the appropriation of the Chauka, as a name for a place of such abuse and suffering, is obscene, and reflective of the neo-colonial system on which the offshore detention system is based.

Also interwoven is an eye witness account of the murder of Reza Barati in February 2014, and eerie footage of a detainee, who at the end of his tether, has self harmed, and is carried, at night, to an ambulance.

The mesmerising rhythm, the recurring imagery, the glimpses of Manus Island culture, the bird song, the sound of the sea, and the intermittent silences, have a powerful cumulative effect.

When we briefly see, at film’s end, Australian Prime Minister Turnbull trying to justify the brutal policy for which his government is responsible, he is condemned by his own words.

He tries in vain to justify the horror, and is revealed as a man in self-denial, representing a government that is, at best, in self denial.

Boochani’s inclusive vision is enhanced by the respect he shows for the Manus Islanders. The mobile phone camera lingers on scenes of island life and culture.

Boochani allows the voices of Manus islanders to be heard. The people of the island are stuck in a terrible dilemma, co opted into the offshore processing system through their desperate need for work.

They are on a lower rung in the camp hierarchy, with the Australian government firmly established at the apex.
Chauka please tell me the time’ is driven by a unique, poetic vision. It is filmed by a man who has an eye for life’s beauty, but also deeply feels its injustices, and cruelties—a man who has personally suffered these injustices.

Boochani is at heart an artist, who works intuitively, and instinctually. He, and his distant partner, Arash Kamali Sarvestani, allow the images, the sounds, the snatches of conversation, to speak for themselves.

They transcend the severe limitations of the circumstances under which the film was shot, to give us a glimpse of hell, juxtaposed against the island’s tropical beauty and fragments of its indigenous culture.

They have documented a specific time and place, and helped expose the horror that is indefinite offshore detention, whilst remaining true to the paradoxical beauty of their art-form, and their deeply humanistic vision of life.

From Manus Prison

Behrouz Boochani

From Manus prison:

Behrouz Bouchani

Yesterday the evidence of shocking abuse of teenage prisoners in the Northern Territory juvenile detention shook Australia. Straight away the Prime Minister announced a Royal Commission and the Northern Territory Corrections Minister was sacked. That is important and valuable that a big part of the society has a strong reaction about human rights abuses in juvenile detention.

But there is a big question and that is, why Australian politicians and people don’t care about those reports that international organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN committee against torture, and also the Australian Senate inquiry published about abuse, assaults, rapes and torture in Australian prisons in Manus and Nauru.

I give you an example. George Brandis says the Royal Commission about juvenile detention should ask many important things. Why was such brutal mistreatment of detainees allowed to happen? Is there a culture of abuse? Why was earlier evidence of serious problems not acted on enough? And did those people who did the abuse even understand they had a duty of care? These questions are so important and I have a question for this man and other Australian politicians.

Why do you never ask these questions about Manus and Nauru?

It shows that you don’t believe in human rights, and only use this concept for political aims. I mean that the human rights concept is only a cover for your political games and I wonder why Australian people don’t think deeply about the political actions of their politicians.

Human rights is a global value and we don’t have this right to discriminate between people. I know Aboriginal people in Australia are so discriminated against and that must change. They are human, and refugees in Manus and Nauru are human, and there is not any difference between people everywhere. I think that this discrimination shows us that moral values are completely collapsed in Australia and western countries.

We can not say that we believe in human rights and principles, and make discrimination between people. This kind of discrimination directly affects global values and it is dangerous for our civilization. Abuse of any person is wrong, and we need Australian governments to stop abusing people in juvenile detention, and in Manus and Nauru too.

Another point is that this is the best time for Australia to think deeply about the prison concept and find an answer for this question – why is prison a big part of Australian culture?

This a big moment when people and media should continue to ask this question because I know that the politicians are only trying to hide that this is happening under some moral words, and be sure that if Australia does not find an answer this kind of abuse and violence will happen again and again.

Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish refugee who fled Iran, in danger of his life. He sought protection in Australia but has been incarcerated on Manus Island in immigration detention since 2013.

Inside Nauru: As told by Refugees not Channel 9

A Current Affair’s news crew were the first outside television crew allowed access to Nauru Australia’s refugee dumping ground.

They promise a story that will stun Australians. It is unclear in what way it will stun. Will they portray the prison island in it’s true light or will they provide an honest account.

In all likely hood many will be stunned by just how low ACA will go.

Aside from the fact the government would not have allowed them access to the island had they thought the show would do proper independent journalism, apparently the film crew were followed around by Nauruan government officials and police.

This documentary is made by refugees on Nauru. This is what the government and corporate interests don’t want you to see.


Refugee involved in resistance on Nauru Arrested

Nauruan police have arrested a 39-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, Hamid Nadaf, on trumped up charges of “threatening behaviour.”

Hamid was arrested on Friday afternoon, 3 June, around 4pm, near the family compound RPC3, and is now being held in the Nauru jail.

Hamid, his wife and eight-year-old son have been in detention on Nauru since February 2014, and he has played a very active role in the daily protests in the Nauru family compound RPC3, since 20 March this year.

The police refused to allow Hamid’s wife to see him yesterday, Saturday, 4 June and have told his wife that he will be held and brought before the court on 13 June.

Asylum seekers and refugees on the island see his arrest as a clear case of victimisation and an attempt to stifle the daily protests that have spread to refugee compounds across the island. Today will be the 78th day of protest in the family camp.

Protests on Nauru yesterday declared that Hamid was innocent and called for his release. (Videos available on request.)

Police say they are acting on a complaint by a Nauruan citizen who felt ‘threatened’ when they read the contents of a letter that supposedly fell from Hamid’s pocket when he was riding a motor-bike on Friday.

The supposed letter has not been disclosed and in any case Hamid is not able to write in English.

Hamid’s arrest seems to be part of new police tactic to intimidate the protests, now that “attempting suicide” is no longer a criminal offence.

An Iraqi man was arrested, in similar circumstances to Hamid’s, on 6 May, on the basis of a complaint to Nauruan police that the man had made threats to “set fire” or “make an explosion” on Nauru.

“Hamid’s arrest has angered asylum seekers and refugees on the island and has ensured the protests will grow louder and spread further,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“It has also exposed the lack of the rule of law on Nauru, with the police acting as an unaccountable extension of the Nauruan and Australian governments. Hamid and the Iraqi man should be freed immediately.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713