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Protection and Punishment in the People Business

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist and an honorary member of PEN International, writes from Manus Island, where he has been interred for 29 months.

Wilson Security is owned by Raymond and Thomas Kwok, two of the richest men in the world, and is sub-contracted by the multi-national company, Transfield, which is contracted by the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection to operate Australia’s Regional Processing Centre, aka Manus Prison on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Wilson Security describes itself: ‘As the region’s leading security provider, Wilson Security takes pride in protecting the wellbeing of thousands of customers and their businesses every day. Above all, security is a people business’.

Integral to Wilson Security is what they call their Emergency Response Team (ERT). ERT is the rough arm, the iron fist of Wilson Security on Manus Island. The men of the ERT are well-known for powerful arms and bodies, and notorious for heavy handed forms of punishment, steroid use and alcohol issues both on Nauru and Manus Island.

Here on Manus Island the ERT enter the quadrangle of camps like a group of lions. Their attendance instils fear into everybody. They come and they go. They deal with ‘behavioural issues’ which may range from someone having attempted suicide or so-called self-harm to an allegation of violence between detainees and movement between compounds. The situations may require very different skills and approaches yet are all dealt with by the ERT, a group not made up of welfare workers but rather of beefed up security personnel who the managers of the Transfield and Wilson’s companies rely on to direct the Manus Camps.

During the big non-violent hunger strike in January 2015, ERT guards rushed and attacked the camps without reason taking dozens of hungry refugees to the island’s CIS prison. They forced refugees onto the ground, turning hands and manacles tightly. Many of us carry the physical pain and effects of those hand cuffs. Many of us still speak of the violence enacted upon us en route from the camp to prison. Many still talk about an Iranian man who was slapped in the face by ERT guards in the bus. We could see no reason as to why he should be hit, especially as his hands were fastened by handcuffs. We could see, however, that he was hit in an attempt to humiliate him in front of others as the ERT believed that he had directed the hunger strike.

After 10 days of being held in the small CIS prison we were transferred to the bigger Charlie prison, part of Australia’s Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island. It was with exultation and pride that these guards punished us there.

One of the duties of the ERT is to enter the camps all of a sudden with cameras attached to their bellies and push their way into our rooms to search our belongings. They search everywhere, inspect everything closely. If someone objects he is cruelly carried to Chauka. Sometimes they search our bodies in addition to our baggage.

One day they tried to strip one of the Iranian refugees of his clothes but when facing the other refugee’s objections they turned back.

Once they forced ‘A’, an Iranian man, onto the ground in front of our eyes and then took him behind a wall to hit him. The ERT despised ‘A’. Although he complained to company managers about this violence he received no response or reply. When our human rights are broken by this force on this island where there is no legal counsel, attorney or lawyer, the only option is to complain to the company managers. We know there will be no reply, investigation or resolution.

Between Foxtrot and Mike compounds in Manus Camp there is a place called the Green zone. It is a remote place familiar to the ERT.

Green Zone has two rooms surrounded by fences. It is a place where refugees who have objected to their bad situations are forcibly imprisoned by ERT. Prior to the Green Zone there was Chauka. Chauka was 300 metres outside of the original camp in a ruined place. Chauka was as terrible as the Green Zone now is. Many men have been humiliated and beaten there far from the world’s eyes.

Chauka was closed as a result of pressure by human rights’ organisations but Green zone is still active.

When I was in the Foxtrot camp, groans and cries of miserable, homeless human beings broke the dark silence of the island. Once I climbed up a big tree to attempt to see why the people were crying. Looking down I saw a very distressing scene. A thin boy who suffers from psychological problems had fallen into the ooze and slime near the fence. I could not tell if he was conscious. His beaten face was clear under the weak lamp light. He lay like a foetus in the uterus. His clothes were ragged and scruffy. Four ERT guards were sitting on chairs just beyond where he lay watching his bloody body. One of them caressed the prisoner’s body with a thin piece of wood in his hands.

It is not clear how many refugees have been humiliated and beaten in Manus Island camp’s Chauka and Green zone but something is clear: Manus Island, like Nauru and Christmas Island, was chosen for its remote location so that the companies operating the camps can do whatever they like to refugees easily and without watchful eyes. The most important reason that the camps are out of Australia, outside of what is known as the Australian land mass, is so that Australia can escape from international conventions in regards to refugee rights, in regards to human rights.

To us who remain imprisoned here we know that it is almost impossible for our voices to be heard. It seems that it is only when a refugee dies, like Reza Berati and Fazel Chegeni, that the voices of the oppressed are (momentarily) heard.

Translated by Tomas Askarian and Janet Galbraith.

 

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30 comments

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  1. Cara Clark

    I am SO sorry that you and your fellow internees have been subject to this reprehensible treatment. Please know that there are Australians who care about your plight.

  2. Loz

    The majority of Australians cannot understand how a civilised country in the year 2016 can sanction such cruelty to refugees. Our government is without shame.

  3. Glenn K

    i am so ashamed to be an Australian. i am an immigrant too.

  4. RosemaryJ36

    I am ashamed of Australia. I wish I could force our politicians to change their policies and worry more about the damage they are doing to refugees people than they worry about possibly encouraging people smugglers.

  5. Chris

    Many in government and many government employees and contractors should be gaoled. Not at all good enough Australia. Probably members of both parties should be gaoled. Read that and vote Labor…..
    That makes it hard to like Gillard.
    Oh and I have made sure my partner never parks her car in a Wilson car park…..or at least I keep her informed of such things.
    Boycott Wilson.

  6. Phil

    This is acceptable to Prime Minister Turnbull? I assume it must be. He has adopted his predecessors cruel and inhumane strategies to ‘send a message’ to asylum seekers that Australian conservative voters don’t want them. Peter Dutton is the responsible minister – a more cruel and loathsome creature amongst Australia’s conservative political elite, I cannot imagine.

    Have forwarded this article (plea?) to my local federal MP representative who, incidentally is a woman with a young family. Have forwarded numerous similar reports on the abject cruelty her government inflicts on asylum seekers in the name of conservative voter support – she never replies – such is her contempt for ‘representation’.

    As for Wilson and Transfield, or whatever they rebadged themselves to be so as to shrug off the stench of cruelty – these gross business entities are no better than slavers. In my mind,their names will forever be associated as profiteers in misery.

  7. mars08

    Phil:

    This is acceptable to Prime Minister Turnbull? I assume it must be. He has adopted his predecessors cruel and inhumane strategies to ‘send a message’ to asylum seekers that Australian conservative voters don’t want them.

    But let’s not mention Labor’s role in perpetuating and condoning this cruel policy… because that would undermine Shorten.

  8. Carol Taylor

    Australia’s treatment of refugees plays straight into the hands of ISIS. THIS is how Christian nations will treat you unless you side with us. And it’s true, this is precisely how we treat victims of war, victims of atrocities..people who are (or should be) our allies.

  9. Carol Taylor

    Mars08, Labor is worse in a way because they’re sitting idly by (and that’s without taking into account that it was Gillard who re-opened the Hell Hole of Nauru in the first place).

  10. Matters Not

    While we can ponder and pontificate as to who was (originally) responsible for the situation as outlined above, the reality is there’s only one driver of the bus at this moment in time. There’s only one person in the position to change what’s a cruel and inhuman regime.

    That person is Malcolm Turnbull.

    It’s only he who has the power to rectify, remedy the wrongs and the like. That’s where the focus should be. It’s only he who can make an immediate difference!

    While who caused what, when, how and why are important questions, they are of the ‘reflective’ kind. (Lots of blame to be distributed here.) Of interest to ‘historians’ and others. What we need urgently is ‘action’ and only Turnbull can do that.

    He should be held accountable.

  11. margcal

    Loz December 10, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    The majority of Australians cannot understand how a civilised country in the year 2016 can sanction such cruelty to refugees. Our government is without shame.
    ………………….

    That first sentence is completely untrue. The majority of Australians have voted for exactly this. The government is without shame because it reflects the wishes of voters who are also without shame.

  12. Pingback: Protection and Punishment in the People Business - Rural Australians for Refugees

  13. paul walter

    Prototypic, a Dachua.

    Wake up, Australia…

  14. Kyran

    The confronting reality of articles such as this lies as much in the last paragraph (“it is almost impossible for our voices to be heard”) as it does in the body of the article, which details a systemic brutality, humiliation, debasement and intimidation of people deprived of any rights.

    The reality that our government has painted itself into a corner becomes more evident everyday.
    Accused internationally (repeatedly) of breaching the principle of non-refoulement, the option of ‘sending them back’ is being extinguished.
    The negotiation of extravagant schemes with despotic regimes in impoverished countries has been an epic fail.
    The ‘re-settlement’ of people, who are recognised as genuine refugees, from ‘inside the wire’ to ‘outside the wire’ on islands that are lawless and totally reliant on our graft and corruption to facilitate their graft and corruption is indefensible on any level.
    And our ‘government’ has shrilly declared they will not come here.

    Angela Merkel has declared an ambitious refugee intake in the face of condemnation from many in her own country. She has made humanitarian and economic arguments to support her stance. She has shown leadership.

    Having long since tired of caring about which party is worse at refugee policy, I now simply wish for a leader who will call this barbaric inhumanity for what it is and fix it. Bring them to Australia.
    Thank you, Mr Boochani (and translators). However muffled your voices may be, your story remains important. Take care, as best you can.

  15. jim

    Well in my opinion Labor would not be as cruel as the government who by the way have been the ruling power for over two years ,didn’t the liberals sack Save the Children staff among other shonky things. Like border force act.

  16. Tony Rabbit

    Detention without charge, or committing a crime, is bad enough in itself.

    Why does it need to be cruel?

    Why can’t we detain these people – if we must – in a decent, humane way?

  17. Do Youself a favour

    This article is filed under the heading, “Social Justice”

    As there is absolutely no such animal in existence in Australia, I put forward the motion this section be renamed more fittingly to “Social Injustice”.

  18. Amanda

    When will it end

  19. mars08

    Amanda:

    When will it end

    When the politicians believe that these policies and actions… will cause them to lose more votes than they can win.

  20. abbottania

    Why on earth hasn’t this article been picked up or at least referred to by the MSM. Does AIM have any contacts in the Guardian, ABC or a Fairfax paper that you can utilise ? . It’s essential this article of horror get into it (the MSM).

    This is the stuff of a dictatorship / Junta regime. How did our country come to this ?.

  21. abbottania

    I’ve found a fairly weak article from The Age from 22/09/15 .
    link

  22. abbottania

    Seems The Guardian ran an article 15/11/15 about him (not his article). It was filed under “home›culture›books”. What a ridiculous place to put it. Doubt it reached many people.

  23. Kyran

    There was a face book page, Free the Children NAURU, which started up in early November. It was a powerful communication by the children, detailing, through the wondrous vision of a child’s eyes, their stark cruel world and their attempts to deal with their situation. It went ‘dark’ on the 3rd December.
    I recall seeing an article on the ABC website that there had been a security clamp down on Nauru, seeking any devices that may be used to post face book entries. The article disappeared after a day.
    Julian Burnside’s website has a “shocking, first-hand account of a refugee woman being strip-searched on Nauru”, posted on the 14th December.

    Strip searches on Nauru


    Another first hand account of conditions on Manus was posted on the 18th December.

    Manus: bad, and getting worse

    As Mr Boochani observed “To us who remain imprisoned here we know that it is almost impossible for our voices to be heard.”
    Not only have we institutionalised barbarism, we have now silenced the victims.
    The reality that this is being done by ‘christian’ politicians at one of the most important times for the celebration of ‘christian’ values is sickening. Thank you Amanda, mars08 and abbottania for revisiting this. It is way too important to let it slip silently by, regardless of MSM’s complicity. Take care

  24. mars08

    The average Australian has the privilege… the luxury of remaining blissfully, wilfully ignorant of what is being done in their name. This denial allows them to condone what their conscience tells them is unacceptable.

  25. Kyran

    It may be that time of the year, mars08, where hypocrisy is laid bare.
    Some children were found in a drug raid in NSW. “One of the children had allegedly been locked in a shed for long periods over the past few weeks.” The article uses words such as ‘heinous’ and ‘shocking’. Naturally, “FACS is working with police to assist with their investigation and can confirm the child is now safe.”
    That which is unconscionable and unacceptable here, the abuse of children, that which is heinous and shocking here, somehow becomes totally acceptable when we can no longer hear their voices. I just don’t get it. Take care

  26. Pappinbarra Fox

    The Argentina junta was making people disappear a couple of decades ago – to justified condemnation by amongst others the Australian Government. How is this any different?

  27. Kyran

    It seems the face book page ‘Free the Children NAURU’ is active again. After all this time, it is unlikely it will achieve any real change. What it does do, irrefutably, is negate any suggestion by any of the miniature’s or their minions that they are acting in any interest other than their own. Take care

  28. Pingback: Protection and Punishment in the People Business | Isenberg Institute of Strategic Satire

  29. Arthur Baker

    I hope I live long enough to see the politicians who perpetrate these outrages face charges in the International Criminal Court.

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