Editor’s Note: Kurdish journalist, filmmaker and human rights activist Behrouz Boochani has been held on Manus Island for over four years under Australia’s border protection policy. He fled Iran when police began to arrest his colleagues. The views expressed are his own.
We are forgotten people, discarded on forgotten islands.
I am writing from Manus Island. I am writing from where I am held against my will. I am writing while isolated here with 700 individuals on this remote island in the north of Papua New Guinea.
The Australian government has kept us hostage here for five years. A great distance across the sea from us is Nauru, an island nation in the middle of a silent ocean. Almost 1,000 women, children and men are held there as hostages; just like us, they were exiled by the Australian government.
We are victims of what I have defined as state-sanctioned hostage-taking. The use of this particular strategy has been acknowledged by many who have been examining our situation, whether they are people from among the general public, the media or human rights advocates.
They highlight the fact that the Australian government refuses to accept us and that they also reject New Zealand’s generous offer to take us. New Zealand announced publicly that it is willing to offer some of us a free and safe existence.
Recently, a Rohingyan refugee named Salim took his own life. He was a 50-year-old man with a wife and three children aged seven, nine and twelve. A friend of his, another Rohingya, told me Salim had fled genocide and hoped that by risking his life he could eventually provide his family with a safe future.
In 2013, Salim was successful in crossing a dangerous ocean on a rotting boat. According to his friend, Salim set foot on Australian soil after 19 July 2013; this date marks the implementation of a policy that involves exiling people (arriving to Australia by boat)to Manus Island and Nauru.
The Australian government incarcerated him for five years, first in a prison deep inside the Manus jungle, and for the last six months in a prison camp close to the island’s only town. And it is from this same prison camp that I write about the death of Salim and the fate of the other refugees.
Salim suffered from epilepsy, the friend said. And during all these years in prison he was never adequately treated for his illness; in fact, he was humiliated by the prison system’s cruel techniques of psychological, emotional and physical torture. After enduring this pain and affliction for five years he died a gruesome death.
He had told his friends that he could not take the anguish and suffering any more, he said that he was weary of this life. Salim was the third person in a year to die tragically of a suspected suicide. He was the eleventh person to lose their life in the Australian-run prison camps situated on isolated islands, according to Amnesty International.
These days the refugees exiled to these places ask themselves this question: “Who will be the next sacrifice?” The reality is that the refugees have been asking this question over and over again throughout all these years. With the death of another refugee we feel the shadow of death looming over us with even more terror. Death calls and its sound becomes louder every day.
The incarceration and death of Salim stands as a symbol for the hundreds of innocent human beings suffering as a result of the Australian government’s political games. For years, we have been stripped of our rights and dignity here in these forlorn and horrific prisons.
Many have ignored the fact that the same government that inflicts this violence on us has recently won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Distinguished human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UNHCR have accused Australia of human rights violations on many occasions. But the Australian government continues to defend its policies and insists on continuing its strategies of exile and torture.
Australia takes the moral high ground and justifies its ruthless political approach. They explain to their citizens: “We have detained them to save the lives of others at sea.” What is remarkable about this is that until now they have been successful in indoctrinating the Australian population with this brutal ideology, one which violates human rights.
What is clear is that the refugees exiled on Manus Island and Nauru have been forgotten, our plight has been erased from among the chaos that engulfs this world. The only time the media takes notice now is when someone dies as a result of psychological torture or physical neglect, and then only for a moment.
It seems that we disappear from the public eye until another death takes place. It seems that our message from Manus Island – and the message of women, children and families on Nauru – is only delivered when we pay the price of death.
The one thing that remains consistent over all this time is the unrelenting affliction. We are forgotten people discarded on forgotten islands. The question remains: “Who will be the next to be sacrificed? Whose death will enable our innocent voices to be heard in the media again? Whose death will function as another message to the world that we are locked up in these island prisons?”
I get the sense that my years of journalism work and producing other writing from this island has not changed a thing; even if the whole world hears our voices I dare say that nothing will happen. It seems that the world is so overwhelmed that it cannot comprehend the complexity of our circumstances. It seems the world is too tired to do anything.
Translation: Omid Tofighian, American University in Cairo/University of Sydney