Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian refugee, arrived at Auckland Airport on the 14th of November 2019 after being held in detention centres on Manus Island and in Papua New Guinea by the Australian government for six years.
After fleeing his own country due to persecution, Boochani entered onto an old, overcrowded boat, dreaming of a better future for himself. However, his journey to freedom has been filled with pain and suffering at the hands of the Australian government. The detention centres breed violence causes severe physical and mental health issues and suffocate the lives of many. During his time in the detention centres, he used the messaging application WhatsApp to transfer texts to a translator, forming the basis of his autobiography, ‘No friend but the mountains’ which was released in 2018.
Boochani was rejected by the Australian government and placed into the detention centres. No negotiations were made. No leniency was presented by the government and no capacity for change was ever discussed. Australia’s refugee policy has been stagnant, and it must start to change.
The New Zealand Government’s decision to approve the entry of Mr Boochani into their nation demonstrates the government’s leadership. It highlights their recognition of refugees as individuals deserving safety, freedom and dignity.
New Zealand’s leadership must translate to the Australian government. Currently, the repealing of the Medevac bill (allowing for the transfer of refugees from detention centres to Australia for urgent medical treatment) is being debated in the government. The basis of repealing this law continues with the consistent fear campaign that government ministers have exclaimed for years. However, every consequence which they thought would occur due to the Medevac bill has not happened.
Our public hospitals have not been filled with asylum seekers. Boats have not been coming back to Australian shores. Yet, Department of Home and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Dutton claims that asylum seekers are self-harm to gain entry into Australia when we are holding them hostage with no possibility of freedom. We are imposing these conditions on the refugees.
Although Boochani is now free, many continue to suffer in detention centres. Boochani bluntly stated that “the Australian governments should get out of the way and let these people be free”. This is not a radical thought. This is a logical statement. Even if Australia doesn’t want to settle the remaining refugees, New Zealand has offered to receive 150 of them.
Once again, I am falling into the trap of calling refugees, ‘them’. Refugees are individual people who have different stories, opinions, ideas, perspectives and lives. Refugees are family, friends, faces, humans. We can change society’s attitudes to refugees because although refugees don’t have a choice, you do.