WORD Christchurch is delighted to be welcoming a multi award-winning international author who has spent the last six years detained by Australian authorities in Papua New Guinea.
Kurdish writer, film maker and refugee Behrouz Boochani wrote his award-winning book, No Friend but the Mountains, on a smartphone app (WhatsApp) while held at the Australian government’s infamous Manus Island detention centre.
Mr Boochani will speak at a special event, hosted by WORD Christchurch, on 29 November 2019.
WORD programme director Rachael King says it is an honour to welcome him.
“This is the first time Behrouz has left Papua New Guinea since being taken to the Australian government’s Manus Island prison in 2013. We are incredibly privileged to be welcoming a writer of his calibre and international standing to Christchurch.”
No Friend But the Mountains, published by Picador, has won numerous literary awards, including Australia’s richest literary prize – the $125,000 Victorian Prize for Literature in 2019 – despite its author never setting foot on Australian soil. The book is based on a first-hand account of life in the Manus Island prison, and bears witness to the terrible conditions faced by its refugees.
Over the past six years, Boochani has become a trusted voice for those detained by the Australian authorities’ clampdown on ‘boat people’. He has written for numerous international media outlets, including the Guardian, Huffington Post and Sydney Morning Herald.
His documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, which Boochani shot on his mobile phone, has been shown at numerous international film festivals, including in Auckland, but he has never been granted permission to travel until now.
In a statement given to WORD before he left Port Moresby, Mr Boochani said:
“What the Australian government has done on Manus Island and Nauru has negatively impacted not only Australia, but also the region and globally. I think it is very important that we share this story with the people of New Zealand. Christchurch is a city that has already educated the world by leading through kindness and humanity in response to the terrorist attacks earlier this year. I am very grateful that I have been welcomed by this city and have this opportunity to share ideas.
“Christchurch already proves that dividing society is a dangerous threat to unity and democracy. I will be in New Zealand while still more than 200 people remain in Port Moresby and 200 in Nauru. Among these people still there are 50 innocent people who remain indefinitely detained at Bomana prison. I am here to warn against this kind of system, which is designed to deter refugees from seeking asylum and ultimately has caused grave harm and torture. I am here to ask New Zealand the government to take a leadership and allow those who remain in PNG and Nauru to find safety.”
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel was New Zealand’s Immigration Minister in 2001 when the country welcomed 131 refugees from the Tampa vessel. Mayor Dalziel says she was deeply moved by Mr Boochani’s story.
“His is an extraordinarily important voice in speaking to the reality of people who are driven from their country of birth in circumstances we can only imagine. We all need to start sharing stories like these – most New Zealanders, who do not have a refugee background, have no comprehension of what it is like to risk your life for freedom,” says Mayor Dalziel.
Rachael King says the invitation was in keeping with WORD Christchurch’s mission to bring the best writers and speakers to the city to celebrate literature and provoke discussion.
WORD worked with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, which intercedes on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers, who facilitated Mr Boochani’s departure and helped secure a visa for the event. Amnesty International acted as a sponsor for the visa application.
Amnesty International Executive Director Meg de Ronde says Amnesty is thrilled to have played a part in supporting WORD Christchurch’s event by sponsoring Behrouz’s visa to New Zealand.
“We campaign for justice for tens of thousands of refugees around the world. To have played a small part in getting Behrouz to New Zealand for the WORD Christchurch events is very meaningful. We can’t wait to welcome him here – seeing him arrive will be very moving.”
Rachael King says the event has been months in the planning.
“We’re delighted to finally be in a position to welcome Behrouz. His story is powerful, his resilience is extraordinary, and his words have moved and rallied people around the world. That his book has brought him here is testament to the power of literature as an agent for change,” says Rachael King.
Behrouz Boochani: Writing From Manus Prison is part of a WORD Christchurch season of spring events that includes top British writer Zadie Smith (13 November), and international poets Omar Musa (Australia) and Michael Pedersen (Scotland) and Auckland writer Dominic Hoey on 15 November.
For tickets and information, visit wordchristchurch.co.nz
Background on Behrouz Boochani
Boochani was a writer for the Kurdish language magazine Werya. He was warned to leave Iran in 2013 after publishing anti-government articles.
He fled to Indonesia and paid a people smuggler $5,000 to take him to Australia – a country he says he chose because ‘of its liberal and free democracy’.
Boochani was in one of two boats intercepted by Australian authorities after a week lost at sea. He was arrested and taken to the infamous Manus Island Processing Centre.
The centre was closed in late 2017, when Boochani was one of 322 men forcibly transferred off the Island.
He remained incarcerated on Papua New Guinea’s mainland three months ago, when he was moved to alternative accommodation in Port Moresby but has remained unable to leave the city.