Behrouz Boochani: 'Manus closure brings tragedy upon tragedy'

Manus Island detention centre.
October 13, 2017

After more than four years of systemic torture, six deaths and the Papua New Guinea Supreme court ruling its presence unconstitutional, Manus Island detention centre and the fate of the several hundred men in it, is coming to a head.

The Australian government is ramping up its efforts to close the centre by the end of October, demolishing the centre around the several hundred men it is leaving stranded on Manus Island.

Behrouz Boochani, speaking to Green Left Weekly from Manus Island, described the situation: “At this moment that I’m talking with you the workers are working to demolish part of the detention centre and I know that they want to demolish the kitchen in coming days.

“Already they demolished the phone house and another part of the detention centre. Also they stopped all of the activities, like gym and educational activities, in past few months.”

This is all part of the Australian government’s plan to force people to move to East Lorengau, where two refugees who were forced to live there, Rajeev Rajendran and Hamed Shamshiripour, have died since early August. Both suffered serious mental health conditions but received no medical treatment.

Boochani said: “At this moment there are three more refugees in Lorengau who are in a very critical situation, experiencing mental health crises and who have tried to kill themselves several times during this past week.

“There are not any psychological and medical facilities on Manus and if the government sends people out by force will be a tragedy upon a tragedy.”

As part of its closure of Manus Island detention centre, the Australian government is removing all the medical services it provided, leaving some of the most traumatised people in the world — often due to the government’s own actions — without access to mental health services and medicines.

On the night of October 6, the Australian government put out notices that the men must move to one of three locations in Lorengau by October 27. The men had never heard of some of the locations before.

Boochani said: “People are very worried about the future. In past two months two refugees died there, but the government is trying to send the refugees to that place.”

New cruel ways are constantly being found to drive the men out. Boochani said: “They don’t give us cigarettes and they cut the power and water in a part of the detention centre. They are pushing us in these kinds of ways. Definitely they will increase the pushing on coming days.”

Many of the men use cigarettes to cope, but others use them as currency they can sell for basic supplies.

As the end of October rapidly approaches, several men in the detention centre continue to protest every day as the bulldozers go to work.

It is unknown what will happen over the next few weeks. Manus Island detention centre is on a PNG military base. With the water and electricity turned off and medical and other services stopped, the centre will be uninhabitable.

Boochani said: “The people are planning to resist. They don’t want to leave the detention centre because they have a lot of bad experiences with local people. On other side, the local people are very worried and don’t want the refugees to be in their community. Both sides know that if the government takes the refugees out there will be more conflict between them.

“Lorengau is a very small community, with a tribal culture structure and poor economy. The refugees know that definitely it will be dangerous. The local people are very angry with Australian government because they don’t respect them. Probably the locals will do a protest while the refugees are protesting.”

The fate of the several hundred men in Manus Island is reaching a critical hour. To move to Lorengau would mean living in danger of attacks from locals. It would mean living without access to medical services and having to find their own food on a small Island where many people live on subsistence farming.

In the face of this inhumanity, the men continue to find new ways of protesting. One way Behrouz is protesting is with his film, Chauka Please Tell Us the Time, which has been screened at international film festivals. The film is about how time and deprivation of hope are used to torture people in Manus Island detention centre.

Boochani said: “The movie is the refugees’ global voice and we had a big achievement in London, where a lot of media published stories about the movie and Australian concentration camps during the festival. Arash and I are doing more interviews with global media about the movie and the refugees. The Australian government should feel ashamed that is playing with its international reputation.”

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