This is Manus Island. My prison. My torture. My humiliation


Behrouz Bouchani

Twenty-eight months ago, with a shattered body which was ravenously hungry and deeply wounded, with bare feet and exhausted soul, I made the trip to the soil of free territory, to Australia. It was four days after the announcing the 19th of July law. Because of the law, I was exiled to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, in the heart of the Pacific Ocean; and according to this law, it has been 28 months that I am being under pressure and being tortured.

The 19th of July law enforced the transfer of people who arrive by boat and seek asylum to the offshore detentions. It is noteworthy to mention that this law started to be exercised when our broken boat with 65 unconscious passengers was lost over the ocean. When we reached the soil of Australia, we found out about this cruelty.

Whatever it was, number 19 remains so ominous to me and thousands of people seeking asylum, as after many months, this number still tortures our mind and soul with such an extreme cruelty. And like a sledge hammer, it perpetually descends into our soul and mind. The threat of being resettled on the island, which is devoid of security, causes a severe and ongoing mental pressure in the camp.

Everyday the immigration officers remind us of the presence of this sledge hammer over our head in different ways. They come to the prison every week and announce that we will be resettled on the island very soon. There are short films and classes are held in relation to the PNG local culture and language – various methods and tricks are used in order to maintain the severe mental pressure, yet no one yet has been resettled on the island.

The main policy here on Manus is to put asylum seekers in a time tunnel. In other words, none of the asylum seekers are aware of the stage of their own application and others’. They have no idea about the period of time they would be kept in the detention and what future is waiting for them. They do not even know which country or city they would live after getting released.

So far, a number of underdeveloped countries with weak economies have been mentioned on the media, including Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia. Being in perpetual limbo has so many destructive impacts on the mental health of every single person. Several times I have witnessed a large number of detainees become mentally shattered due to being kept under such pressure. I have seen many cases of self-harm and suicide attempt. Inflicting torture by the use of time is the best and complete explanation of this situation.

What crime have we committed to deserve detention and torture? It is an anguished question with no answer. I think, one of the natural and basic rights of every prisoner is to know the reasons behind his punishment and the duration of his imprisonment. This natural right is exercised for all prisoners, however it has been denied for people who seek asylum in Australia. Fundamentally, when a charge against a criminal is proven in the court, it is much easier for him to bear the situation of the prison compared to an innocent person being detained indefinitely.

I confess that over the course of my life, I had never experienced such agony. All the personality, dignity and humanity of a person are devastated by this torture. It is a type of profound and annihilating torture. Living constantly under the petrifying sledge hammer, having a destroyed past and imagining a dark future give a person a sense of being crushed.

The heavy feeling of being innocent is also added to the rest of those painful feelings. When a criminal is alone, he usually confesses in the deepest recesses of his mind and heart to the crime he committed before. He would accept that he deserves to be imprisoned. However, when it comes to a refugee who has not committed any crime or sin, it is very suffering to imagine himself to be punished. It is impossible for him to admit that he is a prisoner and he has to be in prison for indefinite time.

There is certainly a meaningful and important difference between a guilty prisoner and an innocent prisoner. For me for instance, if a court was held and I was convicted to illegal entry to Australia, I would have the better mental condition, and I would have felt more calmer.

Asylum seekers on Manus are caught in a set of daily regulations which are individually able to make a person tense, stressed and broken. Every day, our life is fettered by dozens of big and small laws. The main purpose of these laws are to make people suffer.

The rules in Manus prison is much more than the rules in other prisons. The smallest complaint against these rules ends up in various punishment from taking the person to the solitary confinement to filing a negative record on his case.

One clear example of those rules which was enforced strictly is that during the first 20 months, nobody was permitted to take even a potato out of the canteen. This rule led asylum seekers to experience extreme hunger during the long nights of Manus. Prisoners slept at night with tension and starvation. This rule was the main source of the formation of very long queues under the sun – people had to line up for hours and hours on a daily basis in the hellish hot weather of Manus island for just having food.

The small shop in the detention had been also a source of argument and tension for asylum seekers for twenty months. Every single person needed to wait at least two hours in order to be able to buy a packet of cigarettes. The reason was a rule which allowed the shop to be open only for two hours a day. However, with extending the trading hours of the shop, they could easily prevent all the tension and quarrel. This change happened later and now there is no problem in this regard.

In addition, we have had the same difficulties whenever we want to make a phone call. We need to wait for hours in order to be able to contact our family and talk to them. This situation could easily get better with providing some more telephone devices and letting people talk for longer period of time. It is another example for being kept under the constant pressure. We are still being told that the rule is the rule and we should respect it.

It is not easy to go to the medical centre. In order to receive medication and see a doctor, we need to fill a special form. It is another rule which is strictly implemented. Although this situation got better and in case of requesting painkillers, we are not required to fill the form anymore, still this rule is unjustifiable. The only explanation for it is to force us into lining up and to cause us more pain, discomfort and tension.

For more than two years, I have been suffering from toothache. This rule has been a real torture for me. So many nights I have been racked with pain until morning as I needed to wait for three to four days to receive medication after making a request. Let the patient to be in pain has been one of the tools for keeping people under pressure and it has been clearly one of the main policies. Losing two of my teeth, I finally became successful to see a dentist after waiting for 24 months.
I can confidently say that most of the patients sleep while suffering from pain. If a person intends to go to the medical centre or the immigration offices, all parts of his body will be searched by security officers using a special device. This search happens several times for everyone in detention, even everyday.

Consider someone wants to go to the medical centre. His body is checked with those devices about six times until he gets into the place he receives medication he needs. This time consider that a person needs to take three tablets per day. Thereby, his body is checked for 18 times.

At the moment, about 300 of detainee asylum seekers need to take two or three tablets per day. They have to pass those devices and consequently, their bodies are checked again and again day in day out.

In general, we could say that the combination of these daily rules makes the detention atmosphere unsafe, full of stress and brimful of pressure. Living for 28 months in a busy and crowded place like a sport club which deafens you with all its noise could easily succumb a person.

In detention atmosphere, we need to tolerate difficulties and suffering even for responding to the simple and basic human needs like going to the toilette or lighting a cigarette.

Who could endure such a situation without having the feeling of being humiliated?





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