Manus Island Prison Theory

Behrouz Boochani1


The events in Manus prison and the treatment of refugees there are best understood through the concept of what I call the kyriarchal system – a web of intersecting oppressions (racism, sexism, colonialism etc) that maintains society’s dominant hierarchies. This system has total control over the prison and is experienced as torture by incarcerated refugees. The kyriarchal system is highly mechanised, a twisted and extremely complex system of rules and regulations that draws refugees into an absurd labyrinth, and that functions as its own cruel form of incarceration.

In this presentation, I argue that this system is an implicit violence which also characterises institutions in everyday life, in hospitals, schools and universities. Manus Island Prison is the extreme example of this system. Attempts by refugees to get medical care reveal how it works. Ultimately, a sick refugee can do nothing other than endlessly search for his name on waiting lists for treatment. But no one ever receives medical care. Over time, the rules and regulations of the system wear down the prisoners’ mental health, producing psychological torture. Drawing on my book No Friend but the Mountains, this paper compares this treatment to the experience of the main character in a scene from the film, I, Daniel Blake. In this film, Blake’s young friend responds to Blake’s efforts to seek assistance from the state by saying: “Dan, they’ll fuck you around – I’m warning you. Make it as miserable as possible. No accident, that’s the plan.”


Behrouz graduated from Tarbiat Moallem University and Tarbiat Modares University, both in Tehran; he holds a Masters degree in political science, political geography and geopolitics. He is a Kurdish-Iranian writer, journalist, scholar, cultural advocate and filmmaker. He is currently a political prisoner incarcerated by the Australian government in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (Papua New Guinea). Boochani is also co-director (with Arash Kamali Sarvestani) of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time; collaborator on Nazanin Sahamizadeh’s play Manus; and author of No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison (Picador Australia 2018). This book has been awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Investigative Journalist Award for documentation of life at Manus Island detention centre.


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