Packed-out lecture hears Behrouz Boochani talk of freedom

December 15, 2022
Behrouz Boochani at UNSW on December 13. Photo: Maria Louise Boyadgis

Kurdish Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani launched his new book, Freedom, Only Freedom, on December 13 as part of the 2022 Wallace Wurth Lecture.

Refugee Advice and Casework service with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Centre for Ideas and the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law were his hosts.

If consecutive Australian governments had not locked him up and treated refugees so badly, Boochani would not be a household name. Boochani was imprisoned on Manus Island in July 2013 by Kevin Rudd’s Labor government, where he remained until the island prison closed in 2017. Boochani settled in New Zealand in 2020.

It was Boochani’s first visit to Australia.

He said when he arrived at Manus Island, officials were scornful when he told them he was a writer. He said he thinks of the power of words.

“We witnessed the tragedy created by the Australian government, but we will not carry that on our shoulders. My duty is to work on the Australian government to carry that burden … they sought to banish, torture and dehumanise us, but I am here to remind Australia of our resistance, and how we created a resistance knowledge”.

He did not publish anything under his name for two years, waiting until he had built a network of support that would protect him from the authorities.

Asked by a member of the audience, a refugee who also lived in offshore detention, how to change the current system, Boochani said refugees need to create their own discourse and challenge the image of refugees.

Asked about the Australian government, he said: “They pretend that something has changed, but I am here to say nothing has changed. There are still hundreds of people in detention … thousands of thousands of people … who have been here for more than a decade, still they don’t have a future in this country.”

Freedom, Only Freedom features Boochani’s prison writings. He explained that the conversations with his translators and editors Omid Tofighian and Moones Mansoubi bought his dignity back and helped him survive.

He said Australians have to decolonise themselves to bring back humanity, but also that we are all facing a detention industry. “That detention industry,” he said, “includes all of us, we are all part of it, even NGOs."

Boochani referred to Freedom, Only Freedom throughout his address, emphasising that the book also includes expert opinion on migration, refugee rights, politics and literature.

The UNSW Roundhouse was packed to capacity and gave him a standing ovation.

[Freedom, Only Freedom is published by Bloomsbury Publishing.]

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