No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison
Pan Macmillan, 2018
The writer, Behrouz Boochani, has spent six years in the prison for refugees on Manus Island. Somehow, he managed to text out his experiences on an old mobile phone. Written in Farsi, the language of the Kurds, his messages were eventually picked up by a Farsi-speaking university lecturer, who recognised their importance and translated them into English.
Arriving on Christmas Island shortly after the Australian Government announced that any refugees coming by boat could never land in Australia, he was almost immediately sent to Manus Island prison, where along with others, he has never been formally charged or convicted, but has been detained indefinitely in unbelievably cruel conditions.
Behrouz texts, as it is, moment by moment, on the island. His texts, in effect, help him to stay sane. Through his texts we experience what the detainees are forced to undergo: the filth, the humiliations, the deliberate shortage of food, the enforced idleness, the peculiar and uncomfortable prison clothes, the maddening lack of privacy, and the feeling of being under constant surveillance.
Behrouz records the endless queues, for food, cigarettes and toiletries. The supplies are finite and there is no knowing when they will run out. Detainees wait patiently for meals only to be told that there is no food, or their milk ration is thrown away in front of their eyes because too much has been measured out. They are given only enough food to survive, and may also be beaten if they complain.
It is as if some mad scientist has devised a system to test how long humans can withstand such cruel treatment. As citizens and voters in Australia, we are complicit in this unjust and inhumane system. When are we going to do something about it?