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'It’s a place where they try to destroy you': why concentration camps are still with us : The Guardian

"Mass internment camps did not begin or end with the Nazis – today they are everywhere from China to Europe to the US. How can we stop their spread?

One evening in February this year, I watched the Kurdish author Behrouz Boochani give a talk by video link to an audience at Birkbeck, University of London. Boochani, who currently lives in New Zealand, spent four years in Australia’s “regional offshore processing centre” for asylum-seekers on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Australia has pioneered a type of long-term detention for unwanted migrants that is now becoming more common elsewhere in the world. Boochani and his fellow detainees were not merely being held for “processing”, but in harsh conditions intended to act as a deterrent to future travellers. The Australian government forbade journalists to report on the full extent of these conditions, which included the beating and abuse of detainees, and introduced a law threatening doctors and social workers with up to two years in prison if they spoke in public about what they had witnessed.

Boochani, however, smuggled out accounts of life in detention, via text messages sent to his translator by WhatsApp, that were turned into articles for the Guardian and other outlets – as well as a memoir, No Friend But the Mountains. Boochani explained to us how he saw his detention as part of Australia’s – and Britain’s – longer history of treating non-white people as disposable. “It’s worse than a prison,” he said of the Manus camp. “It’s a place where they take your identity and freedom from you, and try to destroy you.” Detainees were given numbers, he said, which the guards used instead of their names; his was MEG45.

The camp on Manus Island was eventually shut down by the Australian government, after widespread public criticism, although its broader asylum policies remain largely the same. For Boochani, writing was not simply a way to expose his conditions and link up with campaigners against detention on the outside, but to challenge the very basis on which the treatment of people like him was justified. “I never use the language and the words that the [Australian] government use,” he said. “I say ‘systematic torture’, I say ‘political prisoner.’” One of the things that gave him hope in confinement, he said, was the fact that animals could wander in and out of the spaces where human freedom was limited – a reminder that the structure which held him was built by people, and could therefore also be dismantled. “Nature,” he said, “always tried to reimpose itself on the prison.”

Read the original The Guardian article

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