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

 

 

A Statement from Omid’s Family

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Omid’s funeral notice in Iran

Omid was an Iranian refugee who set himself on fire in Nauru on 27 April. He died in a Brisbane hospital on 29 April. Omid’s funeral was held in Iran yesterday, 20 May. The following is a statement from his family:
“Our hope is gone! Omid is gone forever. He was only 24. “Omid” means “hope” in Persian. His father named him Omid because his birth gave hope, excitement, and life to his small family.

As a child, Omid was so sweet and cute. He loved animals very much. He had built up a small shelter in his house where he kept his pets; they were just like his close friends.


Our Omid had it all: warm, friendly, always smiling, witty, and athletic ability. He was a lifeguard and saved a couple of children. Those kids still come to visit us. His friends describe him as a trustful, amiable, warm, and lovely fella. He was happy and joyful; full of life. It was impossible not to laugh when he was around.


Omid had a catchy slogan that everyone remembers: all his goodbyes were followed by this: “Chakeretam, Nokaretam”, a saying in Persian which implies: you can always count on me for everything. “Chakeretam, Nokaretam”, coming from his mouth, with a broad smile, while he was holding his cap with one hand and tapping your shoulder with the other hand.


There is no word that can express how bitter is his loss for us. Our Omid is gone, our hope is dead; so unbelievable, so sudden! We were counting on him, like always, like what he was saying every time; counting for better future, counting for sweet coming moments.

Omid was doing well, enduring hardships for better future. What happened to Omid’s hope? Who has taken his hope? Who has taken our hope, our Omid? Who has made the life so bitter for him? We lost our Omid, our hope. Who has made the life so bitter for us? The endless bitterness . . .”

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Nauru = Manus = Nauru = Hell

Nauru was once called Pleasant Island… before Australia among others mined the shit out of it, literally Nauru had great amounts of guano (phosphate) from thousands of birds gangster chillin’ on this land mass in the middle of the ocean. While it’s pleasant for the locals it’s not pleasant for refugees who live in appalling conditions and have no prospects on this tiny place.

While they’re not on Nauru, the refugees on Manus are also in a shitty place. They’ve started protesting too… calling for freedom.

*Breaking* Protest on Manus

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Happening on Manus Island at the moment. A protest has also been held on Nauru and we will publish a video later.

From Kurdish Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani –

Manus prison is protesting now.All prisons are shouting to Australia that this place is illegal. We are saying that Australia exiled us to this hell by force, has kept us in this prison by force, by threatening us and with much humiliation.

We are asking for freedom. This is our right and the right of any human. We are saying : stop killing people,stop torturing people and stop your cruel policy. We are protesting in loud voices.
This protest shows that still we are alive and strong. We are determined to get our human rights. This protest shows that you can never defeat us and break our determination.

We are asking the world’s people, human rights organizations and independent media to hear our voice, to publicise our voice and think deeply about this inhumane policy that Australia is doing.

This protest is peaceful, the same as our big hungerstrike that we had last year. We don’t need violence because we know what is right. Australia put us in the jail and beat us because of our calling for freedom and our rights.
Australia must respect our peaceful protest at this time. Australia has responsibility for us.

To UNHCR from Refugees on Nauru

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To:

United Nation High Commission for Refugees

From:

Refugees on Nauru

Dated: 12/5/2016

Humble Words of Refugees on Nauru

  1. We are detained and imprisoned for the last three years on this island. We want freedom and freedom is everyone’s basic right. We are like living corpses, we are free in a sense that we can walk, talk and eat but living aimless and hopeless lives which are resulting refugees in mental issues and disturbed social lives.

    19thJuly, 2013 Government of Australia announced this harsh policy to send helpless and vulnerable people seeking asylum in Australia to offshore (PNG and Nauru) and everyone was told that no one coming after this policy is going to resettle in Australia, but same boat and same policy people are living and started peaceful and beautiful lives in community and we are asking what about us?? Do we have to live life without any future?? Are we not that same policy and boat people who are living in Australia community??

  1. The most important thing is refugees are not mentally, socially, physically and economically safe here. Refugees are in conditions here which led them mentally so unsafe and unsound that no one can focus on the daily life. Three years staying away from the family on this small and remote Island and even small more isolated place like in different accommodation sites (because refugees avoid going out in community to avoid any incident) with lots of problems making refugees mentally on risk. Socially we are living our isolated lives for the last three years.

    Local Nauruan people just treat us not more than their source of income. All of us are scared to go outside of our accommodation sites but still we have to go and get our necessities and we faced heaps of incidents which are reported and still pending to be taken action but we can say it for sure there will be no action on those as to date there is none because of the corrupt and lack of law and order. Refugees are economically exploited as the locals Nauruan people know that we are in situation that we need to work and it makes them easy to exploit and disvaluing our skills. We are getting $ 200.00 fortnightly from connect settlement services which is too small and insufficient to get the basic needs as per survey of the stake holders itself.

    Hence to summarize it, it will be like here there is no law, everyone here is trying to disgrace and degrade us. Some are beating us up, and the law makers are pushing us in all these situations instead they know this situation very well. Whoever wants, they just beat us up, take our money, loot our belongings and possessions and disgrace us and if we report it there is no one to take action or follow it up, so we are tired to report such like incidents now because every one is sure that nothing is going to happen and there is one more interesting fact behind so many cases that’s unreported as reporting it could raise another problem which is, if the local Nauruan who is doing something wrong to any refugees is reported, he will make problems for that refugee in future or will beat him/her and there are lots of cases like this.

  1. WHY WE LEFT OUR COUNTRY???

    We left our country because of the security reasons; everyone here had some very good reasons to flee his/her country, which are political, social, religious, deprivation, discrimination and life persecution and threats, So we are facing more not least such like issues here.

  1. Like every person on the planet earth, we want to build our future, we have some future plans, we want to explore and advance our lives but we can’t see any life chances on this remote island. All we are struggling to get our daily life necessities because of the lack of the resources as the government administration is not even capable to look after their own local people. Life is not all about struggling for the basic needs, there is something more important to struggle for like education, career growth, self-esteem, social network, friends and family which we don’t have it here.

  2. We are systemically tortured mentally and physically for the past three years in the name of services. If this system is giving services to the refugees, why don’t they let the world see it? People who fled countries for their lives are giving up under this system in the name of services. Refugees are attempting suicides and trying to take their lives to ease themselves out of this suffering system.

  3. Our health issues are escalating day by day; here is no proper medical care. Everyday there is new viral disease and refugees are suffering from different health problems and because of the lack of medical care we are getting disables day by day. These medical issues and lack of care leaving people in frustration and badly affecting mental states.

  4. What is our sin?? Taking refuge in any country for a life is not a sin!!! Third country (New Zealand) offered to take refugees from Nauru but Government of Australia reject the offer. So what should we understand?? Is it like Government of Australia wants to torture vulnerable people!!! Is it like decision makers playing their dirty politics on helpless people for their lavish interests!!!

  5. Why we are treated so inhumanely??? Why the humanitarian organizations around the world (UNHCR, Amnesty International, US Committee for Refugees) are the silent spectators on the inhumane treatment and harsh policy of Australian Government.