Iranian-Kurdish journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani has been detained on Manus Island for almost five years. The theme of home in the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s campaign to Change the Policy was inspired by Behrouz, whose vision of home is “humanity”.
The ASRC invited Behrouz to be a keynote speaker at the campaign launch on March 1. Due to him being locked up, Behrouz sent a powerful and eloquent letter to the communities who continue to campaign for an end offshore detention on Manus and Nauru — and to bring the men, women and children to freedom and safety.
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I would like to say that I am glad to speak with you from Manus Island prison camp, a prison camp that is closely bound with Australian politics and people. In other words, it was created by Australia and in turn creates something of Australia’s past, present and future. It is the result of Australian political and cultural structures and at the same time further shapes those structures in a profound way.
I would like to raise some important questions today and I hope these questions lead to deep thought about the plight of people in Manus Island and Nauru, and why we are in this situation.
These last few days, as many of you know, the refugees in Manus have had some bad experiences. Last week some Navy personnel attacked three refugees in Lorengau town and beat them up seriously. In recent days two refugees in separate incidents tried to take their own lives. These kinds of violence show that the refugees are living in a very troubling situation.
At the same time, in the past month some refugees from both Manus and Nauru have been transferred to the US, creating some hope that those remaining will eventually have some positive news.
These events show that we, the refugee movement and Australian civil society, have not achieved our aims, and unfortunately the government has been successful because they have been able to keep innocent people in limbo for five years and still continue the suffering.
They are ignoring the pressure we can raise and don’t feel the need to answer for their barbaric actions. We have been fighting to change this policy for the past five years, and many of you have been fighting longer, but unfortunately it feels like we are still on the first step.
We have definitely been successful in some ways, and have had some important achievements, like raising the refugees’ voices and making this policy a global issue in the media, and we should proud of that. But I would like to say that it’s time to accept that we couldn’t change the policy, and the refugees are still struggling for their freedom.
We should ask ourselves some questions: Why couldn’t we bring more pressure onto the government? Why couldn’t we achieve our aims of freedom? Why has the immigration minister instead gotten more and more power? Why have the politicians who have been involved in this policy gotten stronger?
These are very important questions with no simple answers. But we should take the time to honestly reflect on ourselves and our own strategies and thinking.
Are our strategies the right ones for the task? Do they need to be complemented by new ideas? Are we making the best use of our commitment, drive and energy?
These are questions for all of us, including all the organisations and human rights defenders who have been fighting tirelessly for the past five years.
Part of this problem is a global issue, and we can see that many countries are losing their humanity and their moral compass. But part of it is also related directly to Australia and its political culture. It’s a problem not only for refugees but also for the Australian people.
I’m not pessimistic, but it is a reality that most political decisions and developments have continued to go against us. We have to think about what we are doing and if it’s the best fit for the current context.
One example is about the campaign to “Bring them here”. Many people and organisations have been working hard on this campaign, but unfortunately the government has always been successful in convincing people that if we “bring them here” more boats will come. It is not a logical argument, but it seems to convince most people. At the same time, many of the refugees in Manus really don’t want to live in Australia.
It is time to rethink the campaign focus, and my suggestion is to say “Bring them here or let them go”.
To finish I would like say thank you to all of the people who have been supporting the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, and thanks to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre for making this opportunity to talk with you and share my ideas.
[This letter was first published at the ASRC.]