An acclaimed writer and refugee has compared the Australian-run prison in which he was detained to the brutal anti-austerity film I, Daniel Blake, in a startling address.
Kurdish-Iranian Behrouz Boochani has been held on the Australian-run Manus Island since 2013, after fleeing Iran under fear of persecution.
The 36-year-old’s autobiography No Friend but the Mountains details his travels from Indonesia to Australia by boat, and his subsequent detention by the nation’s government.
The book was composed one text message at the time from Manus, and won Australia’s prestigious $25,000 National Biography award in August.
However, the government continues to refuse him entry into Australia. Though the Island’s Manus Regional Processing Centre was closed in 2017, Boochani has remained there ever since.
Twelve people have died in Manus
Appearing via WhatsApp in an address at the University of Glasgow, Boochani, also a filmmaker, journalist and poet, made the comparison between his detention and Ken Loach’s harrowing drama.
He said: “The original system exists in I, Daniel Blake – twelve people have died after being put in Manus, and died in a way that Daniel did.
“One man wrote and said: ‘I have a problem, pain in my heart… I feel pain and I believe it is not right – please believe me, I have pain.’ They didn’t care, and he died.
“it is very similar, and what I claim is that the original version exists in Manus.
“In Manus, people can’t support each other because it is a cruel, and also tough to survive. There is a culture of… people suffer each other in Manus, and in other ways, they are in competition because they should survive.
“It creates hate – creates a culture where people forget, and grow to hate each other.
“Look at Manus Island as an original system.”
Increasing anti-immigrant sentiment
Loach’s 2016 film was a brutal depiction of a man who dies shortly before he was due to appeal his denial of employment and support benefits – though his doctor deemed him unfit to work.
Boochani also cited Australia’s increasingly anti-immigrant sentiment, and referred to far-right terrorist Brenton Tarrant, from New South Wales, who was charged with 51 counts of murder in connection with the Christchurch Massacre.
“All of this was caused by this, but in Australia, they do not want to recognise this… (The jail) killed 12 people. They are running Australia – the criminals are running Australia. Many people living here for 40, 50 years have been jailed or deported by the Government,” he said.
“Russia, China are dictatorship systems, and Iran is fascist. People should always struggle to keep democracies alive and always fight against these systems.
“We should compare Australia with liberal democracies.”
Australian-style immigration system
Boochani’s address came in the same week that British home secretary Priti Patel won a standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference, after announcing the UK would introduce a points-based ‘Australian-style’ immigration system.
However, in 2018, the Australian government was condemned key a United Nations body, which claimed the indefinite detention of some refugees and asylum seekers to be unlawful and arbitrary.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) forms a key part of the UN’s Human Rights Council. Australia is a council member following a prolonged public and diplomatic campaign for the position.
The working group is an independent body of human rights experts who assess cases of alleged arbitrary detention and then report to the UN council.
In five reports beginning in June 2017, it consistently argued Australia’s indefinite detention of some refugees and asylum seekers to be unlawful. However, the Australian government has previously defended its policies.
It told the WGAD that its detention regime “is administrative in nature and not for punitive purposes”, and argued it had succeeded in stopping the flow of asylum seeker boats to Australia.
It said: “The government is committed to ensuring that all people in administrative immigration detention are treated in a manner consistent with the international legal obligations of Australia.”
The government claimed incarceration was not limited by a set time frame – but instead dependent upon factors such as character, identity, health or security matters.
“Relevant assessments are completed as expeditiously as possible to facilitate the shortest possible time frame for detaining people in immigration detention facilities”, it added.
By James Gale (@jamesgale_)