In 2011, in the days leading up to January 26, with Australian flags fluttering off cars and used as capes, accompanied by cartons of beer, sporting excellence as the pinnacle of Australian achievement and politicians lecturing the country on what it means to be a “proud Australian”, I left Perth.
The Manus Island tragedy is the latest in a series of systemic human rights abuses by successive Australian governments in recent decades.
But there is another story: one of courageous resistance in some of the most hostile situations imaginable — a resistance led by several hundred people on Manus Island who are still protesting, still demanding “freedom, nothing less than freedom”.
As the tropical sun set over Manus Island detention centre on November 23, Walid Zazai wrote on Twitter for the final time that night. He reflected on the day as:
“A day of horror. A day of fear. A day I will never forget.
“I thought I’m back in Afghanistan in a war zone. There was no way to hide, just the sky.
“Friends have been beaten, have been taken by force to town centres.
“Don't know what will happen tomorrow. Remember us in your prayers.”
After depriving hundreds of men of food, water and medical support for more than three weeks, Papua New Guinea police moved into Manus Island detention centre on November 23.
They are forcing the 400 men left in the centre to move to alternative accommodation on Manus Island which, according to Kurdish asylum seeker and journalist Behrouz Boochani, is like “moving to another prison”.
The statements, photos and videos that have emerged from the refugees inside paint a brutal and tragic picture.
Four hundred men are still protesting in the Manus Island detention centre. They are calling for nothing less than their freedom and will not move to another centre on the Island. They have held out since the Australian government shut down the centre and removed services on October 31.
November 15 was the 107th consecutive day of protest on Manus Island since the Australian government announced it would close the centre.
If there is one thing I have learnt from being involved in this campaign over the past decade, it is that seeing people protesting, known that someone cares about you and is watching, has always made a difference to people suffering in detention.
“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.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton’s citizenship bill amendments lapsed on October 18. It is not the first time Dutton has failed to pass new laws relating to immigration, visas and citizenship and is another illustration of the growing discontent with some of the government’s far-reaching, Trump-like, proposals about immigration law.
It was opposed in the Senate by Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team. They also combined to deny Dutton an extension to October 20. In the end, with the numbers against it, the Bill never even made it to the floor.
Protests are continuing in Manus Island detention centre as refugees resist the Australian government's plans to move them to the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre. Two refugees have died since August and numerous others have been attacked by locals in East Lorengau.
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.