Kurdish-Iranian author and journalist Behrouz Boochani has excoriated the Australian government and says he’ll seek an extension to his New Zealand visa.
“We can see there is some kind of dictatorship in Australia,” he said on Friday.
“In Australia, I think democracy is broken.”
Boochani arrived in New Zealand on Thursday night, ending his long detention within Australia’s offshore processing system.
His departure after more than six years on Manus Island was arranged in the most unlikely of manners: the 36-year-old accepted an invitation to speak at a writers’ festival in Christchurch later this month and the visa was arranged very simply.
Boochani announced his exit on Thursday night, tweeting from Auckland that it was “so exciting to get freedom after more than six years”.
I just arrived in New Zealand. So exciting to get freedom after more than six years. I have been invited by Word Festival in Christchurch and will participate in an event here. Thank you to all the friends who made this happen.
— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) November 14, 2019
He was welcomed by Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel on Friday, before speaking at a Word Christchurch event alongside Greens MP Golriz Ghahraman, an Iranian refugee.
“I’m really happy that I am here in Christchurch,” Boochani said.
“Almost seven years ago I left Iran because of my journalism and cultural activities.
“I went to Australia to seek asylum there, to find a safe place. I knew Australia as a liberal democracy.
“I expected that they would welcome me and at least consider my case.
“Unfortunately they exiled me to Manus Island, a remote place. In other words, I can say I left Iran because I didn’t want to live in prison but Australia jailed me.”
— Graham Thom (@drgrahamthom) November 14, 2019
Boochani arrived by boat on Christmas Island in July 2013. He was sent to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea a month later.
While in detention, Boochani wrote a book, No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, which won this year’s Victorian Prize for Literature and the National Biography Award – Australia’s richest literary prize.
He also filmed a documentary of life in the Manus centre on a mobile phone, which has been seen in Australia, London and Berlin.
Boochani has vowed not to return to PNG.
“I will never go back to that place,” he told The Guardian.
His route to New Zealand involved a 34-hour journey via The Philippines across six timezones.
He has not revealed his long-term plans but hopes to stay in New Zealand beyond his current visa, which grants him a month-long stay.
However, New Zealand immigration authorities scotched that idea on Friday.
“He is in New Zealand on a one month limited visa for the specific purpose of speaking at a conference in Christchurch. He must depart before his visa expires,” Greg Patchell, deputy chief executive of Immigration New Zealand said.
“If he claims asylum in New Zealand, an independent statutory process decides his claim. Government ministers have no role in this process.”
While not mentioning him by name, Boochani eviscerated Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.
“I don’t say that I understand Australia but I think I say that with a special understanding,” he said.
“I was in Manus … just looking at Australia. I was seeing something that Australians couldn’t see.
“When they exile us to Manus (government ministers) always talk about us like we are dangerous people, like we are rapists, like we are dangerous. With hate speech.”
Later, he told ABC radio from Christchurch that he had a “great opportunity” to raise the issue of detainees being held in PNG.
He said he wanted New Zealand to “put pressure on PNG actually to release those innocent people”.
“I really would like to ask the New Zealand government to have a negotiation with PNG and Nauru directly,” he said.
“Australia cannot make decisions for others.”
Boochani said he would visit Auckland and Wellington while in New Zealand. He also hoped for a simple pleasure during his first day in Christchurch.
“I want to walk on a long street just by myself,” he said.