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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