A merciless fear provoked by last night’s events has gripped the Manus Island camp
Behrouz Boochani is a journalist and an Iranian refugee held on Manus Island since August 2014. The Guardian invited Boochani to keep a diary of the countdown to the closure of the Australian-run detention camp that closed on Tuesday.
Wednesday 1 November
Last night the refugees were in a state of absolute exhaustion, starvation and thirst. They drifted into sleep as they wasted away. We have not been able to sleep well during recent months; the possibility of sleeping at night has been completely disrupted, particularly in recent weeks. Nightmares have been an inseparable part of our sleep and our lives. After the generators in Oscar compound have been shut off, many have left their hot tents and moved into other camps. As people are moving to other camps I observe this horrendous scene playing out before me. Their movements resemble people who are left wandering due to war, but it is people seeking refuge in a neighbouring country.
Rooms and tents are crammed with people, and the atmosphere is filled with tumult and a deafening ruckus. It is a tropical ecosystem out here, full of insects and oppressively hot. Without the benefits of having power, insects chew into the skin. The constant, unbearable fear is provoked by the events last night. This relentless fear continues to haunt us, a merciless fear has gripped the camp. Fear of being attacked, fear of being murdered. We decide to assign some people to watch the camp and inform others in case something suspicious happens or police attacks us.
Nevertheless, if any incident occurred last night, would there have been a place for us to take refuge? Surely not. And this is the reality of Manus today. If we are attacked, we will be nothing but a group of defenceless bodies. It took a long time for everyone to fall asleep, or maybe they were just pretending to sleep. Sleeping with absolute exhaustion, sleeping with starvation, sleeping with thirst. This is the most disastrous situation ever.
At 7am in the morning, the generators suddenly shut off. Subsequently, all refugees wake up at the same time. After a few minutes, dozens wander around the camp again. The heat is unbearable out here. This is hell out here. Hunger makes everyone angry, the atmosphere is full of tension out here, and there is struggle and tumult. In these tragic circumstances, a refugee has cut his wrist and his chest using a razor. It has agitated the situation even more for a while. It is like throwing a match into gunpowder, adding fuel to the fire. Shouts come up and tension rise. It takes a while until the situation becomes stable again. But the fear remains.
At 9am PNG immigration officers come and tell us: “You have to leave this place, there is no way you can stay.” However, it is very dangerous outside. In the past, refugees have been attacked several times, even the police cannot guarantee their safety. We are stuck here, no way to go forward, no way to go back.
Senator Nick McKim comes to see us again. He tries to enter the camp, but immigration officers threaten him in a manner that resembles a form of faux respect: “If you do not leave here within five minutes, you will be arrested.” He has to go. It is like a war zone here and people have become refugees all over again. They have become homeless in the detention centre; their faces are frightened, distressed and weary. Their eyes … their eyes are looking up at the sky, they are looking up at the clouds. Looking forward to rain. If it rains, the weather will cool down. Also, they can save water. They have trust in the Manusian ecosystem. It is a tropical ecosystem out here; it will rain in the evening for sure. Nature will not abandon us. Right now, there are hundreds of men out here with their clothes stripped off, they are wandering around.
We have no idea what will happen tonight. It is both horrific and surreal when the threat of an attack and abandonment is fused with extreme starvation, thirst and instances of self-harm. The worst part of this oppression and debilitation is the humiliation. Throughout this whole ordeal we have been utterly debased. The situation in the toilets, the lack of food and water, the insulting visits by Australian and local representatives and guards, the looting of out belongings, the abandonment … the abandonment … It is humiliating to be thrown into this prison space for years and now left to deteriorate.
There is a rumour in this camp that the navy is ready to attack. The fear is unbearable. We have taken control of the camp and refuse to be forced into a place we are not wanted and where we do not feel safe at all. However, even though we have experienced a glimmer of autonomy by deciding to stay here against all odds, it is like we are now living under the sword of Damocles. The edge of the sword is looming over our heads.
I am worried about my physical health. I have become very weak over this past week. I have not slept. I am extremely concerned about my whole state of being. I am no longer afraid of experiencing nightmares as I sleep. I am now undergoing a surreal experience where the horrifying reality of my waking state has taken on the characteristics of the most harrowing nightmare, and this nightmare is more horrendous than I can ever imagine.
- Translated by Moones Mansoubi