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.

‘Closure’ at Manus Island and Carceral Expansion in the Open Air Prison

Dr Claire Loughnan1, Maria Giannacopoulos2
1University of Melbourne, 2Flinders university

Since 1992, Australia has had a policy of mandatory immigration detention which was extended in 2001 to offshore processing on the islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG).  These centres have a history of violence and suffering.  The 2017 ‘closure’ of the Lombrom offshore processing centre on Manus Island followed a decision by PNG’s Supreme Court that the centre breached the PNG Constitution. We argue that this is best understood as a declaration of ‘closure’ which obscures the carceral expansion that such closures enable.     By placing the 2017 ‘closure’ of the detention centre on Manus Island within the broader context of immigration detention and colonialism in Australia, we extend Maillet, Mountz and Williams’ (2018) use of Elden’s imperio to argue that the closures of camps like the one at Manus Island, are constitutive of carceral expansions that are imperial in form, while also recalling earlier patterns of colonial violence.


Claire teaches in criminology and socio-legal studies. Her research interests are in border protection, immigration detention and forced migration. Her doctoral thesis argues that contemporary border protection policies in Australia amount to a failure of responsibility, in ethical terms. Australia’s system of mandatory immigration detention is thus examined through the lens of ‘office holding’ as a site for rethinking the ethical relations of those who work within the institutional life of migration, whether politicians, judges, guards or health care professionals, in order to argue for an ethics of office which might contribute towards a deeper understanding of responsibility beyond mere accountability to a role. She is extending her work to an analysis of institutional conduct in diverse sites such as youth detention, prisons, aged and disability care.


Dr Vasja Badalič1
1Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, almost one million Syrian refugees found shelter in Lebanon. During the first three years of the conflict, Lebanon kept the border open for Syrian asylum seekers, but when their number reached unsustainable levels, the Lebanese authorities gradually embraced a “closed door” policy. In October 2014, the Lebanese authorities approved a new policy on Syrian refugees with the objective of reducing the number of Syrians in Lebanon by limiting cross border movements from Syria and by “encouraging” Syrian refugees in Lebanon to return to their homeland.

This paper focuses on the “closed door” policy in order to examine the practices used by Lebanon to stop, or at least limit, the massive influx of Syrians, and thus prevent them from exercising their right to seek and enjoy asylum in Lebanon. The central part of the paper consists of two sections. The first section examines how Lebanon violated the principle of non-refoulement by employing a range of illegal practices (e.g. border closures, the use of selective criteria for determining which groups of Syrians were not allowed to cross the borders). The second section of the article examines how Lebanon resorted to practices that created circumstances for constructive refoulement of Syrian asylum seekers and refugees (e.g. shutting down the sole authority responsible for processing asylum claims, stripping Syrian refugees of their protection status, and preventing Syrian refugees from obtaining/retaining residency permits).


Vasja Badalič is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana, Slovenia. His primary fields of research are contemporary imperialism (e.g. the impact of the “war on terror” on the civilian population in Afghanistan and Pakistan) and migration (e.g. EU’s migration policy on its external borders). He combines theory with extensive field-work, frequently visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of three single-authored monographs, including The Terror of ‘Enduring Freedom’: War in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Krtina Publishing house, Ljubljana 2013 (in Slovenian only).

Where are the Tampas?

Prof. Willem de Lint1
1Flinders University, Happy Valley, Australia

In August 2001, the MV Tampa was denied entry into Australian waters, an executive decision which precipitated the current neorealist asylum seeker policy of boat turnbacks. Arguably, the policy was awaiting the event; the fixed image of the arrested ship contrasted with the speed and efficiency with which the new off-shore processing policy was implemented. Today, under that policy and Operation Sovereign Borders, Tampa-like spectacles are avoided.

Tampa and its aftermath revivified the neorealist position that sovereignty claims are superior to human rights claims and that individual needs of dispossessed individuals are subordinate to the security needs of the state. The appearance of human rights is an avoidable epiphenomenal spectacle, suggestive of weaknesses in the maintenance of border security.

This view of the significance of the Tampa as an illustration of the suppression of human rights as the subaltern discourse to security and sovereignty is reviewed and further unpacked in this paper.


Willem de Lint is Professor in Criminal Justice. He is the author or editor of books and articles on public order, counter-terrorism prosecutions, transnational criminology, victimology and policing and security studies. He is on several journal editorial boards and has provided expert advice to governments in Canada and Australia on policing and security. He is currently interested in the critical forensics of criminal events.


Deathscapes: Mapping Race and Violence in Settler Societies A Dialogue

Professor Joseph Pugliese1, Dr Maria Giannacopoulos2
1Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, 2Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

With the ultimate aim of ending deaths in custody, the Deathscapes project maps the sites and distributions of custodial deaths in locations such as police cells, prisons and immigration detention centres, working across the settler states of Australia, the US and Canada, as well as the UK/EU as historical sites of origin for these settler colonial states ( Six months on from the launch of the Deathscapes website Professor Joseph Puglisese (Co-Chief Investigator with Professor Suvendrini Perera of the Deathscapes project) will be in dialogue with Dr Maria Giannacopoulos about the site.  The dialogue will foreground the ways that Indigenous deaths, in a colonial context operate as an ongoing clearing of the land and together with deaths of other racialized bodies within the nation and at its borders–including Black, migrant and refugee deaths– function to reaffirm the assertion of settler sovereignty.   Both speakers have used Deathscapes for teaching (in Cultural Studies and Criminology respectively) and so will be reflecting on the teaching value of the site.


Professor Joseph Pugliese is Professor of Cultural Studies and Research Director in the Department of Media Music Communication and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University.  He is author of State Violence and Execution of Law: Biopolitical Caesurae of Torture, Black Sites, Drones and is Co-CI (with Suvendrini Perera) of ARC Discovery Project “Deathscapes: Mapping Race and Violence in Settler States”

Dr Maria Giannacopoulos is Senior Lecturer in Socio-Legal Studies in the College of Business Government and Law at Flinders University.  She conducts critical legal and critical race research with a focus on the areas of sovereignty, asylum/migration and colonialism.

Honoured in the Breach: Border Protection and the Australian Government’s Duty of Care

Emeritus Professor Richard Harding
1University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia

As citizens  we all have views on Australia’s border protection policies. But in a democratic society the weight they carry is inherently no greater than those of any other citizen. However, as criminologists we possess an expertise that can be brought to the debate, not with regard to the policy as such (a “given” for these purposes) but as to how that policy is implemented on the ground. Specifically, is the Government meeting its duty of care to detainees, and what standards make up that duty of care?

This question is central to all aspects of detention – imprisonment, juvenile detention, police lock-ups, closed psychiatric wards and immigration detention. Even more crucial is the position of off-shore immigration detention centres, particularly Nauru and Christmas Island, for their very nature is that they are out-of-sight of normal scruitiny with the risk that standards can be breached with impunity.

This paper explores the question of what standards are properly applicable to off-shore detention centres. Relevant standards are identified. Four groups of these standards – clean and decent environment; respectful regime arrangements; mental health care; and processes for handling medical emergencies – are analysed drawing upon numerous sources. These include: Amnesty International reports; UNHCR reports; UN Rapporteur materials; Human Rights Watch observations; evidence to the Senate Inquiry into conditions at immigration detention centres; testimony of detainees; evidence to a Coroner’s inquest; and the class action (Kamasaee v. The Commonwealth) which was settled in 2017 by payment of $70 million in damages.

The conclusion is that the Australian Government, through the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, has been in egregious breach of appropriate standards and duty of care obligatioins in its management of off-shore immigration detention centres.


Richard Harding is Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Western Australia. At various times he has been Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Foundation Director of the Crime Research Centre at UWA, and a member of trhe Australia Law Reform Commission. He was the inaugural Inspector of Custodial Services in Western Australia (2000-2008).

Since leaving that position he has advised extensively on correction policy and practice, and has been an expert witness in various cases involving prisoner/detainee litigation.

In 2013 he received the Society’s Distinguishewd Criminologist award.

Resisting the ‘structurally embedded border’ in Australia

A/Prof. Leanne Weber1
1Monash University, Clayton, Australia

In Australia, restricted access to essential services such as education and health care is a feature of federal policies aimed at reserving publicly funded resources for citizens, while also encouraging ‘voluntary departures’ of asylum applicants. In this presentation, I report new research findings about acts of resistance to these policies by individuals and agencies providing health, education and support services for asylum seekers. Situating the analysis within prior theorisation about the ‘structurally embedded border’ reveals that opportunities for resistance are inherent within borders themselves, and arise from their performative and contested nature. Efforts to “fill gaps” in service provision undermine federal policies aimed at attrition; while avoiding incorporation into networks of information exchange thwarts the expansion of the federal surveillance apparatus. While the transformative impact of these efforts appears to be dwarfed by the massive in/exclusionary powers of the federal state, I conclude that these multiple acts of resistance create transversal borders that in small, often temporary, and yet significant, ways begin to redraw the boundaries of inclusion from within.


Leanne Weber is Associate Professor of Criminology, co-Director of the Border Crossing Observatory and Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. She researches border control and migration policing using criminological and human rights frameworks. Her books include The Routledge International Handbook on Criminology and Human Rights, 2017 (with Elaine Fishwick and Marinella Marmo), Policing Non-Citizens, 2013 (Routledge), Stop and Search: Police Power in Global Context, 2013 (Routledge, with Ben Bowling) and Globalization and Borders: Death at the Global Frontier, 2011 (Palgrave, with Sharon Pickering).


Climate Change Migration and the Political Management of Risk

A/Prof. Elizabeth Stanley1
1Victoria University Of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

In recent times, populist narratives of the risks posed by ‘non-citizens’ have led to extreme political antagonism to those deemed ‘unknowable’, ‘undesirable’ or ‘illegal’. Subsequent measures to exclude or control ‘non-citizens’ regularly engage systemic violations of human rights. This presentation reflects on the situation of climate change migrants in relation to this heavily politicized narrative of risk. While illustrating how the risks of climate change are inequitably caused and distributed, it focuses on how New Zealand, in particular, has sought to manage, emphasise and police the ‘risks’ from climate change migrants.


Elizabeth Stanley is a Reader and Rutherford Discovery Fellow at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington. Her research focuses on state crimes, human rights, detention and social justice.

Her publications include ‘Torture, Truth and Justice’, ‘State Crime and Resistance’ (with Jude McCulloch), ‘The Road to Hell: State Violence against Children in Post War NZ’ and ‘Human Rights and Incarceration’ (edited collection published Sep 2018, by Palgrave).


Australian Immigration Detention: Exploring its Depth, Weight, Tightness and Breadth as Experienced by Women Detainees

Lorena Rivas1
1Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

Immigration detention has ignited vigorous debate in political, public and academic forums globally. Questions arise in relation to human rights and international law, the ethics and efficacy of this policy approach, how it works as a means of border control and how it impacts on immigration detainees. This study explores and provides an in-depth examination of the experiences of women detainees in long-term immigration detention in Australia. It examines the effects of immigration detention on their mental, physical and social well-being by combining both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data publicly available from the Commonwealth Ombudsman are complemented by interviews with women previously held in immigration detention and immigration detention service providers. This study then describes how Crewe’s framework, that focuses on the individual and collective experiences of imprisonment, can help shed light on the lived experiences of women who have been held in Australian immigration detention. In conclusion, lessons for detention policies across Western nations are drawn from the Australian policy experience.

Lorena Rivas is a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University, and associated with the Griffith Criminology Institute. She attained a double degree in Psychological Science and Criminology and Criminal Justice and was awarded First Class Honours in Criminology and Criminal Justice for her dissertation that investigated the impact of long-term immigration detention on women detainees’ mental health and human rights. Building on this, Lorena’s doctoral thesis is taking a wider scope to investigate the impact of long-term immigration detention on the physical, mental and social well-being of women detainees.


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