Across the Void: Behrouz Boochani

Across the Void: Behrouz Boochani

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When the Australian immigration department incarcerated Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist fleeing the oppressive Islamic regime in Iran, they made a huge tactical error.

Seasoned at fighting human rights abuses in his home country Boochani has continued inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.

He’s not the only voice speaking out from inside this prison like facility but he is one of the loudest.

Voices like his will be part of what brings this unjust, unfair system to its knees.

His writing has featured in major newspapers in Australia, and around the world, and is opening up the gates of this prison and exposing the human rights abuses occurring inside.

After several failed attempts I finally managed to record an interview with Behrouz, coincidentally just when he announced he had shot and co directed a film from inside Manus – ‘‘Chauka, please tell us the time’.

This interview was recorded by using Skype from my computer to ring Behrouz’s mobile. Due to this occasionally there’s some odd bleeps and bloops.

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The Chauka bird of Manus Island.
The Chauka bird of Manus Island.

A review of Chauka, please tell us the time.

By Arnold Zable.

‘Chauka, please tell us the time’ is a remarkable film,’ shot on a mobile phone, in restricted and distressing circumstances by Kurdish-Iranian journalist and writer, Behrouz Boochani.

Incarcerated since mid-2013 in the Manus Island Detention Centre, Boochani co-directs the film with Amsterdam based Iranian filmmaker and editor, Arash Kamali Sarvestani.

Far removed from the action, Sarvestani, honours Boochani’s vision, and works with him, across a vast distance, to create a poetic, hypnotic film, which is both a work of great artistry, and a damning inditement of a brutal policy.

At the heart of the film, the central thread around which all the others are woven—is the chauka, a bird that is sacred and central to Manus Island culture.

The camera roams through the centre, and beyond, and conveys the torturous ordeal endured by the 900 men, incarcerated in the prime of their life, for over 40 months now, endlessly waiting, aimlessly pacing, enduring the heat, the erosion of hope, and destruction of the spirit.

The many visual and aural threads include tense phone-calls back home, hinting at family breakdown and the unbearable pain of separation: ‘I am parted from my child,’ one asylum seeker laments in his three-minute weekly call. Referring to a child born after he fled his country, a detainee says: ‘I haven’t had a chance to hold him, touch him or feel his presence’.

We hear the incessant whirring of fans, the dentist-like drill of the fumigation apparatus. We witness the wasted lives of men, their loss of agency: ‘I have no control over this’, says one. ‘Look mum, please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Look mum, I am stuck here’, pleads another.

Boochani’s mobile phone pans over the cramped living spaces and the tiny cubicles, partitioned by sheets and tarpaulins to create a fragile and claustrophobic privacy.

We hear the comments of broken spirits: ’I prefer to be dead because I have nothing anymore… no one is waiting for me, and I am waiting for no one. I have lost everything.’

There are startling, poetic surreal-like images—rows of empty white plastic chairs leaning against the wire through which can be seen the unobtainable sea; the exuberant, beautiful faces of Manus Island children, dancing just beyond the wire, images of cats, contrastingly free, at home in any space within and without the wire.

The soundtrack compliments the imagery—with two recurring sounds in particular—a haunting Kurdish folksong, sung by one of the inmates, and the chirping of the chauka bird.

The folksong is a lament, a cry of longing, and the birdsong, a homage to Manus Island culture. The theme of the Chauka, and what it symbolises is a brilliant conception.

Through an ongoing conversation with several Manus Island men, we begin to understand the deep significance of the bird, and the ongoing colonial history of the island.

We come to see the cruel irony—the name of a bird that means so much in Manus Island culture, being used as the name for a high security prison within the wider prison, which, for a time, was a place of isolation, and punishment.

We come to understand that the appropriation of the Chauka, as a name for a place of such abuse and suffering, is obscene, and reflective of the neo-colonial system on which the offshore detention system is based.

Also interwoven is an eye witness account of the murder of Reza Barati in February 2014, and eerie footage of a detainee, who at the end of his tether, has self harmed, and is carried, at night, to an ambulance.

The mesmerising rhythm, the recurring imagery, the glimpses of Manus Island culture, the bird song, the sound of the sea, and the intermittent silences, have a powerful cumulative effect.

When we briefly see, at film’s end, Australian Prime Minister Turnbull trying to justify the brutal policy for which his government is responsible, he is condemned by his own words.

He tries in vain to justify the horror, and is revealed as a man in self-denial, representing a government that is, at best, in self denial.

Boochani’s inclusive vision is enhanced by the respect he shows for the Manus Islanders. The mobile phone camera lingers on scenes of island life and culture.

Boochani allows the voices of Manus islanders to be heard. The people of the island are stuck in a terrible dilemma, co opted into the offshore processing system through their desperate need for work.

They are on a lower rung in the camp hierarchy, with the Australian government firmly established at the apex.
Chauka please tell me the time’ is driven by a unique, poetic vision. It is filmed by a man who has an eye for life’s beauty, but also deeply feels its injustices, and cruelties—a man who has personally suffered these injustices.

Boochani is at heart an artist, who works intuitively, and instinctually. He, and his distant partner, Arash Kamali Sarvestani, allow the images, the sounds, the snatches of conversation, to speak for themselves.

They transcend the severe limitations of the circumstances under which the film was shot, to give us a glimpse of hell, juxtaposed against the island’s tropical beauty and fragments of its indigenous culture.

They have documented a specific time and place, and helped expose the horror that is indefinite offshore detention, whilst remaining true to the paradoxical beauty of their art-form, and their deeply humanistic vision of life.

NAURU LEAKS

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I was pretty excited about this show. Having one of the people who leaked the documents that made up the Nauru Files was a fantastic opportunity, but also sure to be emotional and distressing.
The interview with Paul starts about 25 mins in. 

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First up though continuing one from last weeks special (show to be uploaded soon) on the Spanish Revolution is a reading from a text by a member of the Iron Column an anarchist militia active in the civil war. More info here.

The text is ‘A day Mournful and Overcast’. The reading is from Resonance Audio.

The rest of the show is an interview with Paul J Stevenson who leaked 2000 incident reports he gathered while working on Nauru and Manus.

He is a psychologist and traumatologist who worked at both centres for over a year. What he witnessed was so bad he began documenting the horrors unfolding inside Australia’s offshore detention centres.

MUSIC

Rebel Diaz ft. Dead Prez and Rakaa Irisience – Which Side are you On? info
Stage Bottles – Sometimes anti social always anti fascist info
Across the Border – Alerta Alerta Antifascista info
Tu P ft. Stem Master – Border Force Facts info
Combat Wombat – Asylum info
Chumbawamba – The Day the Nazi Died info

 

 

Broadspectrum: out-of-date food/mouldy tents

Broadspectrum holds the contracts for both of Australia’s offshore detention facilities, on Nauru Island and Manus Island.

Recently they changed their name from Transfield due to the controversy over offshore processing.

It just announced it had tripled its profits, having just posted a statutory profit of $25 million.

Yet men women and children live in mouldy tents on Nauru and the men at Manus are served out-of-date food.

 

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Terror on Nauru

These reports come from trusted sources. And have also been reported by Julian Burnside.

22 February 2016. 1.12 am. Nauru. Women’s tent.

The guards blacked out the women’s tent by cutting the power.
Then fourteen male guards and one female guard entered the tent. Women screamed in terror.

1. Two women in the single women’s tent were strip searched. They were screaming . One had a phone in her bra. A total of five people in the women’s tent had phones taken. Communications with the camp have been cut.

2. A woman has been on a hunger strike for 18 days. When she heard the piercing screams, she suffered a heart attack. With no ECG machine available, it is impossible to reliably diagnose or treat cardiac emergencies. She spent some time in IHMS and was sent back to the camp.

3. A young woman was recently arrested for taking a piece of fruit from the dining room and at the time was seen dragged by her hair and beaten by Nauruan Police, leaving visible injuries. Terrified by the 1:12 am raid, she slashed her wrists and her body. She too was treated by IHMS and sent back to camp.

Most of the women have serious histories of trauma and are suffering post traumatic stress syndrome.

This event would have been extremely triggering.

The woman who had a heart attack is severely depressed, she won’t leave her room for fear of being killed by the guards.

Her weight is dangerously low as is her blood pressure. She is reported to be barely able to lift her head off the pillow.

This further information is from Terry Russell.

Border Fascist Update

 Dutton
According the the Operation Sovereign Borders December Update there were no so called illegal maritime arrivals transferred to Australian Immigration authorities.
And no illegal maritime arrivals were transferred to regional processing centres. This doesn’t confirm whether any people attempted to seek asylum in Australia by boat.
The report also mentions the 2 year anniversary of the policy to turn boats back to their country of origin. It claims 695 people on 23 boats have been returned to their country of origin (the country the boat left from most likely Indonesia).
Of course they claim this is saving lives at sea. But this logic is nonsensical.

How can you save lives at sea by keeping boats at sea? Do they know what happened to the people when they returned to Indonesia? Did they even get back to Indonesia?

I’ve read reports of boats washing up on remote islands and people dying trying to get to a habitated area..

There’s also the claim that refugees on Nauru are ‘free’ because they are no longer in detention centres. And that sending 72 children, who are in detention in Australia, to Nauru will be freeing them from detention.
They are free in so far as they can travel around the 21 sq km Island. Where the government is in turmoil and rape and theft are common, especially if you are ‘not a local’.
Last year children on Nauru staged a protest claiming to be bullied at school and hit by teachers.
“[Nauruan] children from the school are so bad. They tell us bad words and when you want to go to the playground, they will hit us. Nauru is so dirty and so small.”
Meanwhile the Department of Immigration and pandering to racists has committed to spending over $1M for medals for its Border Farce staff.
Much like Minister Dutton’s incapability to control a mobile phone this gave social media users a chance to have a lot of fun.
Underlying this humor is the knowledge of the torment and psychological and physical harm which is being perpetrated by the Australian government against some of the worlds most vulnerable people.
One of those people and someone who is able to allow his inner turmoil to flow into words for others to read is Kurdish Iranian Behrouz Boochani. Below is some of his writing.
From Manus prison for Australian civil society……Australia and Australian society are in a susceptible stage. The fight of civil society with the fascist state has reached to a sensitive point.
During last 3 years the Australian government has acted dictatorially and tortured asylum seekers. Australia’s civil society and human rights activists have not been stationary and are fighting against this dictatorial system by many means but the state has not shown any flexibility and has instead increased strain and stress on asylum seekers.
The behavior of a dictatorial state shows us that it does not value civil society and despite all actions will keep its ways! It is a dangerous occurrence for Australian society because if civil society is defeated in this fight and the state keeps on with its policy civil society will be weakened and the state will continue this pattern in the future. Dictatorship is like a cancer and can easily affect all the portions of a society.
The fight between the Australian state and civil society is a very sensitive fight. It is not only for tortured asylum seekers, this is a vital and significant fight for all Australian people also. It is a fight for the kind of humanity our world needs.We should make the fascist state understand that it can not simply ignore humanity and human rights emphasizing that our fight with Australia is not just for some thousands of refugees but a fight for humanity, justice and peace!!!
Imagine if Australian civil society were able to defeat Peter Dutton? What would the future look like? Many thanks. Behrouz Boochani.

Teacher Outcry at Students Detention

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Brisbane teachers have taken “historic” industrial action in their campaign to release an asylum-seeking high school student from a detention centre.

More than 50 teachers from Yeronga State High School, including principal Terry Heath, staged the strike in support of 21-year-old Mojgan Shamsalipoor on Tuesday afternoon.

Asylum seeker Ms Shamsalipoor was months away from graduating at the school when a failed visa application saw her forcibly removed from the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre in August and taken to a Darwin detention centre.

A spokeswoman for immigration minister Peter Dutton says he stands by the authorities’ decision to refuse the student refugee status and she should be deported.

“This is historic action,” said teacher Jessica Walker, who is leading the campaign to free Ms Shamsalipoor.

“Teachers have taken industrial action because of human rights abuses for the first time.

“It’s hugely significant and it’s only the beginning.”

After being refused refugee status, campaigners are now asking for Mr Dutton to allow Ms Shamsalipoor, who married fellow student Milad Jafari, also 21, to apply for a partner visa without the need to return to her native Iran.

“He has the power to do that and we urge him to do the right thing,” Ms Walker added.

Ms Shamsalipoor arrived illegally (sic – it is not illegal to seek asylum) in Australia by boat in 2012 after fleeing Iran to escape sexual abuse and an arranged marriage to a man in his 60s.

Dozens of students joined their teachers in a rally outside the school to call for the release of Ms Shamsalipoor, who managed to complete her year 12 studies from the detention centre with the help of the school.

In a speech directed at Mr Dutton, 17-year-old Eden Boyd said: “As young Australians we feel betrayed by the injustice of this situation.”

MP Mark Bailey said he supported the community campaign and has urged Mr Dutton to grant a visa to the student, who fears she will be killed if she returns to Iran.

AAP Photos by Mark Gillespie

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MORE ASYLUM SEEKERS HAVE DIED THAN HAVE BEEN RESETTLED, REPORT SHOWS

Nicole Hasham
Environment and immigration correspondent

253 Nauru detainees attempt self-harm, Senate hears

More asylum seekers have died on Manus Island than have been resettled, gay detainees are mistreated and refugees released from detention are not allowed to work or move freely, a human rights report says.

The gay men said they had frequent nightmares, were extremely depressed, and isolated themselves, often not leaving their rooms

It is two years since the former Labor government announced asylum seekers who arrived by boat without a visa would be denied refugee status in Australia but resettled in Papua New Guinea, via assessment at Manus Island.

Since then, not one has been resettled. This is despite Australian immigration officials confirming 129 detainees have been deemed genuine refugees.

Two asylum seekers sent to Manus have died – one killed during riots that swept through the detention centre and one from septicaemia after cutting his foot.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection on Thursday confirmed 88 men found to be refugees remain in detention on Manus.

Another 41 have been transferred to a transit centre.

However, a report released on Thursday by Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Law Centre said the men were prevented from leaving the island and denied opportunities to work and study.

Refugees are allowed to leave the transit centre, but many were not given identity documents enabling them to find work, the report said. One refugee was not allowed to travel to Port Moresby for work and others were reportedly denied volunteer opportunities.

The report found gay men were mistreated in detention by other detainees – “shunned or sexually abused or assaulted and used by the other men”.

“The gay men said they had frequent nightmares, were extremely depressed, and isolated themselves, often not leaving their rooms,” the report said.

It said the detention centre was overcrowded and detainees suffered depression and anxiety.

The groups visited the island in June and July and interviewed asylum seekers, refugees, United Nations agencies and PNG immigration officials, police, and hospital staff. They were allowed access to the transit centre but not the detention centre.

In the 2013-14 financial year the federal government spent $437.6 million to run detention facilities on Manus. There are 943 transferees on the island including the refugees.

“More asylum seekers sent to Manus have died than have been resettled,” Human Rights Law Centre director of legal advocacy Daniel Webb said.

“People found to be refugees deserve a real solution – not a transfer to a facility down the road where they remain in limbo.”

An Immigration Department spokeswoman said refugee determination, settlement and law and order issues “are matters for the PNG government”.

A PNG government spokesman said it was developing a national resettlement policy which “takes time and should not be rushed. This is in the interests of both the refugees and the communities into which they will resettle”.

Meanwhile, Shine Lawyers social justice counsel George Newhouse says the government’s controversial new border force laws would prevent detention centre staff from documenting riots such those on Manus Island last year, or from writing about their work in personal diaries.

He said doctors and nurses in state and territory hospitals who treated asylum seekers would also be covered by the secrecy provisions forced upon detention centre workers.

The Immigration Department said emergency room doctors and nurses “working in their normal roles” would not be captured by the laws. It said employees and contractors had never been allowed to “make personal records of protected or sensitive information for their own purposes”.