All we want is freedom and not another prison camp

Behrouz Boochani
The article below was written by Manus Island refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani and published on 13 November 2017 (The Guardian). It discribes the inhumane conditions in which the inmates in the detention camp have been living, the impact that it has had on them and the reason why they are refusing to leave sand go the accommodation units in Hillside Haus and West Lorengau.

Manus prison has reached a historic landmark. It’s a culmination of years of premeditated violence and affliction. For more than 10 days hundreds of refugees have been refusing to leave the prison camp and, as a result, the situation has morphed into a large-scale humanitarian crisis. If things deteriorate further, we will witness a disaster beyond imagination.

For many who are watching from Australia or other parts of the world, particular questions have arisen, including: why are the refugees refusing to leave the camp? From the perspective of someone who has lived in this prison for more than four years and who has been critically analysing the politics of offshore processing throughout this time, I am certain that there is a misconception of the main reason behind our resistance – a misinterpretation of the principle driving the stand taken by the refugees. This mistake has both been made by people who are actively supporting the refugees and by individuals who have been indifferent toward the events in Manus and Nauru prisons all these years. And it also pertains to those who have supported the government’s political strategy.

The misreading of the issue is reflected in government officials and the Australian prime minister attacking senator Nick McKim, refugee advocates, the Papua New Guinea immigration minister and a few incarcerated refugees, saying that they are encouraging and motivating the other refugees to remain in the prison camp. First, the PNG minister responded by explicitly stating that a few individuals who were “leaders” inside the prison were forcing the refugees to stay inside the detention camp.

These kinds of accusations are facile and unacceptable. It comes across as a form of degradation because it strips the refugees of agency, reducing them to children who cannot make decisions on their own. It represents them as humans who lack a decent understanding of what is unfolding around them. It degrades their dignity by assuming that the refugees cannot assess the situation.

On the other side, the refugee supporters announce that the alternative accommodation units in Lorengau, Hillside Haus and West Lorengau, are not ready yet. They also claim that Lorengau is not safe to accommodate the refugees and that the new camps do not provide medical facilities and are unsuitable for housing refugees.

All the claims made by the refugee activists and human rights organisations, such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, are accurate and significant. However, the central point that must never be forgotten is that for more than four years the refugees of Manus prison have been detained for no reason, incarcerated without committing any crime. During these years lives have been destroyed and many families torn apart.

The reality inside Manus prison and the reasons for the refugee resistance are totally different to what is stated in some media and claimed in official public statements. When the refugees engage in discussions, all their dialogues have one thing in common: “We won’t put up with being incarcerated anymore. We have no energy left to go from this prison to another prison. We haven’t committed any crime and we can’t tolerate prison any longer.”

All the conversations are driven by one thing, and one thing only, and that is freedom. Only freedom. Perhaps from all statements and all speeches published over the last week none of them hurt and angered the refugees more than the one by Peter Dutton where he said, “The only difference in the new centre is that where we serve three meals a day at the [detention centre], we’re asking people to prepare their own meals with food supplied.” Talking about the refugees in this way is a perverse manipulation of the human dimension. Dutton is basically saying that if he were to build a prison fully equipped for comfortable living, and he incarcerated people there for years, then no one would have the right to object.

This is not about the prison itself and the conditions of imprisonment. It is about freedom, and it is this point that is always forgotten or ignored. In order to understand this issue, one does not need to complicate things. It is plain and simple.

people to imagine themselves, only for a moment, in the place of a refugee imprisoned in Manus; enough for people to imagine themselves as someone whose human dignity has been debased over these years; enough to imagine the torture this refugee has had to endure. Imagine there is nothing positive to look forward to in the future for this refugee; possibly his partner has left him; or his children have been left alone; his dreams have been shattered. He has become a mere subject for the media, a mere subject for reporters, a mere subject for photographers, a mere subject for politicians, a mere subject for human rights activists, a mere subject for intellectuals and researchers. Over these past years they have all been reinforcing a huge industry that is built on the indefinite imprisonment of this refugee. And after four and a half years they now decide to transfer him to another prison and, according to Peter Dutton’s promise, provide him with three meals a day.

The issue is plain and simple. We did not come to Australia to live in a prison. The peaceful protest by refugees is not because we want to remain in this prison. We are resisting because we want freedom in a safe environment. The core concern is freedom … only freedom. The rest of what you hear are just peripheral issues.

Manus prison has reached a historic landmark. It’s a culmination of years of premeditated violence and affliction. For more than 10 days hundreds of refugees have been refusing to leave the prison camp and, as a result, the situation has morphed into a large-scale humanitarian crisis. If things deteriorate further, we will witness a disaster beyond imagination.

For many who are watching from Australia or other parts of the world, particular questions have arisen, including: why are the refugees refusing to leave the camp? From the perspective of someone who has lived in this prison for more than four years and who has been critically analysing the politics of offshore processing throughout this time, I am certain that there is a misconception of the main reason behind our resistance – a misinterpretation of the principle driving the stand taken by the refugees. This mistake has both been made by people who are actively supporting the refugees and by individuals who have been indifferent toward the events in Manus and Nauru prisons all these years. And it also pertains to those who have supported the government’s political strategy.

The misreading of the issue is reflected in government officials and the Australian prime minister attacking senator Nick McKim, refugee advocates, the Papua New Guinea immigration minister and a few incarcerated refugees, saying that they are encouraging and motivating the other refugees to remain in the prison camp. First, the PNG minister responded by explicitly stating that a few individuals who were “leaders” inside the prison were forcing the refugees to stay inside the detention camp.

These kinds of accusations are facile and unacceptable. It comes across as a form of degradation because it strips the refugees of agency, reducing them to children who cannot make decisions on their own. It represents them as humans who lack a decent understanding of what is unfolding around them. It degrades their dignity by assuming that the refugees cannot assess the situation.

On the other side, the refugee supporters announce that the alternative accommodation units in Lorengau, Hillside Haus and West Lorengau, are not ready yet. They also claim that Lorengau is not safe to accommodate the refugees and that the new camps do not provide medical facilities and are unsuitable for housing refugees.

All the claims made by the refugee activists and human rights organisations, such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, are accurate and significant. However, the central point that must never be forgotten is that for more than four years the refugees of Manus prison have been detained for no reason, incarcerated without committing any crime. During these years lives have been destroyed and many families torn apart.

The reality inside Manus prison and the reasons for the refugee resistance are totally different to what is stated in some media and claimed in official public statements. When the refugees engage in discussions, all their dialogues have one thing in common: “We won’t put up with being incarcerated anymore. We have no energy left to go from this prison to another prison. We haven’t committed any crime and we can’t tolerate prison any longer.”

All the conversations are driven by one thing, and one thing only, and that is freedom. Only freedom. Perhaps from all statements and all speeches published over the last week none of them hurt and angered the refugees more than the one by Peter Dutton where he said, “The only difference in the new centre is that where we serve three meals a day at the [detention centre], we’re asking people to prepare their own meals with food supplied.” Talking about the refugees in this way is a perverse manipulation of the human dimension. Dutton is basically saying that if he were to build a prison fully equipped for comfortable living, and he incarcerated people there for years, then no one would have the right to object.

This is not about the prison itself and the conditions of imprisonment. It is about freedom, and it is this point that is always forgotten or ignored. In order to understand this issue, one does not need to complicate things. It is plain and simple.

people to imagine themselves, only for a moment, in the place of a refugee imprisoned in Manus; enough for people to imagine themselves as someone whose human dignity has been debased over these years; enough to imagine the torture this refugee has had to endure. Imagine there is nothing positive to look forward to in the future for this refugee; possibly his partner has left him; or his children have been left alone; his dreams have been shattered. He has become a mere subject for the media, a mere subject for reporters, a mere subject for photographers, a mere subject for politicians, a mere subject for human rights activists, a mere subject for intellectuals and researchers. Over these past years they have all been reinforcing a huge industry that is built on the indefinite imprisonment of this refugee. And after four and a half years they now decide to transfer him to another prison and, according to Peter Dutton’s promise, provide him with three meals a day.

The issue is plain and simple. We did not come to Australia to live in a prison. The peaceful protest by refugees is not because we want to remain in this prison. We are resisting because we want freedom in a safe environment. The core concern is freedom … only freedom. The rest of what you hear are just peripheral issues.

 

3 Comments on "All we want is freedom and not another prison camp"

  1. But you have been given freedom: the right to settle in PNG.
    You say you cannot accept because you fear PNG is not safe enough.
    However you won’t be persecuted in PNG because of your race or religion or political views.
    You may be disliked because of your culturally inappropriate behaviour, or because of your material advantages, but that is not persecution.
    The world assumes the real reason you don’t want to take up the offer of PNG residency is because it doesnt offer the material advantages of Australia. There are millions in refugee camps living in much worse conditions than Lorengau who would be very grateful to be housed there.

  2. It is relatively simple to fix. Provide plane tickets for these people to return to their homes and families. In the very very rare situation where they are designated as real refugees, the UN should find a safe haven for them. We pay millions of dollars towards UN organisationsand they fail to assist. The Government needs to give the UN an ultimation. Find an alternative country to take these people or Australia ceases to subscribe.

  3. Yes. To some of us this was evident from the day you were taken there.
    I wish you freedom.

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