To the Australian people, from Manus prison

To the Australian people,

In the heart of the dark nights, I yell out through the mass of metallic and hard fences. Surrounded by agony and torture, I yell out right next to the tropical birds, thousands of kilometres further away from the people’s world, in the heart of a remote island located in the corner of the vastest ocean. In the name of humanity and freedom, I yell out; in the name of all the values, values that connect human dignity with peace. I yell out, a yell from the hell where people are tortured and systematically humiliated. A yell having the quality of those flower-like ambitions even when petals are being plucked cruelly, and a yell having the quality of a heart that has been crushed under the steel boots of politicians. Here is the hellhole Manus prison.

Protecting the borders and saving lives from the dangerous sea journey are the excuses for this brutal policy. After 40 months of implementing this policy, now it is time to impartially evaluate how it has been applied. During this long period, the Australian government has been accused of human rights violations again and again by most of the credible international human rights organisations. So far two people have lost their lives in Manus prison, and another died outside these fences when he was so tired from seeking justice. Two more people have lost their lives on Nauru. We have seen more evidence of rape and violence against women and children.

And more evidence of the suffering inflicted on people held in Christmas Island and onshore detention. At the same time, we have seen the cruel agony of those people living precariously in Australia on temporary protection and bridging visas who, like us, have no security for their future.

With the continuance of this policy, every day new cases of violence, abuse and unbearable suffering are added to the list.

Unfortunately, the government still insists on pursuing this policy, accusing the people who speak out against it of exaggerating and inventing the damning evidence. But the government is lying. And now we can see their plan clearly: they do not care that we on Manus and Nauru are refugees. They only want us to take their bribes and go back to certain danger, death and persecution. In response to overwhelming evidence of abuse, their only answer is ‘take our money, and go back to your country of origin’.

After 40 months – more than three years – no-one has been settled on Manus Island. The few in Port Moresby are struggling to survive. Now several more of us have been attacked by local people who do not want us here. Therefore we can only say that we are official hostages.

Saving people’s lives at sea is being used as a cover to implement this grossly inhumane and immoral policy. Turnbull and Dutton claim they are on the side of compassion. But this policy has not had any achievement; it has just caused intense suffering and extreme agony for asylum seekers in detention, while pushing other vulnerable people into harms’ way elsewhere and damaging the reputation of Australia in worldwide public opinion. True compassion comes not just when it suits political ends, but when it involves perspective-taking: recognising our shared humanity and imagining what you would have done in another’s shoes. Now, more than ever, it is time for Australian people to yell loudly at the government to urge it to confess that the policy of Nauru and Manus resettlement has reached a dead end, and to urge the government to bring an end to this cruel policy as soon as possible.

Behrouz Boochani, journalist and human rights defender
Manus prison, October 2016

Behrouz Boochani

Behrouz Boochani is Adjunct Associate Professor of Social Sciences at University of New South Wales (Australia) and writer in residence at the University of Canterbury (New Zealand). He is an author and journalist who was incarcerated as a political prisoner by the Australian government on Manus Island and then held in Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea). In November 2019 he escaped to New Zealand where he was granted asylum in 2020. His book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison (Picador 2018) has won numerous awards including the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature. He is also non-resident Visiting Scholar at the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre (SAPMiC), University of Sydney; Visiting Professor at Birkbeck, University of London; member of Border Criminologies, University of Oxford; Honorary (Principal Fellow) within Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne; Honorary Member of PEN International; and winner of an Amnesty International Australia 2017 Media Award, the Diaspora Symposium Social Justice Award, the Liberty Victoria 2018 Empty Chair Award, and the Anna Politkovskaya award for journalism. Boochani is also co-director (with Arash Kamali Sarvestani) of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time; collaborator on Nazanin Sahamizadeh’s play Manus; and associate producer for Hoda Afshar's video installation Remain (2018).

More by Behrouz Boochani ›

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  1. This is the most revealing description of Manus Island’s detention centre that I’ve ever read. Behrouz is the voice for a thousand souls in dire straits. If we don’t listen to him, Australia, we are like Pontiuos Pilate washing our hands.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you Behrouz.
    This inhumane incarceration of innocent people by Australian governments must cease immediately.
    Those on Manus, Nauru and also refugees on temporary visas in Australia need our protection and sanctuary. They have not committed crimes because they seek refuge from intolerable and dangerous conditions in their own countries. By surviving often life threatening conditions at sea in their attempts to reach what they perceived to be a country with an advanced humanitarian culture, they have instead been taken as hostage to supposedly discourage other asylum seekers from coming to Australia.
    Shame shame shame on all who have encouraged and tolerated this rotten and inhumane policy.
    We can never make up to these brave people the lost years of suffering. However, we can begin a new page in history by opening our arms in welcome and settling these courageous people here in Australia.
    The eyes of the world are watching you Dutton and Turnbull. Do the right and decent thing and bring our asylum seekers here to Australia now.

  3. Behrouz,
    Again I apologise for the inhuman treatment of you and your fellow detainees.
    You have all been removed without permission to a hell hole far from scrutiny and my government continues in it’s denial of any responsibility.
    Please keep on speaking out as I will wherever and whenever I can.
    I pray for you and your compatriots.

  4. As usual, Behrouz Boochani has written a devastatingly accurate and piercingly cogent account of what it is like to be held hostage to Australia’s domestic politics, and to have spent years in isolation, in a humiliating, abusive, downright murderous environment.

    Behrouz understands all too well what the intention of this regime is, and also that it is unethical, dishonest and immoral. Repeatedly, he has pointed out the injustices and the contradictions in the Australian government’s campaign against asylum seekers.

    Despite every vile thing that has been done to the asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru, they have retained their dignity and their sense of justice – and injustice.

    If for nothing more than restoration of their health – if that is possible for the survivors – every human being held hostage in offshore detention should be brought to Australia. They and the asylum seekers and refugees in onshore detention should be allowed to begin their lives anew in this country, that has done so much to hurt them.

    Both major political parties will wear the shame of their cruelty, to Behrouz and all his fellow hostages,forever. Ordinary Australians will wear it too.

  5. All this is totally true and to all our shame; including mine.
    I used to work there and bare witness to it: the torture, horror, cruelty, pain, sadness and soul destroying boredom but lingering hope that is Australia’s hidden Concentration Camp.

  6. Oh the irony of more and well articulated truths about my country’s asylum seeker policy failure: 24 October, UN Day . You (plural) are always in my heart and mind and together WE WILL PREVAIL. tHANK YOU Behrouz

  7. The people of Australia have been fed lies since 2001, from politicians and a from an egregious sector of the media which is owned by…? Yes, we know who, and which oligarchs are pulling the strings. Thank God there are still some journalists who are risking a great deal to inform us of what’s going on. Let’s hope more people will wake up and
    shamed out of their complacency.

  8. Behrouz finished his piece with “Now, more than ever, it is time for Australian people to yell loudly at the government…” and so I finally went beyond the online petitions to make direct contact with all my representatives. Thank you Behrouz for the passionate and heartfelt kick I needed to attempt to make my voice heard against this cruel and inhumane system.

  9. One of the best pieces of journalism I’ve read about Manus. Thank you Behrouz for your incredible commitment to justice in the face of the most unjust inhuman system in which you are captured. Your voice is so important. Freedom and the opportunity to heal from these past 40 months is my sincere wish for you and all those surviving the hell of offshore and onshore detention.

  10. I am reading your book, Behrouz – No Friend but the Mountains. (I know other people are reading your book, also). Your voice is important and we are listening.

    I am reading, and telling your story to others, and passing on your book, and hoping to effect change for you and the Manus/Nauru Prisoners. I know funds are important. I know my vote is important.

    A terrible injustice has been done to you.

    We are listening so don’t stop writing!

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