Suicide attempts and mental health problems are wide spread for those who have been separated from family members for years and see no future for themselves
Behrouz Boochani is a name that has recently come to light with the Kurdish-Iranian author winning a profound Australian literary award, despite not being allowed into the country. I found this to be a remarkable story and thought it would be beneficial to explore this paradoxical achievement and check in with the infamous off shore detention centres on Manus and Nauru.
Boochani was born in west Iran, where in 2013 he was a successful journalist with a master’s degree in geopolitics and wrote for a range of publications. In February of that year he was working for a pro-Kurdish Magazine called Werya, dedicated to cultural freedom, minority rights and additional human rights agendas. The Iranian military raided the magazines office, fining many workers and incarcerating others. Boochani was luckily not in the area that day but after these events was forced into hiding and to later flee the country. When his boat was intercepted by the Australian Navy en route to Australia, he was first taken to Christmas Island then relocated to Manus.
Boochani’s book ‘No Friend but the Mountains – Writings from Manus Prison” was written via text message throughout his six years detained, which his friend then translated to English. The Victorian Premiers Literary prize worth $125,000 in winnings, was awarded to the novel which details his hellish experiences in the Australian funded facilities. Hearing Boochani’s perspective of the inhumane conditions on Manus is sure to be a confronting read, as the accounts given by doctor’s have already painted a horrendous picture.
Boochani recorded an acceptance speech which played at the award ceremony. In this he explained that when exiled to Manus, he told an official he was a skilled writer and was laughed at. Today, Boochani’s literary skills are being honoured and consumed worldwide, whilst he still finds himself, and almost a thousand others, in a helpless situation.
As was announced five years ago, those currently detained on the island will not be resettled to Australia even if they are proven to be legitimate refugees, purely because they arrived by boat. Despite the political complexity around the policies, these individuals now remain in a desperate limbo. Suicide attempts and mental health problems are wide spread for those who have been separated from family members for years and see no future for themselves. The Australian government must explore the options to help resettle these individuals, such as accepting New Zealand’s offer to take the asylum seekers.
However, there has recently been great news that the final four children detained on Naura would be resettled in the US. Despite tension, the deal between the Australian and US Governments has been upheld by the Trump administration. Not to get political, but whilst Scomo was the one to make the positive announcement, I do not believe he is deserving of much praise. The doctors, journalists, MP’s, teachers, organisations and members of the public who worked tirelessly on the #KidsofNauru movement are the real champions of this story. They demanded the government to listen and recognize that we do not condone our government’s current policies or practices. The mistreatment of vulnerable people and appalling state of the detention facilities will forever be a stain on Australia’s history. Yet to see all the children now given a chance at a better life, is a huge win for people power!
As parliament resumes this week a noteworthy debate for this issue will be on independent MP Kerryn Phelps’ Bill proposing emergency medical transfers to Australia when the services on the islands are inadequate. Only time will tell whether this bill will be passed or if Scott Morrison’s medical review panel idea gains more traction. Perhaps collaboration will lead to a third option which addresses the criticism for both models. However, it is clear there needs to be a better system in place ensuring the necessary treatment is provided for patients as fast as possible in emergencies. We hope to see throughout the next twelve months a push to end indefinite detention, but in the meantime, any improvements to the health and welfare of individuals in this situation should be supported.
Despite Boochani’s immense hardship, his words of acceptance spread positivity stating;
“I believe that literature has the potential to make change and challenge structures of power. Literature has the power to give us freedom. … I truly believe words are more powerful than this place, this prison.”
Powerful words from an incredible man, who’s recognition will help keep indefinite detention in our media, our book shops, our conversations and spark change.