Disrupt and Divide: Rubbing salt in wounds of our own making

Australian immigration is separating us because they know that we are getting used to each other.

Australian immigration is separating us because they know we are filling the gap between our family and loved ones with our friends in detention.

Australian immigration is separating us because they want to add salt to our wound.

These words written by Amir, a man held in Australia’s detention black site for refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island, PNG, go to the heart of the new policies announced by PNG immigration authorities earlier this week.

The detainees have been told that the four compounds that make up the Manus Island camp will be split into two parts: those who received positive findings from PNG authorities will be housed in Oscar and Delta compounds and eventually permanently resettled in PNG, whereas those who receive negative findings are to be housed in Foxtrot and Mike compounds and eventually deported. The officials reiterated that none of the close to 900 men would ever be settled in Australia.

The announcement has spread deep unease and fear through the camp. As the writer Behrouz Boochani, imprisoned on Manus since 2013, puts it, “Only a prisoner can understand deeply how hard is the trauma when you must move to other prison.”

And the move surely will be to another prison both for those who receive “positive” findings for “settlement,” and for those who receive negative orders for removal. In an eloquent and powerful letter to PNG authorities, 76 refugees who have received “double positive” status make it very plain that they see the determination that they must be settled on PNG as amounting to nothing other than a new term of indefinite punishment:

Most of us received our refugee status more than a year ago and we are not willing to be resettled in your country, which is great NO to your country from us to continue living life here…

In our countries we were threatened of imprisonment, exile, torture and beatings, but in your country we were literally indefinitely imprisoned, exiled, tortured and were beaten up.

In your country two of our friends were killed, one from negligence and the other one was beaten to death by your people.

In your country we stood in lines for hours and hours to receive ‘food’, shower, toilet and malaria medication under the merciless sunlight.

In your country our humanity was taken away and we were humiliated but we sewed our lips and went on hunger strike with hundreds of our friends to plea for freedom but again you suppressed us because the only thing you could care was the money that Australia wound put in your pocket to dehumanise us.

By writing this letter we would clearly like to inform you that we are not willing to be your slaves and await for death in poverty, loneliness and disease in case to be a lesson for the refugees in rest of the world.

There are several likely motivations for PNG authorities’ decision to separate the men into two groups just now. It is widely believed that the forthcoming challenge to the legality of the Lombrum Detention Centre prompted this preemptive action by Australia and PNG in order to empty the camp of inmates in the event of a PNG High Court finding in favour of the challenge. Others suggest that bilateral agreements reportedly being sought with Iran will clear the way for mass removals of those who have received negative findings but who are unable to be refouled under current international arrangements.

A further likely motivation, in our view, is to curb the growing sense of political community among inmates. As analysts who have followed the writings and other forms of protest of the men imprisoned on Manus Island over several years, we have noted that their articulations of their plight have become increasingly astute, pointed and uncompromising, while the forms of political protest and action they have undertaken have become increasingly creative and assured. As the defiant declaration by the “double positives” demonstrates, the punitive conditions to which refugees and asylum seekers alike have been subjected have resulted in giving them an acute understanding of their plight and have forged a determination to reject out of hand the legal feints and political doublespeak of their jailers.

This developing sense political community is, undeniably, marred by its obverse, a disturbing undertow of bullying, harassment, and internal violence, especially sexual violence, that remains unchecked — and at times, it would appear, is actively fostered — by guards and managers. Yet, there is no denying the growth of a collective voice and solidarity on both Manus Island and Nauru, a growth that in turn has engendered increasing levels of support among a range of sectors in Australian community, from health, education and legal workers to religious groups.

As part of their resistance to the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment they receive, inmates continue, with a stubborn persistence, to support and care for one another. They defy the efforts to dehumanize by becoming one another’s families; they attempt to fill the aching void of loss and hurt with myriad expressive acts of solidarity and kindness. They work to form and sustain networks across entrenched divides.

In the recent moves to break up this nascent solidarity and community, we see a tactics of division and disruption all too familiar from other contexts. This is a tactics that must be clearly named and called out for what it is, as a communication we received recently from an inmate on Manus asks us to do:

After this separation they can take control of us like our movement or actions and up the pressure.

I don’t have any answer to this cruelty only we have to be patient that’s all.

I don’t know what you can do. Maybe you can write and publish it.

– Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites

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by Farhad
by Farhad