Posts Tagged ‘Behrouz Boochani’

Behrouz Boochani gives interview in New Zealand – finally out of Manus island

December 1, 2019

Boochani in 2018 outside an abandoned naval base on Manus Island where he was kept for three years. Photo/Getty Images

On 28 November, 2019 Sally Blundel inteviewed Iranian asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani. The award winning refugee [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/04/manus-island-detainee-behrouz-boochani-wins-major-literary-prize-putting-more-pressure-on-detention-policy/] was invited to New Zealand. Where he will be after his month-long visa expires, he cannot say, but he will still write, he says, this time a novel. “Because literature has the power to give us freedom. Because through literature we can challenge the power structure.”

In a quiet suburban Christchurch garden, Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer, poet and film-maker Behrouz Boochani, cigarette in hand, paces out three large steps. “We lived in a very small room, from here to here, four of us. On Manus you didn’t have privacy or space. Finding the time and quiet to write was the hardest thing.”

But find time he did, to write poems and articles, film a documentary on a smartphone and tap out an entire book, furtively sent paragraph by paragraph via What’sApp text messages, chronicling the squalid conditions, medical neglect, mental anguish, suicide, even murder, experienced by asylum seekers held on Manus Island under Australia’s “stop the boats” policy.

It is six years since Boochani was pulled from a sinking boat just days out of Indonesia and taken to Australia’s “offshore processing centre” on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. It is just over a week since he left Port Moresby to fly to Auckland, taking a route that avoided Australia, to speak at Christchurch’s WORD book festival as a free man. “I got my freedom through literature,” he says.

Boochani knows the power of words. As a journalist in Iran in 2013, he reported on the arrest and detention of his colleagues on Kurdish-language magazine Werya in Ilam, north-west Iran. His fellow journalists were eventually released – they attributed their survival to Boochani’s article – but by then he was in danger. He fled, travelling through South-east Asia to Indonesia where, in July that year, he was among a group of 75 men, women and children who boarded an unseaworthy boat heading for Australia. The vessel’s bilge pump failed in rough seas. When rescued by the Royal Australian Navy, Boochani requested asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a party. Instead, he and his fellow asylum seekers were incarcerated on Christmas Island before being transferred to the Manus Island detention centre as part of Australia’s “Pacific Solution II”.

………To write his book, he adopted a new routine, sleeping from 6pm until 11pm when everyone was too busy to note his absence. From 11pm, he would write under the blankets until 8am, then sleep until noon. In 2016, after the PNG Supreme Court declared the indefinite detention of asylum seekers to be unlawful, phones were no longer prohibited. Each night, he would sit outside, smoking, writing, absorbing as much of the natural environment as he could from his side of the prison fence. “For the prisoner who is alone, nature is so important,” he says. “Always, it is a place you can escape to – even the sky, they cannot take the sky away. But it is very harsh to look up at the many birds flying and knowing you cannot follow them.”

….

“If someone asked me to write this book again, of course I am able to write it, but I could not write it this way. When I describe starving, I was starving. When I describe the characters, those people were around me in prison. It is the same with the feelings. In that camp people rely on each other; there’s a culture of brotherhood because there is no space, but there’s also a kind of hatred because you are so tired of having so many other people around you. I have lost those feelings now, but in prison they were true feelings.”

Boochani in Christchurch. Photo/Getty Images

Through articles sent to the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Refugees Action Collective and the United Nations, and the support of a global network of writers, translators, academics and activists, including Australia’s Janet Galbraith, founder of online project Writing Through Fences, Boochani refused to let the thousands of asylum seekers sent to Manus Island and Nauru fade from public gaze. In 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described Australia’s offshore processing centres as “unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to human rights” (New Zealand’s offers under National first, then Labour, to settle at least 150 detainees were rejected by successive Australian prime ministers).

……

Plea for release

But within the camp the book also drew attention to Boochani himself. This year, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union for Australia’s creative professionals, sent an open letter to the Government of Scott Morrison urging Boochani’s release. Signed by prominent journalists and writers, including Tom Keneally Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas, Kate Grenville and Nobel laureate JM Coetzee, it said, “We are deeply concerned for Behrouz Boochani’s welfare and safety. The success of his book and his status as a journalist have made him a target of the Manus authorities; a danger that has only increased with his rising profile.”

In June, WORD Christchurch programme director Rachael King invited Boochani to speak at a special festival event. Especially after the city’s March 15 mosque shootings, she explained, “it felt important to share the stories of refugees”.

With help from author Lloyd Jones, whose recent book The Cage is itself a dark parable about the human capacity for inhumanity, she was able to email her invitation directly to Boochani. Boochani was receptive to the idea. By then he was one of more than 300 people moved from Manus Island to Port Moresby. He was hoping to be part of Australia’s “refugee swap” deal with the US (he was later accepted for this programme), but he wanted to wait until the Manus Island camp was finally closed.

“It would have been immoral for me to leave those people in Manus, to create a platform and have this privilege and this recognition, because it is about all our resistance – it was not only for me.”

In October, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, told Parliament “we’ve completely closed” the Manus Island facility. By then, only three asylum seekers were left on the island. The remaining detainees still in Papua New Guinea were in Port Moresby, including a reported 46 held in Bomana Prison.

Aziz: thank you for the attention but now I have go back to detention…

February 18, 2019

Last Wednesday, 13 February 2019, Abdul Aziz Muhamat was awarded the 2019 Martin Ennals Award for human rights defender in Geneva. Some time earlier Behrouz Boochani was awarded the Australian Victorian Prize for Literature. What they have in common is that they are detained – for almost 6 years – on Manus Island under Australia’s off-shore refugee policy.  Their stories testify to the cruelty of this regime and the humanitarian deficiency of a country that claims a strong liberal tradition and is itself a nation based on immigration. Successive governments have defended this policy as necessary to stop trafficking although it is hard to see how forced stays of such length would attract anybody except the most desperate refugees. And anyway even those recognized as refugees would not be allowed to settle in Australia!

Aziz’ impassioned acceptance speech in Geneva, spoke of the solidarity he feels for his fellow detainees in the face of daily humiliating and degrading treatment. Therefore he vowed to return to his detention centre in the Pacific, return to be a number (“On the island, officials refer to me as QNK002. I have no identity other than that number“). See:

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Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani wins major literary prize putting more pressure on detention policy

February 4, 2019

Behrouz Boochani in November, 2017. Picture: Jason Garman/Amnesty International
Behrouz Boochani in November, 2017. Picture: Jason Garman/Amnesty International

With one of the MEA 2019 final nominees being detained on Manus island in the same way [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/24/breaking-news-ennals-award-announces-its-3-finalists-for-2019/ ] it is relevant to note that another such detainee has won literary awards in Australia! Iranian-Kurdish journalist and poet Behrouz Boochani won the richest Australian Victorian Prize for Literature ($100,000) for his hellish first-hand account of life as a detainee on the island. His book, No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison, also won the $25,000 prize for nonfiction at Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards on 31 January 2019. (The eligibility criteria requiring that the authors be Australian citizens or permanent residents was overlooked to award the prize.

Mr Boochani told the Herald Sun from Manus Island, where he has been detained for more than five years, that the award was a victory for literature, resistance and humanity. But, he added: “I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see many innocent people suffering around me.

No Friend But The Mountains.

If I could be there to accept the award I would explain how this award is a morality failure for Australia,” Mr Boochani said. “It is not just a failure on the part of the Australian government but a historical and moral defeat for those parts of the society who have been silent in the face of a barbaric policy over these years…It’s a huge cause of shame for a government that did not recognise us as human beings and did not recognise our human rights. It’s a challenge against a system that has lied to the public over the past years.”.


On 1 February University of Melbourne, followed up with a thoughtful piece on why “Behrouz Boochani’s literary prize cements his status as an Australian writer”

Other Australian authors have also used their voices to bring attention to the plight of asylum seekers. During her acceptance speech for her second Miles Franklin Award in August 2018, Michelle de Kretser chastised politicians for their treatment of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. To illustrate her point, she read a list of names of asylum seekers who have died there in the past five years. It is tempting to dismiss such actions as gesture politics by an urban elite. But each individual action has served to raise awareness of the Australian government’s policy of “offshore processing” for asylum seekers, and to fuse artistic expression with political activism in a particularly forceful manner.

The author has been awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award (for investigative journalism), the Amnesty International Award (Australian section) and Liberty Victoria’s Empty Chair Award. These humanitarian awards have confirmed Boochani’s rapidly acquired high profile in the literary field. Last night’s news topped all of that to make Boochani the first “non-Australian” author to win the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. The Victorian government established these awards in 1985 to honour Australian writing. The specific challenge this poses to the definition of “Australian writing” can be seen as an intervention by the literary community into the field of politics. If a non-citizen who has never set foot on mainland Australia can win, who counts as an Australian author?…

With no clear solution to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru in sight, the paradox of Boochani’s award success can only contribute further to public debate over the tangled logic of indefinite detention. It shows how cultural practices and political activism can be reconfigured to correspond with the newly created literary currency associated with refugee writing. For now, at least, Boochani is an “Australian writer” because Australia is morally implicated in what he wrote and how he wrote it.

Also won in 2019: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/kurdish-iranian-behrouz-boochani-wins-australian-biography-prize-190812071100746.html

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/04/mea-nominee-aziz-abdul-muhamat-suffers-under-australias-endless-detention-policy/

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/manus-island-detainee-behrouz-boochani-wins-literary-prize/news-story/b57918c19d7f4c9a88ef532001b4f164

https://theconversation.com/behrouz-boochanis-literary-prize-cements-his-status-as-an-australian-writer-110986