Home Page > News Item > On Human Rights Day – Take Action for journalist Behrouz Boochani, stranded on Manus Island

BBOn Human Rights Day, PEN International calls upon the Australian government and international community to respect the rights of Behrouz Boochani and the world’s most vulnerable refugees by providing adequate protection and more resettlement places.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist and filmmaker, is currently stranded on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG). The UNHCR has characterised the situation as “an unfolding humanitarian emergency.”

In Iran, Behrouz Boochani worked as a journalist, writing about politics in the Middle East and Kurdish language and culture. He also co-founded, edited, and contributed to the Kurdish Magazine Werya (Varia).   On 17 February 2013, while Boochani was visiting Tehran, officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ransacked the Werya offices in Ilam and arrested 11 of his colleagues. Several were subsequently imprisoned.  Fearing for his safety, Boochani went into hiding.

During his three months in hiding, several colleagues advised Boochani that he was at risk of arrest and interrogation. Having been interrogated and warned previously about his writing and work teaching Kurdish culture and language, and having signed an undertaking that he would not continue this activity, he found himself in grave danger. Fearing for his safety, on 23 May 2013, Boochani decided to flee Iran.

In July of that year, he and other fellow asylum seekers were intercepted by the Australian Navy on the way to Australia from Indonesia. Despite immediately requesting asylum, as was his right under Article 1 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Boochani – like so many others – was taken to Christmas Island, Australia. From there, he was forcibly transferred to the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Boochani has remained on Manus Island ever since.

Detention on Manus Island

Over 800 men have been detained on Manus Island since 2012, when Australia re-implemented its policy of processing asylum claims off-shore; a policy of deterrence designed to stop asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat. Yet more men, women and children have been detained on the pacific island of Nauru.

The Manus Island and Nauru regional processing centres have become notorious for their ill treatment of detainees where violence, sexual abuse and self-harm are reportedly common. At least six people have died on Manus Island alone – two in the last five months – while a further three have died on Nauru. An inquiry conducted by the UNHCR in 2016 found that 88 percent of the detainees held in one of Australia’s regional processing centres who were examined by medical experts had depressive disorders.

On 26 April 2016, the PNG Supreme Court ruled that Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island was illegal and unconstitutional as those who were seeking asylum in Australia were forcefully brought to PNG under Australian Federal Police Escort and held at the processing centre against their will.

A story that needs to be told

In the face of adversity, Boochani has continued to write about Kurdish and Iranian politics from detention. As well as writing poetry, he is working on a book on his journey and experience of detention on Manus Island, to be published by Picador. He has worked tirelessly over the past four years to advocate on behalf of his fellow asylum seekers and has published articles in Australia’s leading newspapers, as well as internationally, which expose the terrible conditions that the men have faced. Such coverage exposes Boochani to potential reprisals. Boochani was part of a series of peaceful protests against their continued detention, for which he was arrested by PNG’s paramilitary Mobile Squad and kept for several hours before being released. After his release, he was forcibly moved to a transit centre with harsh conditions and inadequate facilities, where he remains.

Most recently, Boochani clandestinely shot footage of conditions on Manus Island on a smart phone. With the co-direction of Iranian filmmaker and editor, Arash Kamali Sarvestani, the footage was made into the widely- acclaimed full-length film: Chauka Please Tell Us the Time. Denied travel documents, and without a visa, Boochani was been unable to attend either of the premier screenings of his documentary held at the Sydney or London Film Festivals.

Boochani remains at high risk. His continued coverage of Kurdish and Iranian politics, published in Kurdish newspapers, means that he would be at risk of imprisonment should he return to Iran. Given the Australian government’s criminalisation of commentary on its asylum seeker policy and the situation in its offshore detention centres (see PEN’s 2016 Resolution), Boochani is unlikely to ever be welcomed onto Australian soil. Furthermore, although Boochani was accorded refugee status by PNG immigration authorities in April 2016, remaining on PNG is not a viable option, as he and the other men stranded on PNG have genuine and well-founded concerns about their safety.

In May 2017, the PNG and Australian authorities initiated the process of decommissioning the Manus Island processing centre, progressively shutting down services. The men were offered a number of options: accepting temporary relocation in PNG to purpose-built Refugee Transit Centres; voluntarily transferring to Nauru; returning home voluntarily or moving to a third country where they already have the right to reside.

The closure was scheduled to be completed in October 2017. Fearing for their safety on PNG and in protest against their treatment, hundreds of the men, including Boochani, refused to leave the processing facility, while authorities cut off their access to food, water and electricity. Following a near four-week standoff, the PNG authorities forcibly removed the remaining men from the decommissioned centre on 24 November. In the course of their removal, several men were reportedly beaten with metal bars.

No safe spaces on Manus Island

Despite the Australian government’s assertions that all of the transit facilities are fully operational and provide sufficient facilities, reports indicate that some remain under construction. According to the Guardian, 60 of those relocated to the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre were forced to sleep on a classroom floor due to overcrowding in the facility itself. The UNHCR has said some of the new facilities are not ready for habitation and cannot accommodate all 600 men.

Boochani reports feeling unsafe on the island but at the same time unable to leave as he does not possess any travel documents. The day before all refugees were forcibly removed from the camp, Boochani himself was detained for two hours by PNG’s paramilitary forces, in apparent retaliation for his coverage of the situation in the facility.

In effect, Boochani remains marooned by Australia on Manus Island and his future is on hold indefinitely. This state of limbo has compounded his trauma, and amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is prohibited under international law, as affirmed in the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Australia is a state party.

Furthermore, the 2016 agreement between the US and Australia to resettle 516 Manus Island refugees in the US has thus far resulted in just 25 individuals being resettled and it is at the discretion of the US as to how many individuals they will accept. While refugees were not included in the September 2017 US Executive Order, the ban, which has now been approved by the US Supreme Court de facto prohibits Iranians from entering the country. The number of refugees permitted entry to the US has also been drastically reduced. It is therefore unlikely that the US will admit these refugees for resettlement.

It is therefore more important than ever that other states rise to the humanitarian challenge to resettle these most vulnerable of refugees on Manus Island.

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Send appeals:

To the Government of Australia:

  • Immediately make safe and meaningful resettlement arrangements for Behrouz Boochani and all other refugees and relocation arrangements for other migrants currently located on Manus Island and Nauru in line with international law;
  • End the mandatory detention of asylum seekers and other migrants and ensure that detention is decided on a case-by-case basis and only as a matter of last resort;
  • Inform detained migrants in writing, in a language that they understand, of the reason for their detention, its duration, their right to have access to a lawyer, their right to promptly challenge their detention and their right to seek asylum;
  • Ensure migrants and asylum seekers have access to proper medical care, adequate food, clothes, hygienic conditions, adequate space to move around and outdoor exercise;
  • Improve available mental health services in detention, based on the principle of informed consent;
  • End the criminalisation of criticism of Australia’s asylum procedures, which amounts to restriction of freedom of expression.

To PEN Centres in those countries with resettlement programmes:

  • Urge your government to provide resettlement places to those refugees currently on Manus Island and Nauru who are deemed to have a legitimate claim to asylum;
  • Urge your government to put pressure on the Australian government to immediately make arrangements to resettle migrants and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru in line with international law, and end the clamp down on free speech in relation to their asylum policies

To PEN Centres in those countries without resettlement programmes:

  • Urge the establishment of resettlement programmes and ICORN cities for writers at risk
  • Urge your government to put pressure on the Australian government to immediately make arrangements to resettle migrants and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru in line with international law, and end the clamp down on free speech in relation to their asylum policies

Send appeals to:

Hon. Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Australia
Email: peter.dutton.mp@aph.gov.au

Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP,
Prime Minister of Australia,
PO Box 6022,
House of Representatives,
Parliament House,
Canberra ACT 2600,
Australia

Via online form: https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm

Please also send copies of your appeals to the Australian Embassy in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here.

****Please contact this office if sending appeals after 10 December 2017. Please send us copies of your letters or information about other activities and of any responses received.****

Other actions

For further information please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones: emma.wadsworth-jones@pen-international.org

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