Papua New Guinea declares Manus Island illegal

Facilities at the Manus Island Regional Processing Facility. Photo / Getty
Facilities at the Manus Island Regional Processing Facility. Photo / Getty

Where Behrouz Boochani lives, they refuse to call him by his real name. He gets three letters and two numbers instead: MEG45.

When he lines up for food, he waits three hours. He speaks to the outside world on a mobile phone he bought for 50 cigarettes and smuggled inside.

If it sounds like a prison, that's because it is one. At least, that's the way detainees view it.

Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist, lives on Manus Island, 394km from Papua New Guinea and more than 1000km from Australia. Hopefully not for much longer.

The 32-year-old is one of 850 rejected asylum seekers who call the tropical prison home. Last week he described conditions as a "hellish prison camp" and "Australia's Guantanamo in the heart of the Pacific Ocean".

Today he's celebrating the first good news in as long as he can remember.

"We will probably have a celebration tonight," he told news.com.au on Wednesday.

The cause for celebration is Tuesday's ruling by PNG's Supreme Court to classify Australia's treatment of detainees unconstitutional and illegal.

PNG is refusing to accept responsibility for those awaiting processing and Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says the ruling "doesn't bind the Australian Government" and "it is an issue for the PNG Government to contemplate".

Despite the uncertainty, Boochani is in high spirits.

"I am deeply happy and want to get all Australian people in my hug," he said.

'I FEEL THAT I AM AN ANIMAL'

As recently as last week, Boochani climbed a tree at the facility and stayed there for 10 hours, locked in a stand-off with security and declaring to anybody who would listen that he was a "political prisoner".

For three years he says he was treated like "an animal" on Manus Island. He watched friends lose their lives and lose hope.

"I believe that Australia put people in a systematic torture and this place is no more than a normal prison," he said.

"In this system my name is not Behrouz and this is an example that shows how this system humiliates and takes away a person's personality.

"I have to stay in a long line for food, more than three hours in the day, and I feel that I am an animal. They have put me in a prison without any crime. It is big torture."

His journey to this point has been a long one. Boochani fled Iran and landed on Manus via Indonesia and Christmas Island in 2013. He said during interviews in 2014 that he almost died at sea, twice.

"At the beginning of the journey (from Indonesia) to Australia, our boat started to sink into the sea," he said.

"We had to struggle with the thought of death for 40 hours. We lost hope, we accepted that we will die.

"In that endless moment a small fishing boat appeared and began to help us. They only rescued 40 out of 65 on board. When our boat sunk in seconds I had to save myself from the dark ocean. I found a piece of wood that I could use while waiting for help."

He said his friends drowned but he was rescued. He was offered a ride back to Indonesia and "with nothing to lose", decided to try again.

"The second attempt took seven days and eight nights. I struggled with hunger, thirst and death. We were lost in the ocean."

The Australian Navy intercepted the boat in July 2013.

"We were transferred to Christmas Island and then transferred forcefully to Manus Island like criminals."

Boochani was part of a breakthrough film by Lukas Schrank last year. Schrank, a Londoner who briefly lived in Australia, says he was shocked by what he heard during his interviews with detainees.

Inspired by their messages and by an expensive anti-immigration propaganda film released by the Australian Government, Schrank made Nowhere Line: Voices from Manus Island.

In the film, which won awards around the world, Boochani and another detainee, Omar, talked at length about conditions on Manus. Omar said: "I used to have a bright future but here I have no safety or security, I have no good life."

That could all change if Australia accepts him, but Mr Dutton says that simply won't happen.

"We will repeat again today that these people will not be coming to Australia," he said.

- news.com.au

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 08 Dec 2016 07:09:10 Processing Time: 636ms