“One of Australia’s leading authors used a speech on Thursday at a prominent literary gathering to rebuke the government for its policies on refugees and asylum seekers held offshore, describing their suffering as so extreme it has been compared to torture.
The writer, Richard Flanagan, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2014 for his sixth novel, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” told an audience at the Melbourne Writers Festival that “this destruction of human beings is deemed a major priority by our country.”
“Everything has been done to dehumanize asylum seekers,” he said. “They live in a zoo of cruelty. Their lives are stripped of meaning.”“
Richard Flanagan knows what he’s talking about when he speaks against torture. His novel “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” focuses on the “Burma-Siam railway”, which was built using forced labour in horrendous jungle conditions. More than 180,000 Southeast Asian civilian labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) worked on the railway. Many died in its construction – including 100,000 Tamils and 12,621 Allied POWs. After the end of World War II, 111 Japanese military officials were tried for war crimes because of their brutalization of POWs during the construction of the railway, with 32 of these sentenced to death. No compensation or reparations have been provided to South East Asian victims. Flanagan’s father was one of the Australian prisoners of war working on the infamous “narrow road”. The comparison with the treatment of foreigners in Nauru and Manus Island seems apt to him and I consider him an authority.
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