On Thursday November 24 a small island in the middle of the pacific made world headlines, but not because of its natural beauty. Today PNG police and immigration stormed the Manus Regional Processing Centre and attacked refugees who were fighting for survival after being abandoned by Australian and PNG immigration. How did they find themselves in this predicament? 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 situation, at least not directly. Fleeing their home countries looking for safety and freedom they arrived on Australian shores and asked for protection. Unfortunately 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 – Nauru and Papua New Guine – who this colonial power can bully and bribe with money. PNG’s Manus Island fits the bill for a 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. The centre was slated for closure, detainees were encouraged to return home some with bribes of up to $25,000. A small number around 50 decided to settle in PNG, with some becoming homeless and trying to return to detention, one man even tried flying to Fuji and applying be protection there only to be sent back to PNG. A number are in the East Lorengau ‘Transit’ centre, some having applied to go the America under a bizarre people swap deal and others expected to settle in PNG. Human Rights Watch have recently detailed an upsurge in violent attacks by armed locals. This is why when the detention centre closed on October 31 around 620 men decided not to leave. Alternative accommodation has been provided however it is closer to town, and hostile locals, and insecure. This and a series of terrifying events have lead to the current situation where detainees feel safer in the cage they have so longed to escape from than outside. Besides according to sources, including the UN, the new facilities are not yet ready to house the men. This was proven when SBS flew a drone over the new centres and broadcast the footage. Mostly the men are refusing to leave as a political statement, after 4 years on Manus they are demanding freedom. Even when not surrounded by the wire that was around the MRPC they are still held captive by the ocean and the administrative chains which deny them the freedom we take for granted.
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.
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
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.
Terrified some men are now sleeping and others are keeping watch, ever fearful of attacks by locals.
From Manus prison:
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.
Nauru was once called Pleasant Island… before Australia among others mined the shit out of it, literally Nauru had great amounts of guano (phosphate) from thousands of birds gangster chillin’ on this land mass in the middle of the ocean. While it’s pleasant for the locals it’s not pleasant for refugees who live in appalling conditions and have no prospects on this tiny place.
While they’re not on Nauru, the refugees on Manus are also in a shitty place. They’ve started protesting too… calling for freedom.
Happening on Manus Island at the moment. A protest has also been held on Nauru and we will publish a video later.
From Kurdish Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani –
Manus prison is protesting now.All prisons are shouting to Australia that this place is illegal. We are saying that Australia exiled us to this hell by force, has kept us in this prison by force, by threatening us and with much humiliation.
We are asking for freedom. This is our right and the right of any human. We are saying : stop killing people,stop torturing people and stop your cruel policy. We are protesting in loud voices.
This protest shows that still we are alive and strong. We are determined to get our human rights. This protest shows that you can never defeat us and break our determination.
We are asking the world’s people, human rights organizations and independent media to hear our voice, to publicise our voice and think deeply about this inhumane policy that Australia is doing.
This protest is peaceful, the same as our big hungerstrike that we had last year. We don’t need violence because we know what is right. Australia put us in the jail and beat us because of our calling for freedom and our rights.
Australia must respect our peaceful protest at this time. Australia has responsibility for us.
by Behrouz Boochani
Yesterday evening an Iranian man wanted to kill himself by cutting his neck. I posted some words about his action but people did not pay serious attention to him. I reported what was happening to him to media and other organisations.
This man claims that an Australian officer beat him and punched him. He wrote a complaint to the PNG police. He was very angry because after a few days he was still not able to access police and put his complaint to them. Yesterday, the officer who punched him was about to leave Manus and his complaint had not been given to the PNG police as he had asked.
This system and these companies, Broadspectrum and Wilson Security do not allow people access to the PNG police, they do not pass on our complaints either. Any staff member who commits a crime is assisted by these organisations and, I believe, the Australian government to leave Manus without going to court.
Remember the officers who raped a local Manusian woman. They were flown out of Manus and were never questioned or charged, or taken to the PNG court. Remember those staff members who helped Joshua to kill Reza Baratti? They were also flown off Manus and never returned to face court.
I, myself, had a suspicious accident when a basketball board fell on my head. I wrote several requests asking to access the PNG police so they could investigate. Again they did not pass on my request or allow me access to the PNG police.
I want to say that all of these happenings are because of colonial thinkings. Australia is exercising colonial power in and against PNG. We can see this too in Australia’s reaction after the PNG Supreme court hearing.
Australia does not want to accept the Supreme court order. Only in a colonial system can you commit a crime and not go to court.
Australia continues its colonial system against Aboriginal people in Australia and now also in PNG.
I believe that yesterday was a very important day because we understood clearly how the Australian government is ruling its prisons in Manus and Nauru under a colonial system.