Academics, university staff and students will gather as part of the National Day of Action on 17 October 2018 to publicly read aloud extracts from Behrouz Boochani’s incredible new book, No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (Pan Macmillan, 2018).
Behrouz has released the following statement in support of these Public Read-Ins across university campuses that may be read out at NDA events to accompany the reading of his book:
STATEMENT FROM BEHROUZ BOOCHANI IN SUPPORT OF THE ACADEMICS FOR REFUGEES NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION, 17 OCTOBER 2018
I’m writing from Manus Island, a place where me and more than 600 men have been held for more than five years. First I would like to thank all of you for attending this protest to call for our evacuation from this critical situation. It’s extremely significant that Australian academics are joining many other groups to put pressure on the government to end this barbaric policy. Academics contribute new ideas to society and help instruct the community in many ways, and they can have a huge impact on government decisions. I hope this nationwide protest today will warn the government that it should end this policy now. I have witnessed many deaths, suicides, and self harm over the past five years. I have a profound understand of the suffering experienced by the people on Manus and Nauru and how they have been damaged mentally and physically. It’s more than darkness and cruelty. I know many people who are seperated from their families and children, others have children that have spent their whole lives inside a prison camp, and I know many young people who have lost their dreams and wasted their skills.
You are here today to end this policy and help these vulnerable people to get off these two islands. I’m not going to tell you any more about this crisis, you are definitely aware of the situation. Our predicament is part of the bleak historical period we are all living in. What I would like to mention in this statement is that academics have a really important role in researching this policy of exile and exposing it. What I believe from living through this policy and experiencing this prison camp firsthand is that we are only able to understand it in a philosophical and historical way. Definitely Manus and Nauru prison camps are philosophical and political phenomena and we should not view them superficially. The best way to examine them is through deep research into how a human, in this case a refugee, is forced to live between the law and a situation without laws. There are laws that can exile them to an existence where they have recourse to no law. In this situation, the human is living as something in between a human and another kind of animal. How is the Australian government able to keep two thousand innocent people, especially children, under these conditions in remote prisons for years in an age of revolutions in information technology? How can the government convince Australian society to maintain this policy, when so much damning evidence is available? How can majority public opinion be silent on this barbaric policy?
It’s not the first time in modern Australian history that the government is perpetuating this kind of fascist policy. Just remember the Stolen Generations, and what governments have done and still do to First Nations people. The government has now reinvented those barbaric policies at the beginning of the 21st Century, but this time to also inflict them on refugees. We should ask questions about this again and again, and it’s the duty of academics to do research that unpacks where these policies stem from, why they are maintained and how they can be undone. It’s the duty of academics to understand and challenge this dark historical period, and teach the new generations to prevent this kind of policy in future.
It’s great that you are protesting today but I would like to ask you to first do your duty as an academic, which is doing research to understand this policy, challenge its precepts, and publish what you find. As you may know I, as a writer, have worked so much to record the history of this prison camp through my journalism, my movie, many media interviews, my book “No Friend But the Mountains” and a video installation which will come out soon. I did all of this out of my duty of a writer. Together with other peoples’ journalistic and artistic works I think we have enough material to do significant and transformative research. I believe my book, especially, has this potential as the basis for research and I hope it can be used to educate current and future generations. Finally, I would like to ask you to please read my works, watch my movie and read the book, and if you find them rich enough and strong enough include them in your research and teaching. I am here to do whatever is needed to help in this respect.
Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish writer, film maker, scholar and journalist who has made an enormous and ongoing contribution to both documenting and analysing the harms, logic and history of Australia’s prisons on Manus and Nauru. He graduated from Tarbiat Moallem University and Tarbiat Modares University, both in Tehran; and holds a Masters degree in political science, political geography and geopolitics. More recently, he is – among other things – a non-resident Visiting Scholar at the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre, University of Sydney. In October 2018, he was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award for his investigative journalism documenting Australia’s offshore detention regime.