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.

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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Papua New Guinea court finds Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal

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Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says about 900 men being held at the Manus Island detention centre will not be brought to Australia after Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled their detention was illegal.

The decision strikes one of the central pillars of the Turnbull government’s border protection regime, just weeks out from an election campaign during which the government is expected to heavily spruik its asylum seeker record.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Dutton said the legal proceedings did not alter Australia’s border protection policies, which “remain unchanged”.

The court ruled the detention breached the constitutional right of asylum seekers to personal liberty. It ordered the Australian and PNG governments to immediately cease the “unconstitutional and illegal detention of asylum seekers” at Manus Island, and stop the breach of their human rights.

But the scale of this task is reflected in the fact that only eight of more than 1000 asylum seekers who were held in the centre have moved into the PNG community.

Three of these refugees returned to Manus Island and attempted to re-enter the island’s transit centre and two were arrested, as reported exclusively by Fairfax Media.

The vast majority of men in the detention centre have been found to be refugees. The court ruling said they were seeking asylum in Australia but were “forcefully brought into PNG” and locked in an Australian-funded centre “enclosed with razor wire”.

Mr Dutton said on Tuesday that no-one who attempts to travel to Australia “illegally” by boat will settle in Australia.

“The government will not allow a return to the chaos of the years of the Rudd-Gillard Labor governments when regional processing was initiated to deal with the overwhelming illegal arrivals of more than 50,000 people,” he said, adding the agreement with PNG to establish the detention centre was negotiated by Labor.

Mr Dutton said refugees at Manus Island could resettle in PNG and those whose claims were rejected should return to their country of origin.

PNG’s immigration minister, Rimbink Pato, told Fairfax Media he would issue a statement on the ruling after it was “considered properly” and legal advice was obtained.

Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the ruling was “of significant concern” and said Mr Dutton should immediately be dispatched to Port Moresby to hold urgent talks with the PNG government.

“Labor is seeking an assurance from the government that it has a contingency plan to deal with today’s ruling. This decision, and our government’s response will be monitored by people smuggling networks,” Mr Marles said.

He said the original agreement Labor struck did not intend for Manus Island to be “a punitive place of indefinite detention” and claimed the government had failed to properly manage its offshore processing network after three years in office.

“Mr Dutton and his predecessor, Scott Morrison failed to properly engage with the government of PNG to ensure processing was occurring in a timely manner,” he said.

“They have also both failed in securing a lasting, third country resettlement to resolve the future for the people on Manus and Nauru. In doing so, this government has breached its duty of care to each one of those men, women and children.”

PNG immigration authorities attempted to prepare for an adverse decision by signalling their intention to move refugees out of detention and into the transit centre in Lorengau.

But the preparations have been resisted by asylum seekers, including those who refused to have their claims for refugee status assessed on the grounds that they had been taken to PNG against their will by the Australian government.

This week the PNG immigration department asserted 542 refugees had been offered resettlement in PNG, including just 74 who had moved from the detention centre to the transit centre.

Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs said the unanimous ruling by five judges was “further confirmation that Australia’s detention policies are increasingly out of step with international norms”.

Professor Triggs said the future of men on Manus Island remained “profoundly uncertain”, citing UNHCR concerns that the sustainable integration of refugees into the PNG community “will raise formidable challenges and protection concerns”.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the reported court ruling showed Australia “has been illegally detaining refugees on Manus Island for years”.

“The [Turnbull] government has got to shut the Manus Island detention camp and bring these people here… so that they can have their claims assessed and be integrated into the community,” she said.

“These people have been through enough. It’s time they were given the safety and care that they deserve.”

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns said the decision was consistent with international law which stated that indefinite detention was unlawful.

The ruling also meant asylum seekers could likely make successful claims for damages for false imprisonment, and strengthened claims that Australia had breached its duty of care to asylum seekers.

 “If Australia ignores the decision then it is contradicting its oft-stated claim that Manus Island detention is a matter for PNG jurisdiction,” he said. 

via Sydney Morning Herald

Behrouz Boochani: Statement Following Protest April 24

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MY STATEMENT FOLLOWING PROTEST ON 24TH APRIL 2016

First I want to say thank you to all those advocates, journalists, academics, writers and friends who supported me and my way with their beautiful words yesterday.

Really I am happy that people understood perfectly that I went on top of that tall tree because of humanity and moral values. I am proud that you could recognise that I did not do that because of any mental sickness and that it was a political action.

Yesterday i had some short loud talks when I was on that dangerous place with immigration, psychologists, and officers and I explained to them that this action is only for democratic values and is against modern slavery which we in Manus prison are subject to.

I could move to Oscar prison easily but I resisted and chose to fight on a tall tree with my body. I know that you can understand deeply my situation as a man who has been imprisoned for about three years without any crime. I am a political prisoner.

I know that many of you know that I did not have any other way open to me to resist this. I had to climb on top of that tree because there was no longer any other way.The action was political. We are victims of political propaganda and should be understood as political prisoners. Australia put up in a hell prison camp under a regime of systematic torture. I wanted to show that his policy is cruel, inhumane, unjust and a modern form of slavery. We were forcibly transported from Australia to their black site on Manus Island and are subject to a regime of systematic torture. I hope that this action will encourage people to think more about the Australian Guantanamo in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.

Lastly, I want to say that I will continue to fight in any way that I can, even with my body.

Behrouz Boochani

RPC3 Nauru Protests Day 35

Today is day 35 of the protests on Nauru.

Yesterday Immigration ordered Connect Settlement Services (CSS) (the organisation tasked to help refugees make a life in Nauru) to lower the fence so that it appears as if the prisoners are not detained and the camps are in fact open.

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Refugees on the outside still show their support.

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If you doubted the agony which the refugees on Nauru are experiencing or the need for children to be free from this detention check out these pictures of kids in the TV ‘room’.

Even the TV is behind a fence.

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A great refugee song from 2001

Refugees Plight Compounded

[UPDATE: Men have been told they will be moved on April 6]

Men on Manus Island and refugee advocates are reporting that Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield) plan to transfer detainees between the compounds of the detention centre.

The plan is to separate those with a positive refugee status and those with a negative status.

Those with a positive status will be moved to Delta and Oscar compounds while those with a negative status will be moved to Foxtrot and Mike.

Reportedly they will be informed in the morning.

As the men in detention in Manus have been in the same place for almost 3 years their fellow detainees have become close almost like family.

The thought of being separated from those friends is causing much distress.

One refugee advocate who is in touch with many detainees reports that some are very angry while others say there is no hope and suicide is the only way out.

One man told me –

They are going to transfer me and I don’t know where, It will be very bad for me.

A trusted source has stated that extra security is coming and Papua New Guinea police will be on hand, workers have been asked to stay an extra week.

This may be because trouble is expected but also the presence of these guards/police will likely cause trouble just as much as it would prevent it.

Detainees have said that it is the PNG Mobile Squad who will be present.

They’ve also been told if they resist they will spend 2 days in ‘Chauka’ described by human rights defender, journalist and Manus detainee as a torture room.

After that they will be sent to Lorengau jail for 1 month, men taken there last year were allegedly tortured.

Motive behind the transfers

There are a few reasons why authorities have decided to move these men who are essentially prisoners in a concentration camp.

One of those is men positive refugee status have been refusing to leave the camp, because they fear life in the community in PNG.

The compounds they will be moved to Delta and Oscar are said to be infamous for their ‘cruel imprisonment’.

This could prompt these positive refugees to agree to be transferred to East Lorengau Refugee Resettlement Camp the first step towards living in the PNG community.

This process is problematic for many reasons.

Also this moving around could cause those with negative refugee outcome to decide to return to their home country. The refugee determination process is not a fair one and we know Australia has returned men to their home countries who have then been tortured or killed.

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COMBATIVE UNIONISM

UNION

Let’s kick it to the bosses!!! In this episode we talk about radical unionism with Brisbane anarchists M and J.

Then we talk about the vigil that was taking place at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital.

And finally we listen to The End of the World as we know It and I feel fine…. this episode is called Support your Local Antifa.

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ORGANIZE

 

WORKERS HAND

PLAYLIST