Voice from Manus Island

It is a great honour for me to talk with you today. I think it’s important that we talk about the current situation, and are aware of what the Australian government has done on Manus Island over the past six years.

First, I would like to talk about systematic censorship and how the media have censored refugees for years and years.

About three years ago I was nominated for a freedom of expression award in London, and I was a finalist among four people. I was also given the Anna Politkovskaya award for journalism. I’ve also been recognised in France and by Amnesty International. All of this is international, which is very interesting.

In Australia, of course, I have received some awards and my works have been recognised by many in the literature and humanitarian community. But first I was recognised internationally, and that always amazed me because my work is about Australia. I think that shows that there is systematic censorship in Australia.

The mainstream media have always denied refugees a voice. For years and years they have had a law that means if any of the staff working on Manus Island or Nauru share information with the media – for example a guard or a doctor or a teacher – they could be put in jail for two years, which is a lot in Australia.

Liberal democracies like Australia claim to be free countries but they don’t allow journalists to visit Manus Island. Just two months ago, they deported an actor who was visiting us and wanted to tell our story. Then they deported my translator, who was there to do some work for the ABC. An artist who wanted to do a story on Manus was also prevented from coming last April. Then they deported some Australian advocates who had met with the Guardian journalist who I used to work with. There is systematic censorship of our story.

In Iran I was a journalist and I was working and living in a dictatorship. In Iran you cannot write what you want. You are not free to talk about many things, and if you do, they put you in jail. My personal story is an example – I left Iran because I am an atheist and Iran is a religious dictatorship. Because I didn’t want to live in a jail for the rest of my life, I left Iran to go to Australia. I didn’t want to waste my time in jail. So I went to Australia and they jailed me on Manus Island anyway.

Sometimes I say that Australia is a dictatorship system, a fascist system. People blame me and ask, Why are you saying this? But I’m not living in Australia. My judgement is from the perspective of refugees.

Australia is a dictatorship system for refugees. It’s a fascist system for refugees. People in Australia are free and I don’t claim that it’s a dictatorship system for everyone in Australia but for refugees it is a fascist system.

In Iran, the dictatorship puts you in jail after going to court. The court orders that you should be in jail for five years or 10 years or 15 years. But here they have kept us as political hostages for years, and we don’t have a court order and we have committed no crime.

It’s a very modern complicated dictatorship system.

The Australian government has been successful at justifying it and carrying public opinion. The Australian government has kept us here for six years, and a large part of Australian society is aware of what the government is doing. It is horrible to think about this. A country like Australia that claims to care about human rights is doing this. It’s hard for me to accept this.

For years I was trying to live with this system. I was trying through my articles and work to send out information, explain and expose this system because I was hopeful that people in Australia will one day break this policy. But unfortunately, after six years we are still here. History will judge and blame this current generation, and that is a reality.

But unfortunately for the refugees on Manus and Nauru who have lost many things over the last six years, it’s not important how history will judge. History is not important for refugees. What is important for refugees is that they get freedom.

I was talking about media. One of the things that I have said is that we should not accept the government’s official language. We should create a new language. For example, the government calls Manus Island and Nauru “offshore processing centres”. What kind of processing centre is it if it’s taken six years? What are you processing? Processing people to find out if they are refugees or not? You did this years ago. I am recognised, and most of the refugees on Manus Island are recognised, as refugees. This word, this concept, is government propaganda.

For me it is a prison. And that should create a new language. In my book I describe this system as a prison. Even worse than a prison. This is only an example – I think we need to create our own language to break this policy.

“This prison is quite frankly a graveyard”: tweets since the election

Behrouz Boochani‏ @BehrouzBoochani May 20
The refugees in Manus have been dumped in a high depression. I have never seen people like this before. At least six people attempted suicide and three people are in hospital now that are critical.

May 20
The federal election had a huge negative impact on people in Manus and Nauru. People have completely lost hope that the gov will accept the New Zealand offer [to resettle some of the refugees there].

May 20
Australia’s become more fascist now after the election. Supporting innocent refugees in Manus and Nauru also means supporting Australian people damaged by this gov. When they destroy refugees they'll knock on your doors. It is the reality of a right wing gov.

May 20
If I were to use one phrase to describe the situation in the Manus prison camps it is this: this prison is quite frankly a graveyard. A graveyard A graveyard. Total silence Total silence.

May 20
The situation in Manus is out of control, today two more people attempted suicide. One last night, raising the total to nine now. No one is able to help anyone.

May 20
These privileged bastards sitting comfortably behind their desks and talking to the people on television have always been supporting Australia's fascist political strategy of exiling people and keeping them hostage. They are exploited like slaves, in fact they’re modern slaves.

May 21
As a witness to six years of torture & violence by the Aus gov on Manus, I’m begging the people who still believe in human dignity to do whatever they can to help these broken souls on Manus & Nauru. The refugees’ mental health state has never been as bad before.

May 21
Today three more people attempted suicide and self harm. Two are in Port Moresby and one on Manus. So far we have recorded 12 self harm and suicide attempts. The number’s rising by hours now.

May 24
Since yesterday three more people harmed themselves, one in Port Moresby and two on Manus. All three are transferred to the hospital now. The number of suicide attempts and self harm has reached to 14 since the election.

May 26
Australia cannot ignore the human crisis in Manus and Nauru. The situation is getting worse day by day, it is a crime against humanity and violation of human rights. I wonder why the international humanitarian organisations are silent in the face of these crimes.

May 26
Four more people did self harm. Since last night seven people attempted suicide in PIH hospital, three in Port Moresby, one in PIH hospital and three in Manus. We are recording self harm each hour. It is a human crisis.

May 26
The local hospital in Manus is not capable of admitting suicidal and self-harmed cases any more. There is no medical facilities in the island for providing refugees with treatment. The situation is an extreme emergency.

May 28
The world cannot be silent in the face of a fascist Australian government. People are dying here, they have destroyed many lives on remote islands. People need urgent help, no one can continue. No one can survive after six years torture.

May 28
Since morning three people harmed themselves in Hillside camp of Manus and been transferred to local hospital. Since yesterday six people and since the election 26 people attempted suicide or self harmed. It is scary time in Manus.

MAY 30
Since this morning four more people attempted suicide or self harm. 3 were on Manus and were transferred to local hospital. Another man was in Port Moresby. The number has increased to at least 31. I don't know what tragedy means in Australian culture?

Read More

Red Flag
Red Flag is published by Socialist Alternative, a revolutionary socialist group with branches across Australia.
Find out more about us, get involved, or subscribe.

Original Red Flag content is subject to a Creative Commons licence and may be republished under the terms listed here.