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.

Inside Nauru: As told by Refugees not Channel 9

A Current Affair’s news crew were the first outside television crew allowed access to Nauru Australia’s refugee dumping ground.

They promise a story that will stun Australians. It is unclear in what way it will stun. Will they portray the prison island in it’s true light or will they provide an honest account.

In all likely hood many will be stunned by just how low ACA will go.

Aside from the fact the government would not have allowed them access to the island had they thought the show would do proper independent journalism, apparently the film crew were followed around by Nauruan government officials and police.

This documentary is made by refugees on Nauru. This is what the government and corporate interests don’t want you to see.

 

Nauru: Protests Continue with Situation Attracting International Attention

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Protests by the refugees Australia has dumped on Nauru continue and show no sign of stopping and let’s face it they don’t have that much else to do on the sparse 22km square island.

Protests continue on Nauru. Refugees live in tents with dirt floors and moldy roofs. Children must play in the dirt.

Those living in the community who actually find jobs are exploited by Naurans. A woman told me she was being paid $500 working for the government as an administration assistant.

Police do not investigate any crimes committed if refugees are the victims, because the culprits are likely to be relatives or friends.

Protests will continue until this shocking chapter in Australia’s history is over. Actually all of Australia’s history is shocking but we still try to make things better.

 

 

 

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

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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Protest on Nauru 2o March

As much of the Middle East and Muslim communities celebrates New Year protest have occurred on Nauru the island nation on which Australia has been keeping refugees in appalling conditions.

The protests started 30mins after the Eid celebrations had begun in Iran.

The so called asylum seekers chanted freedom and asked the Australian people and politicians to close the offshore detention centers.

They held signs saying 995 days which is the time they have been kept on the Island in moldy tents with hostile guards and little chance of a future on the 22km square Island.

4 Babies, 45 children, 53 women and 46 men still waiting for their refugee determination joined in the protest.

According to Free the Children Nauru the other 839 refugees living in the impoverished community would have been jailed had they joined in.

According to Free the Children an hour ago Wilson Security guards and Nauru police were at the scene and may have broken up the protest.

Some Wilson guards and Nauruan police are known for their brutal treatment of detainees so we will wait for reports on what eventuates.

The protests on Nauru come as more than 50 000 people around Australia joined in Palm Sunday rallies to say welcome to refugees and demand the closure of the offshore detention centers.

Refugee advocates say attitudes among Australia’s towards refugees are changing.

The Human Rights Law Center’s Daniel Webb says the situation where Doctors at the Lady Cilento Childrens Hospital in Brisbane used to discharge a baby which was in danger of being sent back to Nauru was an example of the changing attitudes.

“We’ve seen every single state premier, every single state premier, support calls for Malcolm Turnbull to show some compassion.

“And then there’s you right now, around Australia, tens of thousands of people are standing together to demand better.”

The Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul told the Sydney rally Australians had not forgotten any man, woman or child in offshore detention.

“We will not rest until all of them are safe in Australia,”

End Offshore Detention: Save $3Billion

Data from the Parliamentary Budget Office just released shows a calculated $2.47 billion saving in the 2016-2017 budget forward estimates.

An estimated further $448n million could be saved during the same period by transferring offshore detainees to onshore detention and were processed within 30 days and released into the community.

The fact that the figures are unreliable because closure of offshore detention would increase the number of boat arrivals is being reported without any mention of strategies which could be put in place to prevent people taking the enormous risk of getting on a dodgy boat to reach Australia.

Some options for Australia to stop people from getting on boats from Indonesia are:

  • Start accepting refugees from Indonesia again
  • Contributing $1 billion to help the UNHCR speed up the process (still saving $3 billion)
  • Help make it easier to successfully apply for a Visa in refugee producing countries (rich/lucky people do get Visas to enter without claiming refugee status)
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Protesters at Nauru

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Wilson guards watch on

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Other reports by us on offshore detention

Terror on Nauru

Broadspectrum: Out-of-date Food/Moldy Tents

I Will Not Celebrate the Release of Baby Asha

Roundtable on #LetThemStay and #KidsOut

AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM THE CHILDREN IN NAURU:

Border Fascist Update

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