Conversation with Behrouz Boochani, whistle-blower for refugees
In 2019 we had a first at Passa Porta: an interview with writer-journalist Behrouz Boochani. The conversation took place via Skype because he was still on Manus Island, where he had been held in an Australian detention centre from 2013 to 2017. On screen, we saw a man with tired features, but also great force of will and a strong sense of hope. Journalist Nicky Aerts will talk to Behrouz about his experience and his memoirs No friends but the mountains. The Iranian film director Arash Kamali Servastani will be present as well, and show us clips from the documentary he made with Behrouz Boochani.
A leading politician in Australia claimed that Behrouz Boochani would never be allowed to enter the country. Boochani not only proved the man wrong, he also showed the power of literature in this struggle. ‘When you resist, you create something’ is his motto.
The Iranian-Kurdish journalist tried to reach Australia by boat in 2013 to escape ethnic persecution in his country. He was intercepted and detained on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. It is on Manus Island that he experienced the brutality of Australian immigration policy. Boochani wrote about life in the detention centre in encrypted messages he sent to newspapers and organizations such as The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald, the Refugee Action Collective and the United Nations, exposing a range of abuses in the process.
These essays and poems were collected in No Friends But the Mountains. It won Australia’s prestigious Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in both the literature and non-fiction categories. The jury’s report claimed the book was ‘a stunning work of art and critical theory which evades simple description … a literary triumph, devastating and transcendent’. New Zealand subsequently granted the writer a temporary visa and granted him refugee status. Meanwhile, thanks to distance learning, he is also a visiting lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley.
Freedom, Only Freedom: The Prison Writings of Behrouz Boochani was released in 2022. It collects previously unpublished texts he wrote in captivity as well as essays by migration experts. Boochani compiled the book with his translators Moones Mansoubi and Omid Tofighian. They describe the volume as ‘horrific surrealism’, surrealism as a model to make the violence at the borders and the experience in detention centres tangible.
About the author
Behrouz Boochani (b. 1983) is an Iranian-Kurdish writer, journalist, lecturer and film-maker. His memoir No Friends But the Mountains is an account of seven years of exile and detention. In 2022 he published Freedom, Only Freedom, a collection of essays on migration policy, human rights and creative resistance.
Org. Passa Porta