Newly-freed Behrouz Boochani slams Australian refugee policies
Kurdish-Iranian journalist tells Al Jazeera that housing refugees in offshore detention facilities is ‘barbaric’.
Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani has called on the New Zealand government to start direct negotiations with Papua New Guinea and Nauru over Australia‘s detention centres housed in their territories.
The refugee and award-winning author told Al Jazeera on Thursday that Australia’s policy of housing people in such centres prevented migrants and refugees from starting new lives.
“There are more than 200 people who are stuck in [Papua New Guinea] and 200 in Nauru and among these people, 50 people are in a real jail in a very harsh condition,” he said. “It’s barbaric and unacceptable.”
Boochani arrived in New Zealand on Thursday after six years in the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.
He will be speaking at a literary festival in Christchurch later this month about his much-lauded book, No Friend But the Mountains, which details his experience on Manus Island and was written on a smartphone via WhatsApp.
Speaking from Christchurch, Boochani told Al Jazeera that he would use his platform to put pressure on the governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia to recognise the rights of refugees.
“I think all of my works that I have done on Manus Island is to describe refugees as normal people like others and I try to show the face of refugees as human and I was working against the picture that was created by the Australian government. I challenged that,” he said.
Boochani’s trip was made possible by the United Nations refugee agency, which organised his visa and travel with assistance from Amnesty International.
It was the first time Boochani has been allowed to leave Papua New Guinea, where he has been held by the Australian government since 2013.
Separately, in a series of Twitter posts on Thursday, Boochani criticised Kristina Keneally, the leader of Australia’s opposition Labor Party, who had posted a statement welcoming Boochi’s “opportunity to permanently resettle in a third country”.
Boochani called the statement “shameful”, saying Labor had exiled him to Manus Island and supported the exile policy for years.
“I’m in a third country now and don’t need you. If you are honest, do something for others who are suffering in [Papua New Guinea] and Nauru. In my view, anyone who supports this barbaric policy is criminal and terrorist,” he said.
Australia’s detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island have been frequently criticised for their poor conditions.
Boochani’s journey there began when he was forced to flee Iran after the offices of the Kurdish magazine he cofounded were raided and several of his colleagues were arrested and accused of undermining the Iranian state.
As a journalist in Iran, Boochani published stories that promoted the Kurdish language and culture.
He travelled through Southeast Asia and then paid a smuggler to take him by boat from Indonesia to the Australian territory of Christmas Island.
During Boochani’s journey, the Australian government announced a new immigration policy, denying settlement to all asylum seekers arriving “illegally” by boat.
Soon after his arrival on Christmas Island, Boochani was deported to Australia’s offshore processing centre on Manus Island, which was established as part of a deal in which PNG – in exchange for millions of dollars – would accommodate asylum seekers until their claims were decided.
When the Manus Island centre was closed in late 2017, Boochani was forcibly removed along with more than 300 others. He was imprisoned in Papua New Guinea until August when he was moved to accommodation in the capital, Port Moresby.