Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian writer, poet, journalist and human rights activist wanted by the Shiite theocratic government of Iran who, after increasingly frequent intimidation and several arrests of journalists, in 2013 felt compelled to flee for Australia via Indonesia in the hopes of obtaining status as a political refugee.
What was in store for him, however, was a very different fate: upon reaching his destination, he was arrested and confined to a detention centre for illegal immigrants on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, in line with Australia’s ‘No Way’ scheme created specifically to punish illegal entries into the country.
Six long years have passed since then, during which, despite being detained in inhuman and degrading conditions, Behrouz never gave up. His resilience and his determination in telling the story of what was happening kept him alive, not only in body but also in spirit, continuing to keep hope alive in his heart and believing in the strength of storytelling as a means of survival and liberation. It was as if from being a protagonist he had become a spectator.
Had he kept all the emotions he was feeling inside, he would have imploded. Instead, because of this choice, he was able to create an escape. By writing articles, documentaries and the book No Friends but the Mountains, which was the work of hundreds of WhatsApp messages sent to Omid Tofighian, the author inspired a powerful movement denouncing anti-migrant policies and the living conditions of refugees.
Behrouz, through writing, was able to create a parallel world, a space of hope, a foothold for survival, all from the Manus Island Detention Centre.
Through a simple and sensitive biographical narrative, Behrouz takes the reader by the hand, showing the most difficult moments of his experience – from the long journey to the hard day to day reality of the detention centre.
Despite the cruelty of his jailers and being held in prison, Behrouz never lost faith in the powerof words
Behrouz’s description is realistic and detailed enough to conjure up memories of smells and places encountered during the missions undertaken by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in the Mediterranean: the taste of sea water, the smell of sweat mixed with gasoline and excrement, the deep desperation, the sadness and the fear of people who did not know if they would survive.
Behrouz’s beauty is his refusal to surrender. Even while everything around him makes no sense and is falling apart, he continues to keep hope alive in his heart and to believe in the power of storytelling as the only instrument of justice. Despite the cruelty of his jailers and being held in prison, Behrouz never lost faith in the power of words. As living proof of resilience, he never stopped believing in a better future.
After having won numerous awards, including the 2019 Victorian Prize (Australia’s most prestigious literary award), the 2019 NSW Premier’s Award, Australia’s 2019 National Biography Award and the Anna Politkovskaya Prize for Journalism, to name a few, Behrouz was recently released.
New Zealand has granted him a 30-day visa to participate in a literary festival. His ordeal, however, is not over: before the deadline lapses, he must be welcomed by a state willing to grant him political asylum. I hope someone steps forward. It would be inhumane if Behrouz were to lose his hard-fought freedom again!
#Keephopealive is a MOAS campaign that is very close to my heart and that guides our missions in those areas of the world where there is a need for more hope.
Today, Behrouz’ voice is the voice of all those people who, unable to access safe and legal routes in a straightforward and direct way, are forced to put their lives in the hands of traffickers by embarking on an uncertain and dangerous journey and who, if they reach their destination, are treated like criminals because they entered illegally for lack of access to legal channels of entry.
Dear Behrouz, I would like to thank you for your great show of courage on behalf of people deprived of every human right living in detention centres around the world.
May your story be a source of hope for them and may it serve for us as a testimony so that no one will ever be able to say, “I didn’t know”.
Regina Catrambone is the co-founder of MOAS.