Yesterday, literary prize winner Behrouz Boochani was released from the detention centre where he has been living for the past six years on Papa New Guinea’s Manus Island. He received a warm welcome in New Zealand which has granted him a one-month visa and will hopefully relocate to the United States of America (USA) as he has been accepted as part of a refugee resettlement programme. Boochani is an Iranian Kurd who fled persecution in 2013 and attempted to claim asylum in Australia but was instead detained offshores as part of Australia’s Pacific Solution Policy. His book titled No Friends but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, received the Victorian Prize for Literature earlier this year. Unfortunately, he was unable to pick up the prize as he was not allowed into Australia. However, he has now been invited to participate in an event by the World Festival in New Zealand’s capital, Christchurch. The book was written via Whatsapp as he was afraid that the authorities would get a hold of his writing. It highlights stories from other asylum seekers and his personal experiences on the island.
Instead of reaching a safe haven, Behrouz Boochani was one of the thousands confronted with a harsh anti-immigrant Australian regime. His book has shed a light on the conditions of the prison and the repercussions of a broken system, both in Iraq where he faced political persecution and in Australia who had him detained for six years. In 2001 the Australian government implemented a policy commonly known as the Pacific Solution- migrants who come to Australia by sea (as Boochani did by boat from Indonesia) would be detained offshores at places such as Manus Island. Yesterday’s event again highlights the difference in political opinion on migrants between New Zealand and Australia. Upon arrival in New Zealand, Boochani was reportedly received by the mayor of Christchurch who said he was welcomed by the “mountains, the rivers, and the people of the city.” New Zealand Green MP Golriz Ghahraman who was herself a former Kurdish refugee, has taken the opportunity to speak out about the differences between New Zealand and Australia in this matter saying, “I’m just so proud that New Zealand gets to stand as the counterpoint to the kind of politics that has led to Australia’s prison camps being in operation for so long.” Although his arrival in New Zealand was a glimmer of hope, Boochani’s future remains uncertain. He has been recognised as a refugee by the USA as part of a “swap” deal agreement which began under the Obama administration. Former US assistant secretary of state, Anne Richard, said that the deal was to get people who were refugees off of the islands which Australia had them detained on, in exchange for Australia resettling refugees from Central America who were fleeing gang violence. However, it is unclear as to whether Behrouz Boochani’s trip to New Zealand has had an impact on his resettlement to the USA, it might be the case that the USA decides he should be granted status in New Zealand instead. Regardless, he has said that he just wishes to be “free just for a while…as a writer, nothing else.”