Notes on exile: Behrouz Boochani in conversation with Claudia Tazreiter

The Australian Journal of Human Rights has published a conversation with award-winning writer Behrouz Boochani.
Behrouz Boochani. Photo: Supplied

By Ruby Lew

In August this year, UNSW Sydney Associate Professor Claudia Tazreiter travelled to Manus Island to visit author, journalist and UNSW Adjunct Associate Professor Behrouz Boochani, who had been detained there since 2013.

The conversation, published in the Australian Journal of Human Rights, reflects on the way in which the power structures that brutalise refugees are reinforced, and the process of resistance through writing.

Since the conversation took place, there has been upheaval.

On 15 November, Boochani arrived in New Zealand, after being granted a visitor’s visa to speak at a literary festival in Christchurch. He has stated his intention not to return to PNG, but it is not yet clear what the outcome will be.

For the 400 or so refugees and asylum seekers still languishing in PNG and Nauru (in detention or otherwise), the future is similarly unclear.

Almost all of the remaining refugees and asylum seekers whom Boochani lived amongst on Manus Island have been moved to the Papua New Guinean capital, Port Moresby.

Living allowances there are meagre, ties to the local community are weak and many continue to suffer from untreated physical and mental illnesses.

Some are awaiting relocation to the US. All are being encouraged to permanently settle in PNG.

The 52 men who had been deemed “non-refugees” were arrested and detained by PNG authorities in Bomana immigration centre in August.

Up to 12 detainees attempted self-harm on the first night. Served meagre rations, given no access to legal support, books or the outside world, at least one of the men has elected to be repatriated to the country from which he fled, stating, “[these] conditions have been designed to torture people.”

It is not yet known whether Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie secured an agreement from the government to resettle the people remaining in PNG to New Zealand, in return for her support to repeal the laws known as "medevac", which allowed for the medical evacuation of sick asylum seekers to Australia.

In the conversation published in the journal, Boochani rejected the notions of "resettlement" and "solutions" to the situation on Manus Island.

"The Government created these words. I think that there is no solution because there is no problem. The problem is fake. It’s a fake problem."

Click here to read the full conversation between Claudia Tazreiter and Behrouz Boochani in the Australian Journal of Human Rights' new Current Perspectives section—a place for human rights practitioners and scholars to reflect on their work and the most pressing rights issues of our day.

Ruby Lew is a fifth year Arts/Law student at UNSW Sydney and was Student Associate Editor on the Australian Journal of Human Rights in Term 3, 2019.

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