Former refugee Behrouz Boochani's ‘surreal’ experience in Australia's parliament

Behrouz Boochani

Behrouz Boochani speaks during TEDxSydney on 24 May 2019. Photo by Eric Fonacier / Visionair Media. Source: Flickr account of TEDxSydney (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Kurdish-Iranian author Behrouz Boochani, who sought asylum in Australia in 2013 but was detained instead in an offshore detention camp in Papua New Guinea for six years, arrived in Canberra to support a bill calling for the release of refugees in offshore detention centers.

Threatened with imprisonment because of his activism, Boochani left Iran in 2013. He was in a boat with other refugees when Australian border security arrested the asylum seekers and sent them to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

He documented his experience through WhatsApp and sent his writings to Australian journalists and translators. He later published a memoir titled “No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison,” which won the Victorian Prize for Literature and the Victorian Premier's Prize for Nonfiction in January 2019.

In an interview with Global Voices author Fred Petrossian in August 2019, Boochani talked about the plight of refugees in Australia’s offshore detention centers:

It is very important to emphasize that people in these camps had no rights. While criminals in prison enjoy certain basic rights, even in the worst systems, such as the right to make phone call, refugees and asylum seekers in these camps were deprived of those basic rights.

After a sustained global campaign calling for his release, Boochani was able to enter New Zealand in November 2019 and granted asylum the following year.

He visited Australia early this month to promote his new book, “Freedom, Only Freedom, The Prison Writings of Behrouz Boochani.”

He also went to the Parliament in Canberra to support a proposed bill by the Greens Party which calls for the immediate evacuation of the remaining 150 refugees in Nauru Island and Papua New Guinea and that they be given temporary visas in Australia.

Boochani tweeted what he felt when he entered the Parliament building:

The impact of his visit was also highlighted by human rights advocates:

Earlier, he was asked about what he thinks of visiting a country that barred him from entering ten years ago:

During a forum held in the Parliament, Boochani noted in an ABC report that reforms have yet to take place despite a change in government:

For many years I was watching Australia and I was watching this particular place, the parliament, and always this parliament didn't come to actually a real solution.

And still after all of the decade, that tragedy continues.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Boochani encouraged refugees to express their thoughts:

Many refugees feel empowered, many refugees became inspired and feel they can tell their own story, they can write, they can fight.

Not only in Manus Island, but Nauru and around the world. It doesn’t matter what you write, really, even if you write a love letter. If you write about anything that shows your dignity.

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