When calls are made for compassion to be shown towards asylum seekers arriving to Australia, the focus often turns to the vulnerability of women and children in detention centres. Women and children do face particular and extreme risks in these environments, but the consequences when governments downgrade the needs of men can be seen playing out on Manus Island right now.
The Manus Island detention centre is considered inappropriate for women and children and is used only for males over 18. This wasn't always the case – women and children were detained in Manus by the previous Labor government and by former prime minister John Howard under his "Pacific Solution". But if the centre is now unsuitable for women and children (as it clearly always has been), then it is surely also unsuitable for men.
Last week, a former Manus Island security guard told Channel Ten that diseases resulting from a lack of medical care were rampant in the centre. He said the centre was "absolute filth" and "I wouldn't let my dog live in it". But this "absolute filth" is what Australia deems appropriate for 1084 men.
Just imagine that any one of these men could be your sensitive son, your frail father, a male friend, brother, partner, yourself (if you are male). Imagine men who are separated from families, men crying at night for their children. Young men away from mothers for the first time. Men who are scared. Men grappling with recent memories of torture in conflict zones. Men crippled by the uncertainty. Men struggling with their sexuality. Teenage boys trying to become men. Men who are, before anything else, human.
Just stop and imagine. Innocent men thrown indefinitely inside a filthy prison, with other men, each reacting differently to the pressures of the situation.
These are not the trained men we send off to war, these are men fleeing from conflict and persecution. These are men who have committed no crime in asking for asylum in Australia. Yet we expect them to submit quietly to incarceration in an unfamiliar country, while we pressure them to return to places of persecution.
The damage we inflict on these men begins the moment we label them as "queue-jumpers" or "illegals". It continues when we fail to acknowledge individual histories, cultures, languages, specific vulnerabilities, or the unique circumstances from which each man has fled. It is the start of a slippery slope when we give priority to a number over a name; when we say that this place is unsafe for women and children, but men can be sacrificed.
We know that stereotypes of masculinity or culturally defined roles can often constrain men from speaking about their distress. Men are supposed to bear pain in silence, "be a man" about their situation. We know that men are often reluctant to ask for help. But the suffering of the men we incarcerate in Manus is painfully transparent - these men are begging for our help.
In February, Reza Barati - described as a "gentle giant" by friends - was murdered inside the Manus centre. Another man lost an eye in the same violence. Many others were badly injured. All the men in the centre were terrorised and traumatised by the experience. Yet nearly seven months later, these men remain locked up inside a place of "absolute filth" – still fearful and uncertain of their future.
Last month, another young man cut his foot at the filthy centre and died on Friday night in a Brisbane hospital. Hamid Kehazaei, described by his mother as "the most gentle and loving" of all her children, was sacrificed - needlessly, carelessly, by governments playing games with the lives of innocent human beings.
Both the Australian and the PNG governments have continued to deliberately mislead the men we detain in Manus and the Australian people. Of the 1084 men now detained, only 79 have received initial refugee status decisions. Why so few? No one will explain.
PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill claimed in March that "a good majority" of the men were not refugees – before they had even been assessed. Tony Abbott backed him up. But so far more than half the men with interim decisions have indeed been found to be refugees, by a process that is hardly designed to err on the side of caution.
Abbott told us the resettlement of Manus refugees would begin in May. Scott Morrison said June. Now we hear from a PNG cabinet member that it could be "end of the year". But even if resettlement in PNG does go ahead, experience tells us the difficulties will be insurmountable and the men will need to be resettled elsewhere.
We should be fighting for the rights of women and children – both in Australia and within the region, where the focus should turn to providing options that don't involve dangerous boat travel. But we should also be fighting for men.
Men are often perpetrators of violence, but they are also the victims. Men around the world often have more power than women, but these individual men have no power. And these men have families, they have women and children in their lives, now suffering because of their mistreatment. The consequences of dehumanising these men cannot be contained within the fences of their prison.
If we care about the men who have drowned in the ocean on their way to Australia, if we care about the men in our own lives, Australians should be standing up to call for an end to the suffering we inflict on these men.
Susan Metcalfe is the author of The Pacific Solution.