Behrouz Boochani Social Justice Award. The nightmare continues—disturbing new developments in Offshore imprisonment.
On Tuesday October 11 I attended the ‘Diaspora Symposium Refugee and Asylum Seeker Discourse’ held in the NSW parliament house. Behrouz Boochani was honoured with a Social Justice Award for his courageous work as a journalist, writer and advocate on Manus Island. Behrouz Boochani has been incarcerated there since mid 2013. In that time, he has continued to post stories, written opinion pieces, posted photos taken inside the camp, and continued work on a book documenting his imprisonment on Manus Island. His pieces have been published in Australia and overseas, and have appeared in the Saturday Paper, the Guardian, The Age, and Huffington Post and other outlets.
In presenting the award event organiser Saba Vasefi described Behrouz Boochani as ‘a citizen of the world, whose reports from detention with a small mobile phone and restricted internet access remind us of the possibilities for resistance.’
In accepting the award Behrouz Boochani put together a podcast with his voiceover, accompanied by visuals and music. The presentation was powerful, disturbing, and beautiful—all three. It features images of asylum seekers marooned on Nauru and Manus Island, scenes shot through detention centre wire, and photos which convey the heat, the isolation, the squalid rooms and dormitories, and the endless waiting that has broken the spirits of many inmates. There are images also of inmates protesting, and of wounds sustained in unprovoked attacks.
The award was accepted on Behrouz Boochani’s behalf by his Sydney based translator, Moones Mansoubi who has translated many of his writings. Mr Boochani said: ‘I hope the award will encourage notable Australians to criticise their country’s system of offshore detention. “Why they are silent? I know some of them are trying, but I think the pressure is not enough.”’
Behrouz Boochani, who fled Iran in fear for his safety due to his writings on Kurdish culture, states: ‘Resistance is the ceaseless struggle for humanity…the never ending struggle against tyranny.’ He continues this struggle on two fronts, against Australia’s brutal offshore processing regime and in continuing to write about Kurdish rights in Iran.
There was something else at work in the symposium. Many of the speakers and performers were former refugees and asylum seekers. These included Iranian filmmaker, poet and human rights activist, Saba Vasefi, who conceived and organised the symposium, and who spoke eloquently about the need for refugee voices to be heard in the public discourse. They should be given every opportunity to speak for themselves, she argues, rather than constantly being spoken of, and treated as ‘the other’. Behrouz Boochani has also spoken of this tendency. In his writings and his ceaseless advocacy, he has broken through, into the mainstream, despite his confinement.
Other presenters included the first Muslim woman parliamentarian, NSW Greens MP, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, and Human Rights campaign director at GetUp!, Shen Narayanasamy. They too called for more refugee voices to be heard. Saba Vasefi spoke of the tendency of refugee advocates to reduce asylum seekers to their victimhood and refugee status without acknowledging their agency—the courage and initiative it took in the first place to make the journey. She had, as had so many, actively set out to rescue themselves, in fleeing oppression, and seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
It is approaching three and a half years of incarceration on Manus island. And in disturbing developments, there are reports that the Australian government is spending $20 million on a new immigration jail in Papua New Guinea to hold Manus Island based asylum seekers who have had their refugee status denied and have been condemned to deportation. It is time to allow asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island to settle in Australia. They are being driven mad. They have been punished despite committing no crimes. Meanwhile, Behrouz Boochani, working up to eighteen hours a day, continues to document their plight.