Case Study

Extraterritorial Killings: The weaponisation of bodies (Australia)

Case study

This case study documents twelve killings that occurred between between 2014 and 2018 as consequence of Australia’s program of offshore detention.  Under this policy, known as Sovereign Borders, asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are forcibly confined in the former Australian-administered territories of Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. This form of indefinite detention offshore is held up as a means to ‘deter’ other would-be boat arrivals to Australia.

Those known to have died in offshore detention in these years are Reza Barati, Sayed Ibrahim Hussain, Hamid Khazaei, Omid Masoumali, Rakib Khan, Kamil Hussain, Faysal Ishak Ahmed, Hamed Shamshiripour, Rajeev Rajendran, a man from Bangladesh who has not been publicly named, Salim Kyawning and Fariborz Karami. Mohammad Sarwar died on Nauru in 2002 and Dr Seyed Mirwais Rohani suicided in Australia in 2019 after spending several years on Manus Island, other deaths may be not yet be known.

The twelve deaths we discuss here reveal the violence inherent in the policy of ‘deterrence’. Australia’s instrumental use of its former colonial territories for ‘deterrence’ links its continuing assertion of sovereignty over the region with the continuing colonial violence within its official borders.


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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this case study may contain images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that this study contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.

At the same time, each screen of these case studies testifies to target communities' strength and courage, as they respond to repeated deaths in custody through myriad creative forms, through lines of solidarity and through an unwavering call for justice.

‘My life has become a horrible example for the people who will seek asylum in the future. My body has been used so that they will accept their deaths in home countries, so they will not seek asylum.’

Samad Abdul, held in limbo on Manus Island since 2013

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Peaceful protests, Manus Island camp, Lombrum, November 2017. Photos published on the @ManusAlert Telegram channel.

‘Only a rigorous analysis of a colonial presence in Australia and its tactics in the region can disclose the reality of violence in these island prisons.

This issue must be understood as the annihilation of human beings, the incarceration of human beings within the history of modern Australia; it is a long history, a comprehensive history, it is intertwined with its colonial history.’

Behrouz Boochani, Kurdish journalist held in limbo by the Australian government in PNG for more than 6 years

The Performance of Sovereignty

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A poster desgined for the Australia government depicts a boat in the middle of the ocean. Dark waters and gloomy skies frame bold text that reads 'No Way You Will Not Make Australia Home'. An icon shows a map of Australia with a cross through it. At the bottom text reads 'The Australian Government has introduced the toughest border protection measures ever. If you get on a boat without a visa, you will not end up in Australia. Any vessel seeking to illegally enter Australia will be intercepted and safely removed beyond Australian waters. The rules apply to everyone: families, children, unaccompanied children, educated and skilled. No matter who you are or where you are from, you will not make Australia home. Think again before you waste your money. People smugglers are lying.' An Australian Government is shown at the top centre. ‘No Way’ advertising campaign, 2014. Image: Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This advertising campaign, which emphasised that no one who came to Australia by boat would ever be resettled in Australia, is a component of the ‘Operation Sovereign Borders‘ policy. The policy comprises both offshore processing and boat interceptions and turn-backs, which the government claims would achieve the objective of ‘stopping the boats’. Amnesty International released a report in 2015 that critically examines the legal and human rights implications of Australia’s turn back policies. The Labor government used similar advertisements to accompany the 19 July policy announcement, though at the time they were subject to criticism by the Liberal opposition.

Australia’s ‘offshore processing’ system began with the ‘Pacific Solution’ in 2001 in the aftermath of the ‘Tampa affair’ and the 9/11 terror attacks. This policy meant that Australia’s border both contracted — through the excision of outlying Australian territories, like Christmas and Cocos Islands, from the migration zone — and expanded — through the annexure of spaces in other sovereign states. Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru have been effectively appropriated by Australia in ways that extend Australia’s borders, while also disowning Australia’s accountability for actions that take place within these extended spaces.

The practices by which Australia seeks to exert and extend its sovereignty over spaces and bodies include attempts to contain Indigenous sovereignty through the consolidation of national borders on the one hand and regional expansionism on the other. These forms of sovereign violence are clearly enacted through the ‘Pacific Solution’ and ‘Operation Sovereign Borders‘ (OSB). Refugees and asylum seekers are positioned as the ultimate non-citizens through whose bodies Australia seeks to perform its ‘stateness’ and consolidate its ‘nationness’ in the renewed emphasis on the nation-state that accompanies the war on terror (Perera, 2007).



‘It is somebody’s land…it’s not the Australians’ land…We don’t like the way the Australians are treating this detention centre. That’s what we are cross about. These people were seeking for asylum. We should be helping them, rather than detaining them like criminals.’

Porou Papi, local Manusian landowner

Shifting Borders and Neo-Colonialism

A row of adults and children stand in a row in protest. They hold handwritten posters urging the Australian government to fulfil it's responsibility to refugees detained in PNG. Click here

 Protest in Lorengau by an alliance of local Manus Island civil society groups and community members regarding the closure of the Lombrum Regional Processing Centre and pending forced eviction of the men from the camp into Lorengau, 31 October 2017.  Local people from the Manus Alliance Against Human Rights Abuses petitioned the PNG government to pressure the Australian government to take the remaining asylum seekers back to Australia. Also see, article in Tok Pisin about the Manus Alliance Against Human Rights Abuse.

‘We got independence and the idea behind Australian aid was supposed to be recompense for their colonisation of us, but now this “aid” is being used to buy PNG, to loot us. To pass their own problems.’

Uncle Davai Rarua, Manusian Local

Australia’s ‘off-shoring’ policy must be situated within the context of Australia’s historical relationship with Nauru and Papua New Guinea, one of unequal power relations, economic and environmental degradation and political control. Though both states sought and secured independence (Nauru in 1968 and PNG in 1975),  in the aftermath of colonisation, they have remained dependent on Australian aid, heightening their vulnerability to exploitation. The designation and use of terminology describing Nauru and PNG as ‘offshore territories’ too invokes an imperial geography within which Australia is situated at the centre while Pacific Islands are defined by their relationship to it: ‘Australia’s backyard’; a region that both is and is not Australian territory.

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Darren Turner, a member of the Gunditjmara nation, marches at a refugee rights demonstration. His arms and fists are crossed above his head in a gesture of solidarity. He is wearing traditional paint and holds clapping sticks in both hands.
Darren Turner, a member of the Gunditjmara nation, marching at the ‘SOS Manus Prison – End the Siege #SanctionAustralia’ Protest, Naarm, 2017. Photo: Charandev Singh. More photos can be viewed in this photo gallery.

The dancer’s stance references the daily mass protests by those imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru.  The upraised, crossed arms and clenched fists embody a philosophy of non-violent protest, signalling both surrender and resistance, compliance and refusal. It is a posture that has been adopted in other protests,  performed as a gesture of solidarity, akin to the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ that Nicholas Mirzoeff identifies as a ‘signature gesture’ (2016, 96) of the Black Lives Matter movement. Repeated and restaged on Australian streets or government offices taken over by protesters, this signature gesture bridges the separation between offshore camps and the civic spaces of the nation, between citizen and prisoner, legal and illegal.(Perera 2018).

19 July and the policy of ‘deterrence’

A cartoon by the artist Eaten Fish, depicts himself two different scenarios in a boat. The top shows the date 18/7/2013. Here hands reach towards him welcoming him and offering flowers. The sun is the sky smiles down on him. He appears happy and at peace. The bottom depiction shows the date 19/7/2013. Here hands point guns towards him, rain falls from the clouds and the sun glares. He appears distressed and upset. Click here

19 July. Artwork: Eaten Fish. The cartoonist Eaten Fish was incarcerated in the Manus Prison for more than four years. His freedom became the subject of an international campaign by cartoonists and advocates for his release. This cartoon, along with others, was published in New Matilda. On the day of the 19 July announcement, riots broke out on Nauru largely due to ongoing uncertainty surrounding the delivery of Refugee Status Determinations. Eventually, everyone sent to Manus and Nauru pre-July 19 was brought back to Australia; however, most who arrived after that date remain there. In 2013, the Manus Island RPC which previously detained men, women and children became a men-only facility. Women, families and children were thereafter sent to Nauru. Several of the people currently imprisoned on Manus and Nauru were in transit at the time of the 19 July announcement and arrived only days later. In some cases families were split between boats and now potentially face permanent separation.

‘Somewhere beyond its borders and on the accursed Manus and Nauru Islands, Australia is currently producing and examining violence and advertising it to the world. Simply put, Australia wants to tell the world that for anyone who comes to Australia by boat, the destiny that awaits them is life in a hellish prison on one of these islands.’

Behrouz Boochani, Kurdish journalist and human rights defender Click here

As Boochani highlights, the transmission of narratives and testimonies relating to the violent treatment of people seeking asylum on Manus and Nauru are critical to producing zones of terror and supporting the Australian government’s ‘deterrence’ agenda.

In September 2012, the Labor government reopened the Manus Island and Nauru prison camps. On 19 July 2013, then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd announced that anyone who arrived by boat would never be allowed to live in Australia. They would be sent to PNG for ‘processing’ and eventual resettlement there. His address drew upon the long rehearsed rhetoric of ‘saving lives at sea’, ‘orderly migration processes’ and ‘breaking the business model of people smugglers’. It relied on the logic that it was possible to ‘deter’ prospective asylum seekers by denying asylum to those who had already arrived. This so-called policy of ‘deterrence’ and ‘no advantage’ has been criticised for instrumentalizing the sufferings of one group as objects of  putative deterrence to others and for displacing deaths to other sites rather than actually decreasing deaths at sea as claimed.

RELEVANT KEY TERMS: necrotransport

‘Why’?: Arbitrary divisions as weapons of deterrence

A child's painting shows a boat travelling across the ocean. There boat appears overcrowded with passengers. A cloud in the sky bears the Nauruan flag. Another cloud bears an Australian flag. One lightning bolt from the Nauruan cloud covers a section of people in the boat. Two lightning bolts from the Australian cloud covers the other two-thirds of the boat passengers. Click here

Some people who arrived on LEL boat were sent to Nauru, while others remained on Christmas Island and were eventually released into the Australian community, 2016. Artwork: Yousef, 10 year old child detained by Australia on Nauru. A handpainted banner is strung up on a detention centre fence. It reads 'We came on same boat but some are free & we are in prison'.This issue has been frequently raised in protests including those on Nauru in 2014 in response to Cambodia Deal, and on Manus Island during protests in 2016. The poem ‘Nightmare‘ written by Kaveh, a poet detained on Manus, speaks of the shattering effects of this arbitrary policy.

The arbitrary divisions and enforced transportation of refugees to offshore camps link the Pacific Solution to other forms of necrotransport.

According to political rhetoric, no one who arrived post-19 July would make it to Australia; in truth, people who arrived on the same boat were arbitrarily divided between Manus, Nauru and Christmas Island.

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 ‘Why? Malcolm. Why?’ campaign, Manus, 2015. International Alliance Against Mandatory Detention. A question raised in Senate Estimates revealed that 1414 of the 4533 people who arrived in Australia by boat between 19 July 2013 and 27 July 2014 were never sent to Manus or Nauru, have been granted bridging visas and are eligible to apply for Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEV). A photo of 4 palms with the words 'Why?' written on them. One has the hashtag #Manus accompanying the question. Photos: Manus.A row of adults and children face with their backs to the camera. The word 'why' is written on paper and attached to all of their backs. They stand with their arms crossed above their heads in a demonstration of resistance. Lush, green vegetation can be seen in the background.Photo: Nauru.

The majority of people detained on Christmas Island were eventually granted bridging visas to live in the Australian community. Questionable assessments of the age of young asylum seekers resulted in some being deemed minors and sent to Christmas Island, while others, deemed adults, were banished to Nauru or Manus. At least one young woman sent to Nauru group later attempted self-immolation.

RELEVANT KEY TERMS: necrotransport
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Artwork: ‘Call Them Home’ by Marziya Mohammedali. Photo: Michelle Bui.

Nauru: From ‘Pleasant Island’ to ‘Pacific Solution’

A view of the island of Nauru being bombed. Clouds of smoke rise from the island as a plane flies overhead. Click here

 US Army Air Force bombing the Japanese airstrip on Nauru, 1943, Wikipedia. Read more. 

‘Why do you want to punish us and hold us prisoners in a place where we are simply a means for people to earn an income, because their land was destroyed by your greed?’

Statement released by people detained on Nauru, 2017

Nauru is a small south Pacific Island of about 21 square kilometres with a population of approximately 10,000 people. In the same year that the British First Fleet invaded Australia, Captain John Fearn sailed past Nauru and renamed it ‘Pleasant Island’, ironically marking the beginning of an enduring legacy of colonial intervention. Germany assumed colonial control of Nauru in the 19th century. Following Germany’s defeat in WWI, Nauru was  divided among Australia, Britain and New Zealand under a joint trusteeship arrangement. During WWII,  Nauru was occupied by Japan between 1942 and 1945 and at least two thirds of the population were deported as forced labour to Micronesia. Following the end of the war, Australia, Britain and New Zealand again took on the role of trustees, with Australia as the administering power. Australia failed dismally in this role, overseeing the environmental and economic wreckage of the land.  Although it is now over 50 years since Nauru gained Independence, Australian  control over Nauru continues.

A ‘Failing State’: Colonial Continuities

‘All our lands on the hill

No longer can be used

Will become home of craters and rocks’

Nauruan song

The establishment of the British Phosphate Commission at the end of WWI led to decades of structural imperialism and exploitation of Nauru’s natural resources which eventually rendered large parts of the island uninhabitable. By the 1960s, Australia’s ongoing self-interest in resource extraction, combined with an acknowledgement of the environmental degradation and destruction resulting from decades of phosphate mining, led to a proposal to resettle the entire population of Nauru in Australia, an idea which resurfaced briefly in 2003.

Nauruans considered their sovereignty and the preservation of their national cultural identity to be of great importance. They held concerns about being absorbed into and rendered invisible by White Australia’s assimilation policies. Instead, Nauru pursued full independence.

Nauru is often characterised as a ‘ruined paradise’ or a ‘failing state’ with a corrupt government and barren, commercially useless land. Negative representations of the island’s environment, governance and resource management typically fail to acknowledge the destructive impacts of colonisation. Media coverage of Nauru as a result of Australia’s offshore processing policy often reflects negatively on Nauruan people and their country. Despite being orchestrated by the Australian government, this has positioned refugees and local people in opposition to one another, exacerbated tensions between both populations and increased media restrictions on the island. While in 2001, when the first asylum seekers landed on Nauru, they were greeted by locals with a welcome dance, by 2014 intimidating and threatening letters were being delivered to refugees which represents evidence of increasing hostility.

Naomi Klein argues that the logic that has hollowed out Nauru is the same logic that has driven the global economy for the past 400 years. Climate change and rising sea levels also pose a significant threat to the island. The Australian-run ‘Regional Processing Centre’ (RPC) on Nauru sits at the centre of a depleted phosphate plateau known as ‘Topside’ and is surround by ongoing phosphate mining operations. Although Australia previously considered that the entire population of Nauru might need to relocate because of declining conditions, in recent years it has pursued the argument that 1,200 asylum seekers and refugees who sought protection from Australia should be resettled in this poorly resourced environment, the smallest republic in the world.

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‘Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)’, 2017. Artist: Sara Oscar.

‘By chance they discovered the heart of my home

And gave it the name phosphate

If they were to ship all phosphate from my home

There will be no place for me to go

Should this be the plan of the British Commission

I shall never see my home on the hill’

– Nauruan song, 1910

In 1993 Nauru settled a landmark international legal case in which Australia agreed to pay reparations for mismanagement of the island’s natural resources.

Manus Island: Militarised Landscapes

A Nissen hut is pictured in the former Manus RPC. White plastic chairs are scattered on the sand in the foreground. Fences and palm trees are in the background. Click here

Foxtrot Compound, 2017. Photo: Behrouz Boochani. Two weather Nissen huts are pictured in the Delta Compound of the former Manus RPC at Lombrum. Fences and palm trees can be seen in the background.Nissen Huts from WWII remain on the Lombrum naval base (Manus RPC) and have been repurposed as part of the detention centre infrastructure. Nauru is also littered with artifacts of war. In 2014, an unexploded WW2  bomb was found in the family camp in the Nauru RPC.

‘All over Manus and its tiny islands, there are dozens of signs, marking the bitter history of colonisation and war…During the past 100 years, Manus has been a theatre of war in two separate conflicts…This is one of the bitter realities of our planet. People of an island at the furthest part of the globe have become victims of a battle between the world’s super powers.’

Behrouz Boochani, Kurdish journalist and human rights defender

Structural comparisons exist between Australia’s offshore detention camps and the United States’ extraterritorial camps for ‘battlefield detainees’ at Guantánamo Bay. At the same time, regional  and colonial histories are echoed in the location of prison camps on Manus Island and Nauru.

Islands have historically played a significant role in Australia’s domestic and military strategy. Australia’s violent colonial interventions in neighbouring Pacific lands, such as Manus Island and Nauru, have resulted in militarised landscapes, where  past wars continue to scar the present. The naval base on Manus, which served as a convenient foundation for the detention centre, is evidence of the residue of war. (Mountz, 2011)

The Military-Industrial-Prison-Border Complex: Manus Island

Green army tents are lined up in rows in the Manus camp as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers. Click here

  Manus Island Regional Processing Centre, 2012. Photo: DIAC. Army tents used as temporary accommodation. In February 2014 it was revealed that former Sri Lankan military officer, Dinesh Perera, was employed by G4S and acting as operations manager at the Manus RPC. It was later reported that several people employed as guards on Manus had military backgrounds. A view from inside a row of green army tents on Nauru, showing rows of stretcher beds. Nauru Regional Processing Centre, 2012. Photo: DIAC. Green army tents were also used on Nauru in 2001. Following the riot on Nauru in July 2013, the tents and damaged accommodation units were replaced with white, fire resistant tents which quickly became covered in mould in the tropical environment. A photo of the interior of a mouldy tent on Nauru. Large pedestal fans are in view.Nauru RPC Tents, 2016.

‘More than four years after the termination of hostilities and from one to two years after the original apprehension of the majority of the suspects, their continued incarceration without specific charges and without even a certain prospect of eventual trial can scarcely be reconciled with fundamental concepts of justice.’

SCAP Diplomatic Section letter 1948 Click here

Post WWII, in 1948, the Americans withdrew from Manus and Australia assumed full control. Suspected Japanese War Criminals were held by Australia at various locations including 296 people serving sentences in Rabaul, PNG. International pressure grew for Australia to expedite trials due to considerable unease about people being detained in Australian custody, many without charge or certain prospect of a trial for 1-2 years. Under the Pacific Solution, people seeking asylum, who have not been charged with any crime, again have no prospect of trial have been detained indefinitely, some for almost 5 years.

The transfer of an Australian War Criminals Commission (AWCC) to Manus was first discussed in 1947. Australia was seeking a site where the trial of alleged Japanese war criminals could continue and was also interested in redeveloping the US naval base at Lombrum Point, Los Negros, for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). It was proposed that should the AWCC be transferred to Manus, the cheap and relatively skilled prison labour force could be used to help realise the naval base project. During January and March 1949, one AWCC was transferred to Manus and eventually concentrated in a purpose-built compound at Lombrum Point. (Morris, 707-711)

Colonial Hierarchies

A Papua New Guinean man is pictured guarding the War Criminals Compound. A sign above the gate indicates 'Prohibited Area: RAN War Criminal Compound. No Admittance Beyond this Point Without Permission. All Enquiries to be Made at Administration Office by Order Officer-in-Charge.' Click here

Manus Island, 1948. Photo: Australian War Memorial. During this period, local ‘native police’ were used by Australia to guard alleged war criminals. They did so under the supervision of ‘white officials’. The Indigenous population was, and is still, regarded as a labour force to be used as the Australian authorities see fit.

There are continuities between the use of ‘native police’ during WW2 and present-day policing practices on Manus Island. The Australian-funded PNG police mobile squad (a notorious paramilitary wing of the Royal PNG Constabulary that was redeployed to Manus in 2012) comprises  a labour force drawn, not from Manus Island, but from other areas of PNG. Within this mobile squad a culture of violence has developed, with documented cases of violence against both asylum seekers and local people. Mobile squad officers played a role in the death of Reza Barati, beat 21 year old local man Raymond Sipuan to death, ran over 17 year old Kisawen Pokas while he was walking home from school and have been responsible for acts of sexual violence against local women. Families of local victims blame PNG’s participation in Australia’s offshore processing system for the violence they have experienced at the hands of this paramilitary squad.

Racialised labour hierarchies are a part of the ‘Pacific Solution’.  At the RPCs on both Manus Island and Nauru, ‘expats’ from Australia hold the managerial positions, while local workers are given mostly menial tasks. Local workers are paid a fraction of what workers from Australia and New Zealand receive even in the same job. These and other concerns were raised at a community forum on Manus Island in 2016.


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A black and white photo shows a slightly elevated view of rows of military Nissen huts in the foreground. The background shows palm trees. Manus Admirality Islands Post War View Of Derelict Quonset Huts. Photo Credit: Australian War Memorial.

Shirtless workers are shown in front of a Nissen hut with shovels and other tools.

Members of the Japanese War Criminals Construction Unit digging and shovelling as they prepare the foundations to build a store house at the RAN War Criminal Compound at an RAN shore base, HMAS Tarangau, where  prisoners are now held. A member of the Royal Papuan Constabulary and a member of RAN supervise the prisoners. Work on this RAN base commenced in August 1948. It was commissioned as HMAS Seeadler on 1 January 1950 and recommissioned as HMAS Tarangau on 1 April 1950. The name was transferred from the decommissioned RAN Base at Dreger Harbour, New Guinea. (Navy Historical Collection). Photo: Australian War Memorial.


Australia’s Guantánamo

A shirtless man protests, kneeling on the ground, with a cloth bag or hood pulled over his head and hands tied behind his back. He holds a piece of paper declaring his boat ID EDE039. A banner is hung on a fence directly behind him which reads, "I challenge those who claim Manus detainees 'live like kings' to swap their places with us".

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  A shirtless man protests, kneeling on the ground, with a cloth bag over his head and hands tied behind his back. He holds a piece of paper declaring his boat ID EDE039. A banner is hung on a fence directly behind him which reads, "I challenge those who claim Manus detainees 'live like kings' to swap their places with us". Protest on Manus, 2016. Photo via: Citizen X Disclosures. In this photo a man detained at the Manus Island RPC responds to statements that Manus Island detainees are ‘treated like kings’ by comparing their condition to that of people detained and tortured at Guantánamo Bay. 

Australia’s prison camps on Manus and Nauru have been described as ‘Australia’s Guantánamo’. Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites draws structural parallels between aspects of the war on terror and Australia’s offshore policies. They argue that Australia’s prison camps function as ‘black sites’  and ‘open the door to torture’.

Dr David Isaacs, who previously worked in the Nauru detention centre,  made the same connection, while Dr Peter Young, former director of IHMS mental health services, stated that it was a ‘regime akin to torture‘.  They argue that the ‘deterrence’ objective is a clear indication that detention is intended to be a damaging and traumatic experience.

Australia’s political prisoners detained on the islands have frequently made the comparison with Guantánamo in letters and statements to the media. In an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Behrouz Boochani questioned ‘Why won’t you tell me how many years I must stay in your Guantánamo?’

Chauka: cultural symbol or torture compound?

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In his film ‘Chauka Please Tell Us The Time‘, co-produced with Arash Kamali Sarvestani, Behrouz Boochani recognizes the cultural significance of the Chauka to Manusian people and challenges how it has been appropriated by Australia. When questioned about the title of the film, he stated, ‘from a political perspective we can see how the politicians and Australian government are using this island and the beauty of this island for their own political aims. We can see that the thinking of the Australian government is still based on colonialism because they used the name of the beautiful Chauka for a place to torture people. In other words Australia is destroying the Chauka concept and customs for its own political ends.’ Promotional poster for "Chauka Please Tell Us the Time" film. A large figure clutches onto Australia, while a small figure looks up at them holding a small boat with a suitcase beside them.Poster Design: Hesam Fetrati. 

They used the name of the beautiful Chauka for a place to torture people.’

In July 2014, two men alleged that they were tortured, physically assaulted and threatened with rape while being held in isolation in what was known as the ‘Chauka’ compound in the Manus prison camp. One of those was a witness to the murder of Reza Barati and stated that he was pressured to sign papers withdrawing his witness statement. The men claimed they were cable-tied to chairs and beaten. The same men and others were again held in ‘Chauka’ during the hunger strike and peaceful demonstrations in January 2015. Between 23 May and 17 November 2014, asylum seekers were held in Chauka 74 times. In March 2015, then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, dismissed allegations of torture stating that Australians were ‘sick of being lectured to by the United Nations’.

Behrouz Boochani has described ‘Chauka’ and what it is like to be held in solitary confinement on Manus, while Michelle Nayahamui Rooney, who grew up on Manus Island, has articulated how Chauka is a symbol of Manus identity and morality. Australia’s perversion of ‘Chauka’ is emblematic of the neo-colonial disruption to the culture and identity of local people by the offshore processing regime.

‘All of the island, same jail’: Open-air prisons

Cartoon by Mahmoud Salameh that depicts Peter Dutton addressing a group of people in a cage with the door open, stating "you are free". They are on a tiny island scarcely bigger than the cage. Click here

 Artwork: Mahmoud Salameh.At a protest on Nauru, two women hold a sign that reads "we came for freedom but you gave us fake freedom and put us in a 21 square kilometres island which is another jail we are looking for real freedom".Protest on Nauru, 2016. The message echoes a statement made by an Iraqi refugee, Monawir al-Jaber, in 2005 about his experience during the first iteration of the Pacific Solution ‘The detention camp is a small jail and the island is a big jail. All of the island, same jail. I want to get freedom’ (Gordon, 2006) Amnesty International has reported on how Nauru has become an ‘Island of Despair‘ for people seeking asylum.

There is a long history of islands being used as prisons – the jails of Robben Island in South Africa and Rottnest Island (Wajemup)  and Palm Island in Australia demonstrate how this is particularly the case for racialised populations. Islands have now become part of an enforcement archipelago of detention; a tactic of migration control designed to deter, and detain asylum seekers. (Mountz, 2011) The Australian model is being looked to by other nation states seeking to prevent asylum seekers from entering their borders.

From 5 October 2015, in a successful attempt to thwart a high court challenge, Nauru RPC officially was declared an ‘open camp‘.  In PNG, a Supreme Court Ruling in April 2016 found that the detention of asylum seekers was illegal and unconstitutional. The following year, in order to comply with the court ruling, the PNG Chief Justice found that the Manus Island RPC was in fact closed and that the men were now simply living on a Naval Base. As Perera and Pugliese highlight, as a result of this legal fiction and the failure of the court ruling to bring about meaningful change, the men continued to lead arrested lives. ‘Opening’ the camps on Nauru and Manus has had no effect other than to extend the boundaries of their prisons.

State Violence: onshore/offshore

An excerpt of a letter written by a man detained on Manus Island. It reads 'So Australian government rent Manus Island they place which they themselves call it a remote place and exile his boat arrivals in there by the name of processing centre which in fact is a torturing centre. Torture does not only mean that some people kidnap you and tie you upon a chair, beat you up or cut you off. Torture can be done in many ways, for example when they put people in a place which is metal made tunnel 70+ years old from WWII full of dust with 150+ detainees with big metal fans which is blowing the heat into your face the heat which is almost 40+ degrees celsius and 90% of hummidity that is a kind of torture.'

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The letter below, written in 2014, refers to offshore processing as being a current version of Guantanamo; a ‘torturing centre’ for refugees. Page 1 of a letter entitled "What is offshore processing?" reads, 'What is offshore processing? A reminder to the Australian people. People who care about humanity might read this. The main information in here is about the Australian offshore detentions. They call it Regional Processing Centres in Manus Island and Nauru and they call detainees transferees. It is all a game or a treak [trick] to skip the Australian laws and more obvious the international laws. Simply offshore processing is a mordern version of Guantanamo an exile. So Australian government rent Manus Island they place which they themselves call it a remote place and exile his boat arrivals in there by the name of processing centre which in fact is a torturing centre. Torture does not only mean that some people kidnap you and tie you upon a chair, beat you up or cut you off. Torture can be done in many ways, for example when they put people in a place which is metal made tunnel 70+ years old from WWII full of dust with 150+ detainees with big metal fans which is blowing the heat into your face the heat which is almost 40+ degrees Celsius and 90% of hummidity that is a kind of torture. When they put people in old rooms which is made of wood with metal roofs which is trapping the heat from morning until the evening and when you sleep you will be feeling..'Page 2 of a letter entitled "What is offshore processing?" it reads, ' sleeping in sea water that is another kind of torture. Most of the detainees suffer from skin funges and heat rashes because of the weather. When the security guards keep telling you that locals are canibals and when you go out of this place you will be cut into pices and in another hand they tell you this is where you will be resettd that is simply traumatising. But because it is in a remot [remote] place and nobody can hear detainees that's when they can do this [these] things. There is no advantage of offshore expect deterence. Offshore is too costly compare to any other plans but they can do whatever they want to detainees in offshore without anyone stopping them. There are many things happening here to the detainees that if I want to write them done it will be a tick boock to read. And finaly offshore processing is where a detainee will get a simple infection and dies with an outstanding medical service. - Manus Island detainees'

The ABC TV program, ‘Australia’s Shame‘ exposed the treatment of young, mostly Aboriginal prisoners held in  Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory, calling attention to the use of spit-hoods and restraint chairs in particular. Following public outrage in response to the Don Dale Footage, Australian Border Force (ABF) issued a media release addressing the use of spit masks in immigration detention.

In his contribution to the Save Eaten Fish campaign, Chris Kelly drew Eaten Fish in the posture of the Aboriginal youth Dylan Voller bound in a restraint chair. The Don Dale footage caused shock and outrage, evoking the infamous photographs of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Kelly’s cartoon links the regimes of ‘onshore’ detention of Indigenous people and the ‘offshore’ detention of refugees.  Three sites of detention–offshore prisons, mainland detention centres and the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan– are  linked by the contracting companies who work across them, by organizational structures, personnel, shared technologies and practices (such as the use of dogs to induce terror) and the same lexicon of criminality (‘the worst of the worst’).

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Manus Fence. Photo: Behrouz Boochani.

Lived Effects of a ‘Failing State’

The cumulative effects of colonial histories and neocolonial exploitation are exacerbated at number of levels by the presence of Australia’s camps, compounding experiences of political suppression, economic inequality, and the threat of violence in the everyday lives of local people in Nauru and Manus Island.

Michelle Nayamahui Rooney argues that the detention centre on Manus Island promotes a power dynamic of aggression, directed at locals as well as detainees. One of the key effects of ‘the Manus complex’ is a heightening of masculinist violence.

‘The Manus complex is without doubt a dynamic of power and hierarchy that depends on masculine domination, aggression, intimidation and inequality. These dynamics are reaffirmed at the national and bilateral political levels in the language used by political leaders in Australia and PNG.’

Michelle Nayamahui Rooney

The dynamics of these complex hierarchies of power are exemplified by the case of a female Papua New Guinean Transfield worker who was allegedly raped by Wilson Officers from Australia and New Zealand.  The officers were subsequently flown out of the country, before they could be held accountable under PNG law.  (Perera and Pugliese, 2018)

Gendered Violence

In 2016, Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru released a report ‘Protection Denied, Abuse Condoned: Women on Nauru at Risk’ which details cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women imprisoned on the island by the Australian government. In instances where rapes have been reported, Nauruan authorities have often failed to investigate or cast doubt on allegations and women have been blamed, discredited or disbelieved.

Abortions are illegal in both Nauru and PNG; however, Australian authorities have increasingly resisted transferring women to Australia to have the procedure and in some cases women have been refused terminations despite doctor’s recommendations. Several other pregnant women who expected complex births that could not be adequately supported on Nauru have also been placed at risk when medical transfers have been refused. Publicly reported cases like those of Nazanin and Abyan highlight the gendered effects, in particular the extreme violence, that women are subjected to as a result of Australia’s offshore policy. This withholding of reproductive rights and freedoms for refugee and asylum seeker women bears some resemblance to the treatment of pregnant women and girls at the border by U.S state and federal officials and their contractors.

In 2015, a former Save the Children worker alleged that Wilson security guards were abusing their positions of power by soliciting sexual favours from refugee women and in some cases recording them. The gendered violence associated with Australia’s detention camps also extends to local Nauruan women and girls who former head of ABF, Roman Quaedvlieg, suggests were being prostituted near one of the detention camps.


A photo shows the figure of a woman partially obscured by a shower curtain. She is turned away from the camera and looking down. Click here

All We Can’t See: Illustrating the Nauru Files, 2018. Artist: Pia Johnson. Based on the Incident Report: “I was asked on Friday (26-9-2014) by a fellow teacher [REDACTED 1] if I would sit with an asylum seeker [REDACTED 2] who was sobbing. She is a classroom helper for the children. A secondary teacher assistant [REDACTED 3] was present. She talked about several situations, some from Christmas Island, some from RPC3. She reported that she has been asking for a 4 minute shower as opposed to 2 minutes. Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favours. It is a male security person. She did not state if this has or hasn’t occured. The security officer wants to view a boy or girl having a shower.” The Moss Report (A review into recent allegations relating to conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru) found evidence of rapes, sexual assaults of minors and an instance of a guard demanding to see a woman naked in return for allowing her an extra 2 minutes in the shower with her young child. A poem written by Arezo and Janet Galbraith highlights the daily, routine violence that women are subjected to as their bodies are screened and searched. 

Mutilating values

An illustration shows the silhouette of a woman with her hands holding her stomach. She is standing behind a chain-link fence that has a tear in it. She is standing behind the void.

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Illustration: BuzzFeed/Getty Images. 

In 2018 details emerged of a Somali refugee, held on Nauru since 2014, who had to seek an urgent court ruling before being brought to Australia for an abortion. The woman, who had been subjected to infibulation, was in need of specialist medical attention to ensure her safety, but the Australian Border Force authorities argued for her to be taken to Taiwan for the abortion, despite the fact that there were no facilities or staff with experience of treating patients who had undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in that country.

The spectacle of lawyers for the Australian government arguing the size of the woman’s vaginal opening underlines the extent of the political zeal to prevent refugees entering Australia. While equality of women and men before the law is often held up as a core Australian value, this value patently does not extend to the principle of equal access to medical attention for refugee women.



 ‘I have to hide my personality once again’: Violence against LGBTIQ+ Refugees and Asylum Seekers

A cartoon by the artist Eaten Fish depicts himself standing to the right of the frame. A taller and intimidating man, who looks both friendly and potentially sinister stands over him. The man asked if he can see his cartoons. The gravestones of Reza Barati, Hamid Khazaei and Omid Masoumali are depicted in the foreground. One man peers between coconut trees and looks toward Eaten Fish, another hides behind a gravestone. They both appear to be preying on Eaten Fish. Surveillance cameras encourage the men to sexually assault Eaten Fish. Various speech bubbles pop up in the cartoon which speak to the risk and vulnerability of the cartoonist to sexual harassment inside the Manus detention centre. Click here

Artist: Eaten Fish. The artwork of Eaten Fish documents the sexual violence that he experienced while detained on Manus Island. It speaks to how constant monitoring and surveillance provides no protection for vulnerable men who are targeted.

‘I had to get out of Iran and…I came to Australia, a country that says that it supports human rights…but unfortunately the Australian government brought me to a place where I’m still in danger.’

‘Mohammad’, gay asylum seeker held on Manus

Homosexuality is criminalised in PNG and punishable by a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Homosexuality was decriminalised in Nauru  in 2016, however homophobia remains prevalent. Behrouz Boochani has written of how gay, transgender and bisexual men on Manus have been forced into silence. A series of letters published in The Guardian written by gay men held on Manus, and the publicly reported case of ‘Nima’ and ‘Ashkan‘, a refugee couple from Iran held on Nauru, highlight the violence that LGBTIQA+ asylum seekers have experienced as a result of Australia’s offshoring policy. In 2018 Abdul Karim Hekmat reported that Nima had descended into a catatonic state, repeatedly denied care by IHMS. Ashkan pleaded for help, declaring that he was himself was near breaking point.

The violence has been perpetrated by the state, by local communities and by fellow prisoners. The prisons camps are sites of violence; they expose people to violence and heighten their  vulnerability to perpetrate or become victims of violence. The Manus complex, as a dynamic of violence and aggression, also reaches into local communities from the RPC as a locus which breaches all manner of human rights.

The Resistance of Mothers and Women

‘I was yearning for justice in a country which claims to uphold women’s rights but all I have experienced is terror and panic. Systemic violence keeps us in Nauru and it seems our pain has become very good business….The government has enough tools to suffocate us. If you would like to support us, please, please take off your hands from our mouth. If Australia would like to support us, please make an opportunity for us to talk to the community.’

Mina Taherkhani, woman previously detained on Nauru

The resistance in the camps on Nauru has predominantly been led by women and mothers. They have played critical roles in organising protests, speaking to the media and advocating for their rights and the rights of their children. 

Testimonies from women forcibly held by Australia on Nauru expose the violence they are subjected to on the island and their hopes for their children to have normal lives in a safe environment.

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Rows of women protest on Nauru in a courtyard. There wear aprons covered in handpainted slogans calling for an end to the violence and abuse perpetrated against them and their children. At the front a large banner is held that reads 'STOP violence against women and children. We are mothers, we are not criminals'. Most women wear hats or glasses to conceal their faces.

International Women’s Day Protest, Nauru, 2015.

Women stand under a verandah with banners. Children sit at the front wearing aprons painted with slogans like '2 years enough' and 'Gillian Triggs save us'. The women hold banners including one that reads 'We are refugee women, we are not attackers'. Those not holding banners hold their hands in the air showing peace signs.

See media release from Refugee Action Coalition.

Lines of Solidarity: Local communities

‘Australia does not want us to be educated or healthy. We would grow ourselves up strong then. We two groups – the refugees and us Manusians – we are being treated as starving dogs. Australia throws a bone into the middle and we are to fight over the scraps.’

Paru, local Manusian

In November 2012, local landowners threatened to sabotage the camp on Manus Island. They blocked the road to Lombrum naval base and shut down the island’s airport. They demanded to be involved in the construction and servicing of the camp and stressed that associated work contracts should be given to local people. In 2014 it was reported that local landowners had initially viewed the facility as an economic opportunity, however were frustrated about what had eventuated.

In October 2017, Manusian community leaders met with the Provincial Government to express discontentment with the proposed relocation of refugees to Lorengau, on private property, and urge the government to honour the Supreme Court’s decision to shut down the ‘processing centre’. The Manus Alliance Against Human Rights Abuses organised a petition calling for asylum seekers and refugees to be brought back to Australia while others in the community expressed concerns about the economic impact of the closure.

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‘Ethel: A Manus local Dutton doesn’t want you to hear from’, 2017. Video: GetUp! During the siege following 31 October, some Good Samaritans on Manus tried to deliver food to the refugees in the camp however were being turned away by the military. Following the forced relocation of asylum seekers and refugees to the camps at East Lorengau (ELRTC), Hillside and West Haus, resistance has continued with local people using trucks and other vehicles to block access to the sites on multiple occasions.


Resisting Neo-Colonialism

‘The message that it sends to the rest of the world and the Pacific is that we can be used as a deterrent factor…We are basically allowing ourselves to grovel at the feet of Australian neo-colonialism.’

Governor Gary Juffa  (Oro Province, PNG)

Local landowners on Manus have at times expressed discontent with Australia’s operation of the detention centre on their land. Several politicians in PNG have also challenged Australia’s neo-colonial relationship with PNG. Both politicians and local community members articulate frustration about how Australia’s colonial intervention and deliberate orchestration of tensions between asylum seekers and local community members has resulted in unfair, negative representations of Manusians in international media and damaged their reputation.

In 2014, Governor Powes Parkop, a former human rights lawyer, wrote an open letter to Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato, published in local newspapers. The letter he highlighted his ‘grave concern’ at the mistreatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island. Parkop also articulated his concerns during 2011 following the announcement that the centre would be reopened.

‘This is an Australian practice which we should guard ourselves against. We are a compassionate nation and people known for our hospitality and compassion in reaching out to people in hardship, distress or seeking comfort. We are also a nation and people who proclaim to be Christian. It is therefore repugnant to our traditional and contemporary culture and to our Christian values to keep such people in near prison-like environment…Let’s have a more human approach that befits our culture, our moral and legal responsibility and lets not act like Australians and allow their policies and culture of detention forever to dictate our approach.’

Governor Powers Parkop (National Capital District, PNG), 2014


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Local Manusians use trucks to block entrance of the East Lorengau Transit Centre, November 2017.

The Killings: A Sovereign Right to Make Die

‘Under what practical conditions is the right to kill, to allow to live or to expose to death exercised?’  Achille Mbembe, ‘Necropolitics’

It seems they will continue to fill their glasses with our blood’  Imran Mohammad, Writer formerly imprisoned on Manus

Australia’s offshore prisons on Manus and Nauru are necropolitical spaces where the sovereign exercises its ‘right to kill, to allow to live or to expose to death’ (Foucault 1986, Mbembe 2003). The killings discussed in this case study include not only cases of murder, but of every form of indirect killing whether through exposure to death, increasing the risk of death, political death or expulsion.


The right to kill: Murdered with impunity

‘They hit him and they kicked him with their boots. And they dropped a rock on his head. We watched all of this, we saw him die.’

Witness to Reza Barati’s Murder

February 17, 2014: Fatal Night


Killing Reza Barati

It's night time at the Manus Island Detention Centre. A small group of men gather in an area that appears to be between two buildings. Plastic chair line both sides. A plastic fold out table sits in the centre of the frame. There are plants on the table and a frame photo fo Reza Barati. One man sits on a chair, while the rest stand, gather at the end furthest from the camera. Reza Barati's photo has also been stuck on one of the doors.

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Vigil for Reza Barati, Manus Island, Lombrum Camp, 2015. 

Reza Barati was a 23-year-old Kurdish architecture student who fled from the city of Lomar in the Ilam province (Kurdistan region) of Iran. Reza Barati’s boat made landfall on Christmas Island on  24 July 2013. Only five days earlier, a change in policy regarding boat arrivals had been effected. Reza Barati was sent by force to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and had been there for about 6 months at the time of his violent murder. He was known among his peers as ‘the gentle giant’.

‘We would never think that they would kill the strong, stocky Reza Barati, unjustly under stroke with their hand’.

Letter from Reza Barati’s friends

Orchestrating Tension

Following the 2013 re-opening of the camp on Manus, mutual fear and suspicion of one  another between asylum seekers and local Manusians was deliberately spread by the Australian Immigration Department and its private contractors. Manusians were told that asylum seekers were dangerous criminals, while asylum seekers were given to understand that locals were savage and dangerous cannibals who could infect them with disease. These representations fostered tensions and ultimately violence between the two groups. The construction of these narratives by Australia can itself be seen as a violent act of neo-colonialism. In some cases, activists in Australia arguing for an end to offshore processing were complicit in uncritically reproducing these narratives.

Concerns about safety and security for the men in the camp were well known long before the events that resulted in the killing of Reza Barati in February 2014. On the morning of 18 October 2013, a fight took place outside of the camp between a group of PNG police and PNG Defence Force personnel. This could be seen from Foxtrot compound where some of the men were held. Asylum seekers reported hearing gun shots and most staff were evacuated, with only a few G4S officers remaining in the compounds. Some people reported that external gates were not secured and that they were not given any information about what was happening. This raised concerns that in the event of an emergency, people detained in the camp could be abandoned by those supposedly employed to protect them. Shortly afterwards, in another ‘incident’, local police shot stray dogs outside of the Manus camp. The operation, known as ‘Killum Dog’ again caused fear and anxiety to many inmates when the sound of gunfire was heard, as well as distressing those inmates who had befriended these dogs. (Amnesty, 2013)

The final 48 hours: 16 February

Protests started in the Manus Prison on 26 January, officially celebrated as Australia Day, but known as Invasion Day to Indigenous peoples and their supporters. The protests, calling for freedom for the refugees on this national day in Australia, were initially confined to Oscar compound, and were peaceful though they lacked coordination. Following this initial protest, the protests spread to other compounds within the camp, became increasingly organised and occurred on a daily basis. Over the following weeks G4S requested additional guards to contain them.

On the afternoon of 16 February, Australian and PNG immigration officials held a meeting with representatives of different communities of asylum seekers in the camp to provided responses to 11 questions submitted to them by asylum seekers on 5 February [Cornall Review p.36-39]. The inadequate official responses to the men’s questions  exacerbated existing frustrations and escalated tensions.

According to the Review, ‘The central message of the meeting was that the processing of refugee claims was likely to take a long time, possibly up to four years, and that the other option available to the asylum seekers was to return to their home country or to another country where they held residency rights.

‘In the meeting, no new information was given to the asylum seekers and their questions were not answered. They were told that they would never be settled in Australia and that if they wished to settle in a third country, they would receive no support from Australia or PNG to do this. They were not told when they would be processed, released or resettled in PNG.’

Amnesty International (Senate Committee Report)

Following this meeting, on the night of 16 February, up to 30 people from inside Oscar compound went outside the perimeter fence to protest but they were quickly apprehended by local people and G4S staff. One man had his throat slit and others were beaten.

The fatal night: 17 February

A laminated photo of Reza Barati with his name written beneath his image, is held up in the Manus Island Detention Centre.

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Photo of Reza Barati held up in Delta Compound, Manus Camp, Lombrum, 2014. A medical officer who examined Reza Barati stated, ‘When he was brought in, Mr Barati was alive but the medical staff knew from his injuries that he was not going to survive. Mr Barati’s head was shattered by a crack on the left side of his skull…He also had facial abrasions and knocks indicating he has received a more general beating (not just the blow to the skull).’


There are multiple accounts of what happened on the night when Reza Barati was killed. In Australia, officials at first denied and then equivocated about the cause of his death. Witness statements and comments made to media by asylum seekers in the camp contradict official  accounts. The former are supported by camp staff who blew the whistle in subsequent weeks and months in an attempt to help correct the record.

‘Injuries suffered by transferees included the results of beatings to the face, across the back and the right side of the victims’ arms. These injuries suggested that the victims had been running away when they were hit or crouching down trying to protect their face and head behind a raised arm.’

Medical Officer (Cornall Report, 46)

A Privatised Killing: The role of contractors

A handdrawn illustration shows 5 silhouettes of various people involved in the detention system. The figure on the left side is labelled 'asylum seeker', this figure is crouched on the ground with hands up in a protective stance. The figure beside them is 'PNG G4S' with a weapon raised above their heads, preparing to strike the asylum seeker. The next person in the line up is 'Aussie G4S' who indifferently looks at a clipboard as if monitoring the assault. The next person is a politician who points towards the figures to their left and appears to be lecturing to the person on their right. The person on their right is 'Aussie' who stands idly with a no entry symbol on his shirt and beer in hand. The 'Aussie' has a beer belly and wears a singlet, shorts and thongs. They appear unmoved by the assault perpetrated against the asylum seeker. Click here

Artwork: Domenic Golding (member of RISE). A witness stated that on the night of 17 February, G4S officers broke the fence down and encouraged local people to enter the camp and help them attack asylum seekers. G4S denied these allegations, while an Australian G4S officer claimed that PNG police did nothing to prevent community members from entering the camp.  Two witnesses who returned to their country of origin, alleged that Australian G4S officers incited the violence between asylum seekers and Papua New Guinean employees and community members. The same companies are contracted to work on Nauru and similar power dynamics and tensions have been fostered. In 2017, Amnesty International released a report detailing how private contractors, particularly Broadspectrum (who subcontract to companies like Wilson Security and G4S) profit from the abuse of refugees on Nauru.

Accounts by asylum seekers highlight the central role of G4S officers in the violence on the night of Reza Barati’s murder. Audio recordings leaked by an Australian staff member reveal that protests staged by asylum seekers had been peaceful in the lead-up to 17 February.  A report by Tara Moss further clarifies details of what happened, while video footage obtained by The Guardian showed a makeshift hospital set up to treat dozens of injured asylum seekers.

Joshua Kaluvia, a local man employed by the Salvation Army, played a central role in Reza Barati’s murder. In its submission to the Senate Inquiry, the Salvation Army denied this allegation and attempted to portray Kaluvia as an ally of the asylum seekers. A whistleblower, however, claimed that he had alerted the Salvation Army that two of their employees intended to participate in the imminent violence but this warning was not taken seriously by management.

Talking to SBS Dateline, Migration Agent and whistleblower, Liz Thompson revealed that staff on her team were sent back to work only days after Reza Barati’s murder to demonstrate that everything was ‘business as usual’.

The Fence: The limits of accountability

Left: Cartoon by Cathy Wilcox. It shows an illustrated fence topped with barbed wire. Inside the fence the word 'truth' is written. Outside the fence the text 'Scott Morrison's version of events' is written. Right: Illustration by Ron Tandberg. Shows a cartoon of Scott Morrison agressively responding to journalists at a press conference. A speech bubble reads 'If you don't ask any questions, you won't be told any lies!'. Click here

(Left) 2014. Artist: Cathy Wilcox. (Right) 2014, Artist: Ron Tandberg. In the aftermath of Reza Barati’s murder, then Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, immediately sought to blame the attacks on the asylum seekers. On 18 February, he publicly stated, ‘This is a tragedy but this was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk.’ He provided unsubstantiated information, reported widely by media outlets, and did not seek to correct his statements until late on the night of Saturday 22 February.

‘I can guarantee their safety when they remain in the centre and act co-operatively with those who are trying to provide them with support and accommodation. When people engage in violent acts and in disorderly behaviour and breach fences and get involved in that sort of behaviour and go to the other side of the fence, well they will be subject to law enforcement as applies in Papua New Guinea. But when people co-operate and conduct themselves appropriately within the centre, then yes I can.’

Former Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison (18.02.14)

The Minister’s discussion locating the fence as the supposed limit of accountability suggested that Reza Barati’s murder would have been permissible had it occurred outside of the boundary. The fence is positioned as the threshold of Australian jurisdiction and authority. The fabricated breach of that authority serves to justify the killing of Reza Barati and alleges, in effect, that he was responsible for his own brutal murder.

The Aftermath

A poster placed in the Manus Island RPC shows a photo of one of the men who was involved in Reza Barati's murder. He was charged, sentenced and subsequently escaped from jail. It reads 'Attention all MIRPC staff. This person is not to enter the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Joshua Kaluvia [photo] CONTROL is to be informed if Mr Joshua KALUVIA is sighted' Click here

Joshua Kaluvia, a former Salvation Army worker, the man Behnam Satah and other witnesses testified against in the killing of Reza Barati, escaped from jail twice. He has remained free since his escape in 2017. This notice was posted in the Manus Island RPC. Witnesses were not formerly notified of his escape.

‘At night, I cannot sleep in here. Every single moment I think that someone might kill me. Every time I hear someone pass, I hear footsteps, I am alert, I think someone is coming to do something to me.’

Behnam Satah, friend, former roommate and witness

Behnam Satah was the primary witness to Reza Barati’s murder. Community members and MPs have called for Behnam to be evacuated to Australia because his safety cannot be guaranteed on Manus. His testimony reveals how he has been targeted. He has felt unable to trust camp security to protect him, as Louie Efi, one of the other PNG men eventually convicted for Reza Barati’s murder, was previously employed by G4S. Four years on, none of the Australian expatriates involved in Reza Barati’s murder have been held to account.

‘Our people must see that justice runs both ways…We accept that Louie and Joshua have been found guilty, now they must bring in the others who are also culpable…We now demand that the two expatriates involved and the others identified be immediately arrested and charged for their part.’

Ron Knight, Manus MP


An ‘Eminently foreseeable’ death

In December 2013, Amnesty International released a report entitled ‘This is Breaking People‘ detailing human rights violations at Manus RPC. Only months later, in response to Reza Barati’s murder, the Cornall Report examined factors, including structural dysfunction, which encouraged the violence that culminated in the murder of Reza Barati.  A parliamentary inquiry subsequently found that the violence that killed Reza Barati was ’eminently foreseeable’, ‘may have been prevented’ and that the Australian government failed in its duty to protect asylum seekers, including Reza Barati, from harm.

None of these reports acknowledge that what happened was not a policy failure; rather, according to the objectives of offshore processing it was a success. Reza Barati’s beaten and brutalised body served as the ultimate warning against seeking refuge in Australia. Reza Barati became a message of deterrence.

‘He was innocent and did not commit any crime and his murderers are free. I have lost my son and I want you, the Australian people, to bring those who killed my son to justice.’

Torab Barati, Reza Barati’s Father


A Recurring Violence: Good Friday 2017

Detention centre fence with visible bullet holes through the steel mesh. Click here

Visible bullet holes in fences following Good Friday shooting, 2017. An investigation by Amnesty International examined what happened on that night, affirming the authenticity of photographic evidence provided by asylum seekers and exposing the subsequent ‘reckless and irresponsible’ claims made by Minister Dutton.

‘They are attacking us again.’

Behnam Satah, friend, former roommate and witness

The shots fired into the Manus prison on Good Friday 2017 by drunken PNG naval officers were a terrifying reminder of the attacks in February 2014, and proof that the Australian government still cannot guarantee the safety of the men held there. Fortunately, on this occasion there were no casualties, however the event reinforced the sense that their lives were not worthy of protection. In 2017 as in 2014, the Immigration Minister misrepresented events in order to redirect blame onto the victims. His Department initially maintained that only warning shots were fired into the air and that no one had been injured. The truth was later revealed in Senate hearings when the Department admitted that shots had been fired laterally into the compounds and nine people had sustained injuries.

Four Years, No Justice

Two men detained by the Australian government on PNG stand beside one another, holding signs in front of their faces. One says 'Dutton and his Team the blood of the innocent of men and women on your hands. Rest in Peace Brother Reza' and the other reads 'SOS#Manus'. They stand outside the East Lorengau transit accommodation. Dried grass and trees are visible in the background. Click here

200 days of peaceful protests, Lorengau, 18 February 2018.  Four years on and the men on Manus still live with the trauma of the night Reza Barati was murdered. Some men who were injured on the night of Reza Barati’s murder have experienced further violence in the community. Masoud Ali Shiekh stated, ‘I was beaten but I was not killed. My room was like a scene of slaugher.’ In October 2016 Mr Sheikh was hit with a rock when confronted by a group of young men in Lorengau, which resulted in a deep head injury for which he received minimal treatment.

‘It’s one of the worst memories we have with us and we can’t take that memory away from us’.

Abdul Aziz, writer and human rights defender held on Manus

‘It has been four years since Reza Barati was murdered on Manus Island by local and Australian expatriate G4S officers. One of the locals convicted for Reza’s murder escaped from jail about 11 months ago and the other is still in jail. Two Australian expatriates were never brought to trial to face charges for Reza’s murder…Australia always helps and rescues its own people who commit crimes in PNG…Criminals are out there and we are still detained.’

Behnam Satah, friend, former roommate and witness

To mark the 4th anniversary of Reza Barati’s murder, Behrouz Boochani wrote an article recalling the events of February 2014, analysing the political significance of Reza’s death, highlighting the ongoing violence perpetrated against the men and providing a moving personal tribute. There has been no accountability for Reza Barati’s murder, nor for the dozens of men who were seriously injured. No assault charges have been laid. Reza Barati’s violent murder is a reminder to the other men of their own vulnerability.

Memorialisations and Resistance

Following Reza Barati’s violent murder, men in the Manus camp printed photos of Reza and stuck them up on walls around the camp. They spoke to advocates and journalists with determination to set the record straight and reveal what had really happened on the night of 17 February. Australia-wide ‘Light the Dark‘ vigils were held to remember Reza Barati. His distraught family members called for answers, and following the repatriation of Reza Barati’s body back to Iran, held a memorial ceremony at the Ah-Mahdi Mosque in Nabard, Iran. Taleb Ghanbaria stated, ‘Saddam Hussein never treated Iranian prisoners of war the way Australia treated my brother-in-law.’

‘Be Yade Reza’ (Remember Reza) a song for Reza Barati, written and recorded by two men while they were detained on Christmas Island. Following Reza Barati’s murder there were also solidarity protests held on Christmas Island.

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A group of performers are shown on a stage. The room is very dark. A projection or screen in the background shows a row of women in Reza Barati's grieving family. Figures of the performers stand in front of the screen. To the left side two men sit on suitcase, illuminated by candle-like lights. Small text on the screen reads 'to be able to fight'. Manus, a play performed in Iran and Bangladesh. Photo shows Bangladesh performance, directed by Nazanin Sahamizadeh, 2017. Photo: Iran Theater.


The weaponisation of physical suffering

‘If we think of Hamid Khazaei, we can see how his death was used to send a message to the world…The message sent to the world was that this is what will happen to you if you try to come to Australia for refuge.’

Behrouz Boochani, Kurdish journalist held in limbo by the Australian government on Manus Island since 2013

Killing Hamid Khazaei

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 4 Corners, ‘Bad Blood‘, 2016.


‘The white demons have arrived with anger
to promise another Reza’s death.
They have sharp claws
They are roaring
The ground is wet from blood
though no-one has been killed yet.
They want a volunteer.
Someone like Reza Barati.
Someone to be annihilated again.’

‘Thunder’, poet detained on Manus Island

Click here


A ‘litany of mistakes’

Vigil for Hamid Khazaei at the Manus Island Detention Centre. Men gather around a table, a photo of Hamid is placed in the centre and plates bearing fruit are being arranged. Click here

Vigil for Hamid Khazaei, Manus Island, 2014. A dark and slightly blurry photo of Hamid Khazari adorned with decorations light reflects off of. Response to Australia-wide ‘Light the Dark’ Vigils for Hamid. A message written on a piece of paper that reads "Thanks light the Dark we are from MANUS jail."

Hamid Khazaei was a 24 year old man from Iran who was transferred from Christmas Island to Manus Island in September 2013. A year later he was dead from septicaemia after a foot injury became infected while he was detained in the Manus prison. His mother described him as a ‘sensitive, harmless, lovable‘ son. His family were devastated by his death.

A timeline of the days leading to Hamid Khazaei’s death highlights his rapid deterioration during the time between his first presentation and when he was finally evacuated. As a consequence of Hamid being transferred to a hospital in Brisbane before his death, an investigation in the Queensland Coroners Court is in process. The inquest focused on the fatal delays to medical treatment, exposed the political pressure not to transfer sick refugees to Australia for treatment and highlighted how broken equipment and a ‘litany of mistakes’ on Manus diminished Hamid’s chances of survival. Just a month before Hamid’s death,  a young Yamatji woman, Ms Dhu, died of the same treatable infection while held in custody in Western Australia. Following Hamid’s death, in an act of solidarity, ISJA offered his family an Aboriginal passport.

The Politics of Medical Transfers

Banner hung in the aftermath of Hamid Khazaei's death, Manus Island RPC. It reads "From: DIBP. To: The management of IHMS. We would warmly appreciate your co-operation in regard to the delay of initial treatment and transfer of Hamid Khazay who was badly in need of special treatment and putting his life in danger of death." Click here

Banner hung in the aftermath of Hamid Khazaei’s death, Manus Island RPC, 2014. Dr Nick Martin, a former senior medical officer on Nauru has stated, ‘These medical delays put in place are absolutely criminal.’Message written on a wall inside the Manus camp. It reads "you are working together to kill human. Your hands are dirty for Reza and Hamid death."Above: Message written on wall following Hamid’s death, Manus Island RPC, 2014.

The hospitals in Nauru, Lorengau and Port Morseby, are poorly equipped and inadequately resourced to provide proper treatment for refugees who may present with complex medical needs. Doctors often recommend medical transfers to Australia, where people can access the equipment, tests and specialists required. These are routinely overruled by the Department. Some Doctors have spoken publicly about how Australian Border Force obstructed and deliberately frustrated their ability to provide adequate and timely care for their patients. In 2015, the Department started transferring people on Nauru to Port Moresby in PNG for medical treatment to avoid transfers to Australia. The refusal to transfer people to Australia, even those with acute or potentially life-threatening medical problems continues to place peoples’ lives at risk.

Increased resistance to transferring people to Australia is a response to interventions by lawyers who have secured injunctions to prevent their clients from being returned to the offshore camps. At the beginning of 2016 thousands of people across Australia mobilised around the ‘#LetThemStay‘ campaign for 267 people who were transferred to Australia from Nauru and Manus and were at risk of being forcibly returned. The majority of those people are now in Australia in community detention or on bridging visas.


The Inquest: a ‘preventable’ death

Refugee rights supporters gather outside the Coroner's Court in Brisbane. They hold placards and a banner that reads '12 deaths too many Mr Dutton. BRING THEM HERE'

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People gather outside Coroner’s Court, Brisbane 2016. Photos: Mark Gillespie. A poster placed on the pavement with two candles places either side and a bouquet of flowers below it. The piece of paper has a black and white photo of Hamid in the centre and reads 'Remember Hamid Khazaei. A victim of systemic neglect' The Inquest findings into the death of Hamid Khazaei were handed down by State Coroner Terry Ryan in Brisbane as Fazel Chegeni Nejad’s Coronial Inquest began in Perth. The specific circumstances surrounding each death differed however both must be understood in the context of Australia’s mandatory detention and offshore processing regimes.

In his findings Coroner Ryan unequivocally recognized the role that the Australian government played in Hamid Khazaei’s death and characterised it as ‘preventable’. He found that at various points, Hamid was provided with inadequate medical care and pointed to systemic failures that contributed to his death.

The Coroner considered that while inquiry into Australia’s offshore processing policy generally was outside of the scope of the inquest, ‘the fact that Mr Khazaei’s death occurred in the context of offshore processing cannot be overlooked’. He stated that the Australian government retains responsibility for the care of people who have been relocated offshore and recommended that ‘the approval process for medical transfers should be led by persons located in regional processing countries with clinical training in emergency medicine’ and that all deaths of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru be subject to an independent judicial investigation. The inquest findings were largely an affirmation of what lawyers, independent medical experts and advocates have said regarding how the health of refugees and people seeking asylum exiled on Manus and Nauru is compromised by the systems in place, particularly those which prioritise bureaucratic and political imperatives over peoples’ clinical needs.


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Digital Portrait of Hamid Kehazaei, 2017. Artist: Marziya Mohammedali. Designed for a shirt requested by a friend of Hamid’s detained on Manus.



The weaponisation of physical suffering

‘They’re trying to kill me, if they kill me take care of my son.’


Killing Faysal Ishak Ahmed

Artwork by Eaten Fish. Eaten fish weeps and points to a flower at the bottom of a flight of stairs, text reads "He fell down these stairs I saw him could not breath".

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Happy Bloody Christmas: The True Story of Faysal’, The Guardian, 2016. Artist: Eaten Fish.



‘Now he’s free, he’s got his freedom, he’s not going to suffer anymore, he’s not gonna be tortured anymore…What I see now, all of us are in a queue, waiting for our turn to come…Those four guys they got their turn…now we’re waiting.’

Abdul Aziz (in The Messenger ‘Freedom is not free‘)

Care Denied

A large group of men gather under a large marquee in the Manus camp. The words "Shame on you IHMS, DIBP, ICSA, Wilson and BRS you have FAYSAL blood on your hands" has been written at the top of the shade structure. Click here

‘Shame on you IHMS, DIBP, ICSA and BRS you have Faysal blood on your hands’ message from the days after Faysal’s death visible in photos of protests the following year, Manus Island, August, 2017.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed was a 27 year old man from Sudan who had been granted refugee status in PNG. He was a husband and father of a young son. After months of ill health, he collapsed in Oscar compound as a result of a seizure on the 23rd of December. He was evacuated to a Brisbane hospital where he died the following day. Faysal experienced a previous seizure two months before his death.  Following this he wrote a letter to IHMS pleading for adequate treatment. On 15 December, a week before his death, after several futile presentations at the clinic, he wrote another complaint. Following his final collapse, his friends wrote a letter requesting that Faysal be treated immediately ‘before it’s too late’. A Senate Committee confirmed that Faysal had sought medical attention 13 times in the two months before his death. The Department released this statement.

Privatised Killing: The role of IHMS

A banner hung for a memorial service in the Manus prison reads "Faysal's death was predictable and preventable IHMS, DIBP, ICSA, Wilson and BRS murdered him.". Two black and white photos of Faysal's detention centre ID card are attached to the banner. Click here

Vigil for Faysal Ishak Ahmed, Manus Island, 2016.A banner hung for a memorial service in the Manus prison reads, "Mulcom Trumble, Petter Dotten, Petter O'Neil, IHMS are criminals and killing innocent refugees by cold blood".A vigil for Faysal in the Manus prison. It is night time and dozens of plastic chairs are assembled outside facing a small building that banners are attached to. Speakers address the crowd.A banner hung for a memorial service in the Manus prison reads, "Rest in peace Faysal IHMS performs IDBPs dirty job deceased Faysal as prove."

‘I feel there is real negligence going on in the IHMS clinic.’

Abdul Aziz  Click here

Following Faysal’s death more than 200 refugees in the Manus Camp signed this complaint form, requesting a Royal Commission and calling for IHMS to be investigated. Page 1 of a "Feedback and Complaints" form written on 27 December 2016, signed by friends of Faysal. It holds DIBP and IHMS to account for Faysal's death, citing medical neglect despite repeated pleas for assistance.Page 2 of a "Feedback and Complaints" form written on 27 December 2016, signed by friends of Faysal. It holds DIBP and IHMS to account for Faysal's death, citing medical neglect despite repeated pleas for assistance.Source: Refugee Action Coalition Sydney.

Behrouz Boochani’s reports on the deaths of both Hamid Khazaei and Faysal Ishak Ahmed highlight the systemic failures and willful medical neglect that led to their deaths. Following Hamid Khazaei’s death, former Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison stated that he had received ‘outstanding‘ medical care. At the end of 2016, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) submitted evidence to a Senate Inquiry detailing multiple cases of medical neglect and ill-health of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.

‘Obviously you and your system doesn’t care about me, but I have people who cares about me. I have parents who care about me, I have siblings who care about me…My death might cause them a lot of trouble.’

Samuel‘, asylum seeker on Manus with a history of heart attacks

Weaponising physical health

Cartoon by Eaten fish about trying to access medical treatment on Manus Island. An IHMS officers is pictured directing a refugee to a grave. Click here

 Cartoon by Eaten Fish 'How peaple die in Offshore proccessing centre?'‘How Peaple die in Offshore processing centre?’, 2017. Artist: Eaten Fish.

‘This system here is broken…It’s not working, the system is not working.’

Senior Medical Officer for IHMS

Some medical professionals have stated that the medical systems on Nauru and Manus are broken.  What is not acknowledged in these statements is that these systems were never intended to work. These are systems designed, rather, to fail the people whom they service. Access to adequate healthcare is denied as a weapon of ‘deterrence’.

‘This system is designed to kill us one by one.’

Abdul Aziz

A recent case was reported of a woman who is at ‘high heart attack risk‘. She was told that she could be transferred to Port Moresby for medical treatment, but that she would have to leave her teenage son behind; an offer she felt she was unable to accept. Eventually, after her case was reported in the media, she was transferred to Taiwan with her son for medical treatment; both were subsequently returned to Nauru against medical advice. There are several families who have been split for prolonged periods as a result of medical transfers. Here health is weaponised as a means to take away the only thing people have in these prison camps: each other.

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Vigil for Faysal Ishak Ahmed, Manus Island camp, Lombrum, 2016.


The weaponisation of mental suffering

‘This is how tired we are…This action will prove how exhausted we are. I cannot take it anymore.’

Killing Omid Masoumali

A banner at the memorial on Manus reads "Our thoughts is with you Omid. FROM Manus". Click here

A solidarity vigil was also held on Manus Island. Photographer: unknown.



‘Goodnight my friend

This agony will never mend

You couldn’t withstand anymore

Couldn’t survive this burning’

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This poem is written by a young girl, ErNa, who was held on Nauru with and was a close friend of Omid who self-immolated and died on Nauru. ErNa wrote this poem for him. It was published on the Writing Through Fences site and can be read along with other poetry here.Australian Border Force released this statement ‘Death of a Refugee‘.



Three Years in Prison

A framed photo of Omid is in the centre, with a large bouquet of flowers behind and two smaller flower arrangements either side. Click here

Memorial for Omid in Iran, 2016.

‘Omid…wanted to survive. He did not want to die.’

Pari‘, Omid’s widow

Omid Masoumali was a 23 year old Iranian man who had been living in the Nibok settlement in Nauru with his wife ‘Pari’ after they were both granted refugee status. During a visit by United Nations officials, Omid became upset and distressed and set himself alight.

Despite suffering serious burns that could not be treated on Nauru, the plane didn’t arrive to evacuate him to Australian until about 22 hours later. His wife attributes his death to the fact that treatment was not available at the Royal Republic of Nauru hospital, combined with the delay in evacuating him to Brisbane. ‘Pari’ was brought to Brisbane shortly after Omid was evacuated. Both prior to and following Omid’s death, ‘Pari’ was isolated, had limited access to communications and was denied access to a lawyer. The emotional violence she was subjected to exacerbated her distress.

The word ‘Omid’ means hope, after Omid’s funeral in Iran, his family released a statement. Part of the statement read ‘Our Omid is gone, our hope is dead’.

Self-Immolation: an outcome of ‘deterrence’

At a small protest at night inside the Nauru camp, after the deaths of Omid Masoumali and Rakib Khan, men hold two banners that read "Stop Torture Release Us" and "Omid Happy Freedom". Others hold photos of Omid, Hodan and Rakib. Tents frame the photo with a fence visible in the background. Click here

Protest on Nauru, 2016.

‘The ocean and the mountains could save your heart and keep you alive but Australia couldn’t. Your heart will recover because you are beautiful, Hodan.’

for Hodan by ‘Mabsud’, detained on Manus

‘The water is give me a chance, the Australian government does not give me  chance…’

Khodayar Amini, self-immolated in Dandenong in 2015

Days after Omid’s death, a young Somali refugee, Hodan self-immolated after being returned to Nauru from Australia. She was transferred to Brisbane in a  critical condition. Evidence was later given in a senate inquiry that following Omid’s death up to fifty similar threats or attempts to self-immolate were made. There has also been several cases of asylum seekers self-immolating in Australia, particularly people living in limbo in the community on temporary visas. This indicates parallels between Australia’s policies of ‘deterrence’ and the anti-refugee policies that operate onshore.

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A painted portrait of Omid Masoumali by an artist also detained on Nauru Abbas Alaboudi. It is similar to a photo of Omid that circulated following his death. He wears a hat and t-shirt. In the painting, there is almost a halo of light coming from behind him. Portrait of Omid Masoumali, 2016. Artist: Abbas Alaboudi.

The artist also refers to Omid’s death in this painting of a child in detention on Nauru. Another painting by the artist Abbas Alaboudi shows a child behind chain-linked fences. He grasps the fence with his hands and looks toward the viewer. In the background there is a man, presumably Omid, engulfed in flames. Flames colour the background red - a hellish scene.


The weaponisation of mental suffering

‘Hamed was a refugee who needed psychological care. His situation was an example of how Australia neglects the needs and concerns of both the local people and refugees. Instead of providing medical treatment, Australia abandoned him in Manus society.’

Behrouz Boochani

Killing Hamed Shamshiripour

A banner reading 'RIP HAMED' is hung on a soccer goal post in the Manus RPC. Click here

Banner hung at Lombrum Camp, 2017.



‘Brother, we have died from estrangement in captivity. 
We were condemned to die five years ago in captivity.‘ 

Mohammad Ali Maleki

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This poem was written by poet, Mohammad Ali Maleki, who has been imprisoned on Manus Island since 2013.

Abandoned on a Remote Island

Photos of Hamid Shamshiripour are stuck on the interior walls of a building at the East Lorengau Transit Centre. A table adorned with flowers, candles and biscuits is placed in front of the wall.

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Vigil for Hamed Shamshiripour, East Lorengau Transit Centre, 2017.

‘The Hamed I knew was a kind person, capable of being a creative musician and someone with the capacity to make a valuable contribution to society. He was worthy of respect and dignity. He didn’t deserve to be neglected and abandoned the way he was.’

Behrouz Boochani, Kurdish journalist held on Manus

Hamed Shamshiripour was a 31 year old man from Iran. In August 2017 he was found hanged near the East Lorengau Transit Centre. He had once been transferred to Australia in 2015 for medical treatment but was sent back to Manus and left with little support. Seven months before his death it was reported that Hamed was found ‘hungry and homeless‘ in Lorengau following an acute mental health breakdown for which he was jailed. This was not the first time he was punished rather than provided with care. In the months before his death, a formal complaint was lodged by his friends asking why Hamed was not being provided with mental health support.

Serial deaths: Rajeev Rajendran

A banner hung at a memorial service in the Manus Prison. A portrait of Rajeev Rajendran is drawn in the centre in between two candles. Two photos of Rajeev are attached to the banner. It reads "RIP We are all in the queue how many more you want kill?" Click here

Vigil for Rajeev Rajendran, Manus Island RPC, 2017. At a memorial service in the Manus prison, a table is adorned with candles and red flowers. Photos of Rajeev Rajendran are placed on one side. At a memorial service for Rajeev Rajendran in the Manus Prison, men face toward the front where images are being projected onto a wall. Hamid Khazaei's photo is shown.Protest for Rajeev Rajendran, Manus Island RPC, 2017.The banner used at the memorial service for Rajeev Rajendran is held up during daily protests in the Manus prison.

‘If he was offered appropriate health care and support he wouldn’t have to take his own life.’

Abdul Aziz

Less than two months after Hamed Shamshiripour was found dead near a school in Lorengau, the body of Rajeev Rajendran, a 32 year old Tamil man, was found on the grounds of the Lorengau hospital in a very similar position. He’d attempted suicide just days before his death. He was facing court proceedings after being charged with rape at the beginning of the year. People who knew him stated that he had been depressed and mentally unwell in the months leading to his death. Brigidine Nun, Jane Keogh, who visited Manus at the time of Rajeev’s death, observed how psychiatric care was completely unavailable on the island, leaving men in a position where they were desperately trying to keep their friends safe without any professional support. Suspicion around both deaths was fueled by the fact that other similar deaths in the local community had been reported just months before.

Anti-Shelter: arrested lives

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SBS, ‘Inside Manus‘, 2017. ‘More than two years ago, most of us were recognised as genuine refugees, but we are still suspended in the middle of nowhere. There was no need to imprison us in this isolation for four long, wasted years as we have committed no crime. A day is like a decade in this gruesome place.’ Mohammad Imran, writer and activist formerly detained in PNG, recently resettled in the US 

‘Australia’s offshore holding camps for refugees and asylum seekers, located on its neighbouring Pacific territories of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, signify, in conceptual, spatial, and legal terms, as an architecture that is the very antithesis of shelter: they are spaces designed to engender fear, compound uncertainty, and maximize a sense of exposure to danger.’

Suvendrini Perera and Joseph Pugliese, in ‘Anti-Shelter

People detained on Manus Island and Nauru have had their lives suspended for more than four years. Several men left behind pregnant wives or young children. Many have experienced profound loss and trauma during this time, including deaths, relationship breakdowns and time that they can never recover. At the same time they have been placed in conditions where they are indefinitely exposed to danger, denied freedom and made to feel unsafe.

The Weaponisation of Mental Suffering

A text based artwork by Angela Brennan which quotes an incident report from Nauru, it reads, "Redacted then said "Do I have to kill myself to go to Australia" 02 March 2015". Click here

All We Can’t See: illustrating the Nauru Files, 2018. Artist: Angela Brennan.

The deaths of Omid Masoumali, Hamed Shamshiripour and Rajeev Rajendran illustrate how mental health is used as a weapon of deterrence. Their deaths advertise the psychological violence inherent to the offshore processing regime as a warning to others to give up and go home before they suffer the same fate. The intentionality of this form of killing is highlighted in the refusal of other men detained on the island to accept that the death of Hamed Shamshiripour was a death by his own hands. Several men articulated that they didn’t think it was a suicide case, while others highlighted the role of the Australian state in Hamed’s killing.

‘He’s been killed, as far we know, so that is not a suicide.’

Abdul Aziz

A study found that people detained offshore had among the highest rates of depressive and anxiety disorders of any surveyed population. Trauma expert Paul Stevenson, stated that he had never seen anything as bad as the treatment of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.

In February 2018 and March 2018 judges ordered the Department of Immigration to transfer a suicidal girl and suicidal boy from Nauru to Australia so they could receive specialist psychiatric care. Had the court not compelled the Department to provide these children with care, it is difficult to imagine what their plight might have been. The state-sanctioned instances of child abuse and failures of duty of care on Nauru make it clear that not even the most vulnerable will receive compassion and care as a matter of course.

Legal Ambiguities: No Jurisdiction for Inquest

Adults and children protest on Nauru. A banner is held up that reads, "How many death does it take till you know that peopl are dying in offshores?". Placards calling for justice and "helping hands" are also held. Click here

Protest on Nauru.

‘The family are concerned that the federal government will use the offshore jurisdiction of a PNG inquest to hide their complicity in Hamed’s death.’

George Newhouse, Human Rights Lawyer

One of the functions of operating prison camps on foreign soil is to blur the lines of legal jurisdiction and therefore of accountability. In the case of people who were trafficked to either Manus or Nauru and subsequently died on those islands without first being evacuated to Australia, the Australian government is able to outsource investigations and in doing so divert responsibility to other authorities. Of the 11 deaths associated with Australia’s offshoring policy, only three (Hamid Khazaei, Omid Masoumali and Faysal Ishak Ahmed who were all evacuated to Brisbane) will be subject to Coronial Inquests in Australia. 

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A digital portrait of Hamed Shamshiripour by Tia Kass. It shows Hamid's face. At the bottom the blue background becomes an ocean. A group of people are on a boat trying to seek asylum in Australia, some people fall into the ocean. They are denied entry to Australia. To the right of the image a group of figures are in a cage. ‘How Many More?, 2017’ Artist: Tia Kass.

More memorialisations can be seen in this gallery dedicated to Hamed Shamshiripour.



The weaponisation of physical and mental suffering

‘He would never have died, if he had been given the treatment and the care he needed….I wonder if the authorities are feeling triumphant tonight, knowing there is one less innocent to be concerned about, although as they have not shown any compassion in all these years, I doubt they will even acknowledge his death.’

Mohammad Imran, Rohingya writer and refugee previously detained in PNG, now resettled in the US

Killing Salim Kyawning

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‘Another death in Australia’s offshore detention regime’, 2018. Source: GetUp!

Salim Kyawning was a refugee from the persecuted Rohingya minority who have been subject to a sustained campaign of state-sanctioned genocide in Myanmar. He traveled with his brother to seek asylum in Australia by boat, however his brother did not survive. Salim survived the boat journey, but after almost five years of violence at the hands of Australian authorities, in May 2018, he died; PNG police believe his death was by suicide.

Salim was a father of three in his early 50s who was waiting for resettlement. He was known to have suffered from epilepsy for a number of years. In 2014, he was flown to Australia for medical treatment, however was returned to Manus where his physical and mental health could not be supported. During the November siege where access to food, water and medication was extremely limited, Salim was reported to have suffered a seizure; which terrified his friends who could only attempt to provide him with care. Like Hamid Shamshiripour, Salim was left to die on Manus.


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Vigil for Salim, West Haus, Lorengau, 25 May 2018. Video: @ManusAlert. ‘May your soul rest in peace. Our condolences & prayers to your family. Persecution of Rohingya by Myanmar & by Australia.’

Salim is the seventh person to die in Australian custody on Manus. These killings are the ultimate expression of the intention of indefinite detention and racialised punishment. They are the lethal evidence of the system repetitively working as intended. Salim’s death is an intentional act, though not one, as reported by PNG police, by his own hand; it is an intentional act by those who enable and sustain the infrastructure of offshore processing.

The day after Salim’s death, an advocacy organisation reported that the Department had still not formally notified his wife of his death. In response to media inquiries, the Department of Home Affairs issued a response that was only a line long – ‘This is a matter for the PNG Government’. ‘Government sources’, did however provide comments to The Australian, in which they characterised Salim as ‘violent’ a familiar attempt at character assault. A vigil was held for Salim at the West Haus camp as well as in several Australian cities, photos from which can be viewed in this gallery in memory of Salim Kyawning.

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Salim Kyawning sits with his back toward the camera. He is sitting on a white, plastic chair. He tolds a bouquet of flowers in his hands. In the background detention centre fences can be seen along with other plastic chairs, rubbish bins, a marquee and trees.

Salim sitting in the former prison at Lombrum, holding flowers, Manus Island, October 2017.  Photo: @ManusAlert.


The weaponisation of mental suffering

‘Again, you have not answered me. You have not taken my request seriously. If my kids and myself get worse, you will be responsible.’

Fazileh, Fariborz Karami’s Mother


‘The fact remains that Australian politics now treats suicide as a de facto limitless resource. Since 2013, the conditions at our detention centres have led six men to kill themselves.’

Chris Woods, ‘Australia has  weaponised suicide’  

‘The repetitive darkness of this life’

Shortly before this case study was due to be published, we heard of the thirteenth death in offshore detention. Fariborz Karami was a 26 year old Kurdish man from Iran, who had been held in exile on Nauru with his Mother and younger brother for almost five years. He had recently married in the Nauru camp and also leaves behind a grieving wife.

Fariborz had a known history of torture and trauma in Iran. He was reportedly kidnapped and threatened with execution as a child and suffered from nightmares, depression and PTSD symptoms. His medical file documents multiple requests for appointments with mental health professionals and makes clear that he was grappling with suicide ideation for a prolonged period. Doctors and psychiatrists acknowledged the decline in his coping strategies, exacerbated by his indefinite detention. Fariborz disengaged with support services in early 2018 due to increasing frustration with IHMS and the fact that after almost five years there appeared to be no resolution to his family’s circumstances.

Fariborz’s mother, Fazileh, has been suffering gynaecological illness, causing severe and worsening incontinence, for more than three years. Since February 2017, doctors have been recommending that she needed to be transferred off Nauru for medical treatment. Despite her own worsening medical condition, she continued to advocate desperately for her sons. Following Fariborz’s death she wrote a letter in which she holds ABF accountable for her son’s death.

Fariborz’s younger brother was only 7 years old when the family arrived on Nauru, and is 12 years old at the time of his brother’s death. He witnessed the decline of his mother and brother and repeatedly attempted to advocate for his family to receive the care they needed.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre recently published a report entitledIn Poor Health: Health care in Australian immigration detention which documents several case studies of their clients held in closed detention or community detention onshore. The report exposes failures of the Australian government and its private contractor International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) to provide people in immigration detention with access to the urgent medical care and treatment they need. As several of the deaths on Manus and Nauru demonstrate, this denial of due care is consistent across  onshore and offshore detention sites, an archipelago of suffering and neglect.

‘The system which has taken his precious life’

Canstruct International DIBP Regional Processing Centre Complaint form filled in by Fariborz's mother in Farsi.

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Complaint form / letter written by Fariborz’s Mother, published in The Guardian. The translation reads: ‘Again and again, I am asking you help me. I requested you to help me and my kids. So far, with all the misery, in any way we could, we tolerated our situation and we trusted you. We were sure that you will shelter us. But it has became the opposite. Little by little we die. Physically and mentally we are deteriorated. Many times I begged you to help. But each time you gave me repetitive answers. I can’t return to my country and IHMS doctors are not able to do nothing for my children. After 5 years, my children’s situation and their environment needs to change. They need to have a normal life. Please don’t make my children even sicker. In anguish, I beg you to help.’

‘I didn’t know Fariborz, yet every part of my body knows the system which has taken his precious life. The system the Australian government has designed for refugees and asylum seekers, has a kind of evil and devastating effect. It can ruin the very inner strength of human spirit. To the outsider, Fariborz took his own life, but the truth is the system took his life. There is no alternative explanation, and we must hold the Australian government accountable for this action.

The silence of his unimaginable suffering must have reached saturation point. It feels like it is Australia’s ultimate goal to put every vulnerable refugee and asylum seeker into an inescapable corner. If the intensity of his suffering wasn’t extreme, he would not have had the strength to say goodbye to his own life last Friday morning.

We have now lost seven lives from the hell of Manus and five from Nauru. All were full of life. I don’t know how many more lives they want in the name of this policy.

Even though I am now safely in America, the experiences I suffered on Manus are always on my mind and bind me to Australia. I will use every opportunity to record the barbaric acts towards fragile refugees and asylum seekers.’

Mohammad Imran, formerly detained on Manus Island, recently resettled in the US

No End: ‘Resisting with their very lives’

Six men stand in a row facing the camera. They hold their arms raised and crossed in front of their faces in a display of resistance. In the background tropical vegetation and the cloudy sky can be seen.

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233 days of peaceful protests and counting on Manus, Lorengau, 23 March 2018. Photo: via @ManusAlert. Key moments of resistance include: October 2012 – Protest on Nauru, November 2012 – Hunger Strikes on Nauru,  19 July 2013 – Riot on Nauru, February 2014 – Peaceful Protests on Manus Island,  January 2015 – Hunger Strikes and Peaceful Protests on Manus Island (see timeline), March-November 2016 – Daily Protests on Nauru, October 2017 – Manus Island Siege (23 days of resisting forced removal from the Lombrum camp). See timeline of resistance and solidarity.

‘Actually, we have been resisting for years, and I have learnt from my experiences that resisting means fighting against tyranny. I believe that our democratic way and peaceful resistance deeply affected the refugees who created it.’

Behrouz Boochani

For more than four years, people detained on Manus Island and Nauru have been resisting indefinite state violence. It has been a sustained resistance where people have sought to reclaim autonomy in an environment that systematically denies it. People have been ‘resisting with their very lives.’ Resistance has meant a concerted refusal to be silenced and a determination to represent themselves before the world. Resistance has meant a literal speaking back through forms of self-representation such as the Manus Recording Project Collective, a collaborative audio/soundscape project based on recordings made by Farhad Ban­desh, Behrouz Boochani, Samad Abdul, Shamin­dan Kana­p­athi, Kazem Kazemi and Abdul Aziz Muhamat on Manus.  The Manus Recording Project Collective, and its How Are You Today audio archive, ‘directly impli­cates the lis­tener and demands that we attend to the politico-legal con­texts that pro­duce and frame them.’


‘Crucibles of Resistive Solidarity’

An illustration by Mahmoud Salameh of the moon viewed from behind a chain-linked fence and razor wire. The moon, which for some has become a symbol of connections through, across and over fences, shines brightly.

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‘Same Moon’, 2017. Artist: Mahmoud Salameh.

In establishing offshore detention sites as places of unrelenting isolation, where inmates were held incommunicado, in alien and mostly hostile surrounds, the Australian government also unwittingly established the conditions for these sites to function as crucibles of resistive solidarity. Alice Krupa, a former social worker at the camp, notes that at Manus camp, ‘There was a collective experience of separation and displacement which united the men…The refugees were farmers, accountants, journalists, artists, programmers, veterans and students. They spoke multiple languages, watched the news closely, debated politics, had heated cricket and soccer tournaments, sung, composed, drew, crafted and painted with whatever materials they could access…One of the refugees called Manus his “university”’ (Krupa 2017).

The refugees form a focused and highly mobilized community able to harness its collective energies in a highly organized manner. Held incommunicado they drew on their internal strengths, using them to build networks with activists, artists and academics outside, through groups such as Writing Through Fences and Behind the Wire. The space of appearance claimed by the inmates of Manus prison suggests the forms of agency and resistance that may yet be mobilized even within the unrelenting structures of the camp and the black site.

Reclaiming Autonomy: ‘Free only in relation with others’

The paradoxical possibilities of this space are best expressed by Imran Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee who studied English during his years of incarceration, and who, like Boochani and Eaten Fish, is now able breech the confines of Manus camp to claim a presence in Australian media and writing communities, and beyond:

I fell in love with writing, which has meant my survival over these four years. My passion for writing has been fuelled by my craving for both knowledge and the need to communicate facts and reality of life in the detention centre … I did the best I could in this horrendous environment and concentrated on studying English and writing. Now I am able to speak for myself and the many others who cannot explain their distress. (Mohammad 2017)

In marked distinction to previous years, when advocates acted as spokespeople and mediators for refugees held incommunicado behind the razor wire, Manus prisoners themselves are now a notable presence as authors and commentators in their own right in mainstream media.

In the months and weeks leading to the violent break-up of the camp by Australian and PNG agents in November 2017, they maintained communications with and represented their plight to the outside world.

Their collective actions as their camp came under siege enabled the men to reclaim themselves despite the brutalizing and dehumanizing conditions of their imprisonment: 

For these twenty-three days before our violent removal we experienced, for the first time in over four years, some sense of autonomy. But it was not individualistic or rationalistic. Propelled by the deprivation of our liberty, we found an autonomy embedded in social relationships and shared experience. In giving primacy to relations of care and cooperation we did not compromise our autonomy but instead made it possible. We became free only in relation with others. This was compassion, egalitarianism and interdependence in direct opposition to oppression and domination. It was the embodiment of feminist values, but it emerged and was nurtured among hundreds of incarcerated men. (Boochani 2018)

Manus: Erasing the Camp

The Lombrum camp cleared. Buildings have been removed. Flattened earth is in the foreground. A few fences remain in the background along with some trees. A stray dog wanders around in the centre.

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Remains of former Oscar and Delta Compound, Lombrum, Manus, March 2018. A depopulated landscape shows some cleared land with a few palm trees and other plants in the foreground. Machinery, a large bin and part of a building can be seen in the background.Remains of former Foxtrot Compound, Lombrum, Manus, March 2018. Behind a anti-climb steel mesh fence one historical building stands in the foreground along with a single Nissen hut in the background.Remaining buildings, former Foxtrot compound, Lombrum, Manus, March 2018.

Following the siege in October 2017, and the forced eviction of the men from the prison at Lombrum to the prisons in Lorengau, the camp was physically erased. Three buildings remain in the middle of Foxtrot Compound; all other evidence of the past 4 years has been removed. The accommodation units, the murals painted on doors and walls, the fences through which hundreds of men gazed, searching for freedom, have all been dismantled. The policy that produced these physical markers, however, remains largely intact.

The Manus prison camp has been well documented by the people who were detained there. The men can likely still identify where their rooms were, where they queued for meals, where they protested and where they witnessed their friends die. The break-up of ‘Australia’s Guantanamo’ amounts to another attempt to erase a chapter of Australia’s colonial history. Like the others, however, it has not succeeded.

The People-Swap: US Deal

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SBS Dateline ‘Swapped from Manus to Missouri‘, 2018. Since its announcement, the US swap deal has been clouded in secrecy with many casting doubt on whether it would ever come to fruition. When Donald Trump was elected as US President, twitter commentary and a leaked telephone call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull caused great emotional turmoil for the refugees who were hopeful of finding a way out of their island prisons. There are a few cases where people do not want to go to the U.S. as they have family in PNG or Australia. A Rohingya refugee named Alex Rashid, for example, wants to settle in PNG permanently with his wife and two children, however he has been unable to secure citizenship. There are families who have been split among Australia, Manus and Nauru who have been presented with impossible choices–none of which include a viable prospect of reunion. There are also men in PNG who have been given negative refugee status determinations after they refused to participate in the PNG assessment system but for whom it is not safe to return to their country of origin. This group of people are currently ineligible for resettlement in the U.S. however they cannot resettle in PNG or be deported.

The deal between Australia and the U.S. stipulates that up to 1250 refugees from Manus and Nauru could be resettled in the U.S. More than 9 months after the deal was announced, the first group of 54 refugees landed in the US in September 2017. In January 2018 the second group of 58 men left Manus Island while in the following months a third group of 18 men left Manus, a fourth group of 22 people, a fifth group of 35 people and a sixth group of 29 people left Nauru.

While people continue to wait for resettlement that might never eventuate, they have been subjected to ongoing violence, particularly the men in Lorengau, PNG, following the violent, forced removal of people into the community from the Lombrum camp. A report by Amnesty International and research conducted by Human Rights Watch shed light on these dangerous conditions. Similar reports have previously been made about Nauru.

The People-Swap: Shoal Lighthouse Refugees

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Patrick Oppmann, ‘Cubans who climbed lighthouse allege inhumane treatment in U.S. custody’, CNN, 2016.

As part of its deal with the United States, Australia agreed to resettle a group of Cuban refugees who had been found clinging to the Shoal lighthouse off the Florida Keys in May 2016. They were held in limbo at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base for more than a year. There was controversy as to whether the lighthouse constituted dry land or not under the former ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy which stipulated that those who made it to dry land could stay and have their claims for asylum assessed in the U.S. However, those interdicted at sea would be returned if they were not found to have ‘a demonstrable and well-founded fear of persecution’; or if they did, would be settled in a third country as a deterrent.

In 1999, the US Coast Guard used water cannon to force a group of Cuban refugees back into the water, thus rendering them ‘wet-foot’ people ineligible for asylum.  These arbitrary and violent acts are repeated in Australian  practices such as  the excision of landing places from the migration zone, the differential  rights afforded to people who arrive by plane and people who arrive by boat, and by the interception and turn back of asylum seeker boats.


A ‘Terror Strategy’: no end for survivors

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The Associated Press, ‘Freed Iranian cartoonist illustrates suffering of Australian Detention Camp’, Vimeo, 2018. Award winning cartoonist Eaten Fish managed to get out of Manus island via an ICORN artist residency in Norway. Through Canada’s private community sponsorship program, Iranian Amir Taghinia who often spoke out on behalf of the men in the Manus prison, has found refuge in Vancouver. He has continued to advocate on behalf of his friends who remain on Manus. Iranian refugee, Reza Mohammad Nezhad, Rohingya Refugee, Mamudul Hasson, and Pakistani refugees Shafiq and Rafiullah have spoken about their long and hard journey to resettlement in the U.S. Only about 200 people have been resettled in the US so far. There were almost 2000 people on Manus and Nauru before resettlement started therefore even if the US resettles the full 1250 refugees stipulated in the agreement, there will be people left behind.  

‘I can’t see myself free…Inside me, I’m still in prison’ 

Eaten Fish

Australia’s ‘terror strategy’ of indefinite detention and ‘deterrence’ produces lasting effects on survivors, such that those ‘who may have escaped the massacre [remain] haunted by the shadow of death…Terror thus becomes a communicative strategy that aims beyond the killings themselves to send a message to the survivors.’ (Oslender, 2007: 120-121) What will happen to those who don’t make it to the United States remains unclear. For those who have escaped, their ability to feel free remains contingent on the freedom of their friends.

‘The Manus pain will be always in our bodies. It will be there always until we die. But one day, if I am free, this experience will teach me everything.’

Ezatullah Kakar


Postscript: ‘Indefinite Despair’ on Nauru

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‘Explainer: Welcome to Sunny Nauru’, 2018. Video: Medicins Sans Frontieres Australia. 

In December 2018, Medecins San Frontieres released a report entitled, ‘Indefinite Despair: The tragic mental health consequences of offshore processing on Nauru‘. Within the report it is stated that, ‘The mental health suffering on Nauru is among the most severe MSF has ever seen, including in projects providing care for victims of torture.’ It highlights high rates of suicidal ideation, self-harm and suicide attempts and how refusals for US resettlement, the deaths of asylum seekers on the island and the fifth anniversary of the 19 July policy all had significant negative impacts on the mental health of the refugee and asylum seeker community. It notes that during the period that MSF provided care on the island, 10 children and 2 adults were diagnosed with resignation syndrome. The report concluded that the only way to prevent further harm to refugees on Nauru, is to free them from the island and evacuate them to a safe place where they can begin to recover. To date, both the government and the opposition remain committed to the policy of offshore processing.


‘Only Freedom’

Manus Island and Nauru have been transformed by the presence of Australian  prisons into necropolitical spaces. The many deaths that this case study has documented evidence the unrelenting punishment of asylum seekers and refugees placed out of sight of the Australian mainland. This offshoring policy functions not only as a supposed ‘deterrent’ but is an attempt to deny Australian accountability for the fate of those imprisoned and killed.

The catalogue of direct and indirect killings since 2014 represents a sustained campaign of punitive neglect and violence. A friend of Hamed Shamshiripour’s stated, ‘I think they are working for a mass elimination plan. To get rid of all of us at once. I mean to kill us all here.’ Reza Barati’s violent murder, and the many  deaths that have followed,  highlight the continuing vulnerability of every person incarcerated on Manus and Nauru, even as courageous acts of collective and individual resistance testify to an ongoing struggle for justice and freedom.

The core concern is freedom … only freedom. The rest of what you hear are just peripheral issues

Behrouz Boochani  2017

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An illustration by Mahmoud Salameh. Two boat silhouettes float in the ocean. One has a flag with the word 'Refugees', the other flies an Aboriginal flag. Someone on the refugee boat looks across to the other boat. Above both the question is asked 'Which way?'

‘Which Way?’, 2016. Artist: Mahmoud Salameh.

‘My main message is please set me free, don’t kill me. Please set me free, I am human.’

Kaaveh Maleknia, photographer held in exile on Manus Island


The situation for people being held by the Australian government on Manus Island and Nauru was continually evolving during the course of compiling this case study. Since the case study was published in 2018, there have been several significant developments, and to date – almost 7 years on from the introduction of the 19 July policy – Australia’s ‘offshore processing’ regime remains intact. The circumstances of those subject to it have not been resolved, although some individuals are no longer on Nauru or Manus Island.

In February 2019, the last refugee children on Nauru departed for the US. This followed the national #KidsOffNauru campaign. The flaws of this campaign, however, are evidenced by the reality that a year on, hundreds of adults still remain in PNG and Nauru and public attention and campaigning has plateaued.

In March 2019, the Medevac Bill became law for a brief period, representing a significant loss for the government which campaigned heavily against it. This legislation was intended to provide a clearer and more transparent pathway for people in PNG and Nauru to be transferred to Australia to receive medical treatment. It aimed to reduce political interference in decisions around the health and welfare of individuals, as transfers could be triggered by medical advice and recommendations from two independent Australian doctors. These recommendations, however, could still be reviewed by the Minister of Home Affairs.

The passing of this legislation prompted an expensive and alarmist PR exercise by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who re-opened the Christmas Island Detention Centre supposedly as a ‘deterrent’ in anticipation of a rush of people seeking to exploit the new law. However, no one who was transferred under the Medevac system has been sent there as yet, nor did the legislation prompt an influx of people seeking asylum by boat. Instead in 2020 the site was used to detain and quarantine Australian citizens following the racialised panic surrounding the Coronovirus.

Nine months after the Medevac Bill became law, the Medevac repeal bill was passed after the government was able to secure the support of key cross-bencher, Senator Jacqui Lambie. Up until that point around 180 people had been medically evacuated under the Medevac system. Many of those who were transferred to Australia for medical treatment over the past year remain detained in closed immigration detention centres, hotels and others sites designated as APODs (Alternative Places of Detention).

The May 2019 re-election of the Coalition government triggered a mental health crisis on Manus Island escalating already high levels of despair which manifested in multiple self-harm and suicide attempts. These, however, went largely unnoticed by the wider public.

In August 2019, 52 men who had previously been detained on Manus Island by the Australian government were arrested and held in isolation at the Bomana immigration detention centre in PNG. Nine of the men who were arrested had been approved for transfer under the Medevac system and others had applications in process; however, their detention prevented the transfer. Those who were arrested had all been assigned ‘negative’ refugee status by the PNG government, this included several men who had refused to participate in the refugee status determination process – maintaining that they had sought protection from Australia not PNG. Consequently they never had their claims for protection assessed. Despite this, they were or remain under pressure to return to their countries of origin.

‘It is a big crime happening there at Bomana. The [Australian] government wants to show that it [has] a successful policy, and that is why they put people in jail, in Bomana, as a symbol for this policy.

They spend a billion dollars on this policy, but they couldn’t defeat us, couldn’t beat us, couldn’t break us. That’s why they jailed these 50 people as a symbol. It is not reasonable and acceptable that among 1,100 people, they reject 50. These people who rejected, their cases are similar to others. We left from the same countries and same systems.’

Ariobarzan, man who self-deported after being detained at Bomana

After several months of being held incommunicado, in poor physical conditions, by January 2020 only 18 of the 52 remained there after others had been released after signing documents agreeing to return to their country of origin. Those who were able to resist this sinister attempt to coerce people to self-deport were moved to hotels in Port Moresby at the end of that month, however by that point several were so ill that they could not eat.

As of 30 September 2019, official figures indicate that around 600 people remained in Nauru and PNG, while just over 630 people had left for the US. More than 1,100 people who were forcibly sent to Manus and Nauru are now in Australia after being transferred for medical treatment. They all remain in precarious circumstances, either in closed detention, community detention or on rolling 6-month ‘final departure’ bridging visas with no pathway to permanently remain in Australia or reunite with their families.

In October 2019, 32 year old, Dr. Seyed Mirwais Rohani, who had been detained on Manus Island for several years before being transferred to Australia, suicided while living in community detention in Brisbane. His death underscores the lethality of forcing survivors of the offshore detention regime into a state of perpetual insecurity in Australia.

In November 2019, prominent journalist Behrouz Boochani who had been detained in PNG for more than 6 years arrived in New Zealand on a temporary 30 day visa. He remains in New Zealand today.

‘When I arrived in Auckland it was very strange because for the first time I looked at Manus in a different way. I was thinking about surviving, how I survive. And I was happy that finally I survived.’

Behrouz Boochani

In the absence of a clear pathway out of limbo some people are continuing to pursue other possible pathways to freedom, including sponsorship and resettlement in Canada. Individual and group crowd-funding pages have been set up to try and facilitate this, however timelines and prospects of resettlement remain unclear. After almost 7 years of this policy – which has now surpassed the length of the first iteration of the ‘Pacific Solution’ under the Howard government – it remains unclear how this system will come to an end.

As of January 2020, eight women remained on Nauru. One of those women stated,

‘It is very hard, but what can I do? It’s hard when other people are going. I also have some medical health issues, but they have not sent me anywhere [for treatment]…We don’t know when our refugee life will actually come to an end; I’m just waiting for a solution to this.’


RELEVANT KEY TERMS: Civil Spaces of Death
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A photograph by Kaaveh Maleknia, a man detained on PNG shows a the ocean and sky at sunset. It is taken from the shore just in front of a small boat that is silhouetted against the backdrop of a luminous, bright pink and purple, cloudy sky that is reflected in the ocean. The silhouette of a small island can be seen in the background.

‘A Floating Hope’, PNG, 2018. Photo: Kaaveh Maleknia. From the ‘Beautifully Suffered’ exhibition.

Extraterritorial Killings: The Weaponisation of Bodies

This case study was collectively authored by the Australian hub of the Deathscapes project: Michelle Bui, Dean Chan, Suvendrini Perera, Joseph Pugliese, Ayman Qwaider and Charandev Singh.

To cite this research:
Michelle Bui, Dean Chan, Suvendrini Perera, Joseph Pugliese, Ayman Qwaider and Charandev Singh. ‘Extraterritorial Killings: The Weaponisation of Bodies’. Deathscapes: Mapping Race and Violence in Settler States, 2018,

Corresponding author:


Special Thanks:

Abbas Alaboudi

Farhad Bandesh

Behrouz Boochani

Eaten Fish

Kaaveh Maleknia

We  thank all the named and unnamed refugee writers and artists cited in this case study.  In some instances  they preferred to remain anonymous for their own safety, or used pseudonyms. For the same reason, images from offshore detention were often circulated without attribution via activist groups. We have reproduced these in the interest of relaying, amplifying and documenting campaigns against detention, and included the names of the organisations which originally circulated them. Deathscapes researchers have made every effort to seek the permission of refugee artists whose work is reproduced on the site. As their circumstances change, artists may wish to have their own names associated with their images, or to remove them. In these instances, please contact us at or


Crisis Support Lines:

Lifeline (Aus): 13 11 14
A free interpreting service for people who do not speak English is available for 13 11 14. To access this service please:
1) Call TIS on 131 450 and ask to talk to Lifeline on 13 11 14 in the language required.
2) TIS will call 13 11 14 on behalf of the caller.
Crisis Services Canada (Can): 1 833 456 4566
Samaritans (UK): 116 123
Suicide Prevention (US): 1-800-273-8255
International Support: International Association for Suicide Prevention and

Counselling Services:

WA: Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS)

NSW: Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS)

VIC: Foundation House -The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture Inc.

QLD: Queensland Program of Assistance to Survivors or Torture and Trauma (QPASTT)

ACT: Companion House

NT: Melaleuca

SA: Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service (STTARS)

TAS: Phoenix Centre


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