Which Way 18c - Reclaiming Autonomy: 'Free only in relation with others'


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)


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