Eyewitness: Manus is ‘like a war zone’

Behrouz Boochani said: 'We have become refugees for a second time inside this hell hole, abandoned and left to fend for ourselves as best we can'.
November 3, 2017

“This place is like a war zone,” wrote Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian journalist locked up in the Manus Island detention centre, as he exhaustedly began to describe the situation on November 2 – day 2 of the “Manus Island siege”.

Since October 31, 600 desperate men, suffering in more ways than most people can comprehend after more than four years of torture in detention, have barricaded themselves in the centre.

Having secured all the fences, Boochani said they are “keeping watch to protect the prison camp in case of attack.”

The men fear attacks by locals who have previously wielded machetes against them. Earlier this year, Papua New Guinean naval personnel fired live ammunition into the centre.

More than a year after the PNG Supreme Court ruled that the detention centre was unconstitutional and had to be shut down, the Australian government has withdrawn from Manus Island.

In its eyes, it has closed the centre – leaving 600 people in danger.

Boochani said: “We have become refugees for a second time inside this hell hole, abandoned and left to fend for ourselves as best we can.”

The Australian government demolished the phone room and withdrew medical support during October, and has now cut off power and water to the detention centre.

Boochani told Green Left Weekly: “Some of the refugees were working so hard overnight to find water by digging holes in the ground in Oscar compound. They were digging for hours and finally found water.

“I don't know if this water is clean enough to drink or not, but the refugees are drinking from it.”

Australia is also employing one of the oldest and cruellest acts of war: starving people into submission by withdrawing food from the centre.

The food available on Manus Island is very expensive and many locals live off subsistence farming.

Boochani explained: “This is not a hunger strike. It is a situation that the Australian government has created, forcing people into starvation and these harsh conditions by refusing to offer a safe place for resettlement.

“Last night the refugees were in a dark place. People were lying down on the floor and were struggling with serious hunger, having not eaten since [October 31].”

The refugees also have to battle the tropical conditions of Manus Island.

Boochani said they are “struggling with tropical mosquitoes. Until recently, the mosquitoes have been controlled with fumigation, but that has been stopped too. Now, malaria is a new worry to add to the many other risks the refugees face.

“Anyone who has been in tropical areas knows how hard it is to endure this kind of condition. Heat, humidity, hunger and incessant mosquitoes are taking their toll.

Boochani gave raw accounts of people urgently needing medical aid: “Some of the refugees are coming down with infections. One man has an infection in his eyes and another has an infection on his leg.”

“Also, early in the morning yesterday, a refugee with a serious mental illness harmed himself by cutting his wrist and chest.

“A Rohingya refugee with epilepsy became temporarily unconscious.”

Another “has pain in his stomach too”.

“It is impossible to clean with no running water and the conditions have become unsanitary. “

Boochani said they are “asking international organisations like Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to take action and help us.”

The medical clinic at Lorengau struggles to provide services to PNG locals, let alone to 600 of some of the most traumatised people in the world.

This is all part of the Australian government’s plan to force people to move to Lorengau or accept refoulment.

Boochani has consistently said they cannot live in Lorengau as they will face danger. “It is simply unacceptable to try to force 600 men to relocate into a small town where we are not safe and many refugees have been seriously attacked.”  

As another traumatic night came to a close, Boochani finished: “We are forgotten people who have been under torture in an Australian prison camp for nearly five years, even though we have committed no crime. The Australian government is now wilfully forcing us into even more danger.”

That evening, 600 men held their arms defiantly in a cross above their heads and asked for our help: “Please do not stand by and watch our suffering. World do something. Australia brought us to this place. It is your responsibility not PNG. 2-11-17. Peaceful Protest Day 94.”

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