Politics

We Spoke To Refugees On Manus About This Week’s Leadership Mess

“I hope that this time the political change actually leads to getting freedom for us."

“I hope that this time the political change actually leads to getting freedom for us,” Manus Island Refugee Behrouz Boochani told Junkee shortly after Scott Morrison emerged as the new leader of the Liberal Party.

He wants Australians to know that with an election seemingly around the corner, they need to make their vote count if they truly care about what’s happening in our off-shore detention centres.

“If people in Australia support refugees and say no to the government and to the politicians, they are actually supporting themselves, they are supporting their children, and they are supporting the next generation.”

He explained that when politicians like Dutton and Morrison “do these barbaric things to refugees, it’s possible that they will do it to Australian society, too. I ask Australians to say no to the government and this barbaric policy, because of themselves, and because of their humanity.”

The More Things Change…

With Australian media preoccupied with yet another change in leadership, attention needs to be directed back to people who have the most at stake during the political turmoil. Many communities will be affected, but refugees imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru are arguably the most at risk.

I interviewed Behrouz Boochani, the Kurdish journalist, writer, human rights defender, poet and film producer, who is still detained on Manus Island, via WhatsApp. It has been his main source of communication with the world outside Manus.

We discussed the current political instability in Australia and how he thinks the leadership crisis within the Liberal Party might impact on refugees in offshore detention.

Behrouz does not hold high hopes about the change in leadership. “We have already experienced two federal elections and we have also experienced three Prime Ministers, but nothing has happened for us,” he told me. “We are still here; we are still suffering.”

 

Behrouz said that, just like Australians, refugees in detention are focused on the news, but in a different way.

“The refugees on Manus and Nauru are following the news and hope that this time the political change will lead to freedom for us. But we are not so excited about the Prime Minister losing his power, or Peter Dutton or Scott Morrison getting power.”

His hopes are resting on the Australian media and public, not the politicians. “Maybe this political situation will have an effect on the media,” he said, mentioning that it could lead to more scrutiny of the policies and politicians. “So I think it is good in some ways. But of course it is scary because despite the changes, nothing affects Manus, and we are still here.”

Behrouz wanted to remind Australians that “we don’t even want to go to Australia. We are just saying let us go.”

I asked him how he feels about other political parties, especially the Labor Party. “We are hopeful that close to the election, parties and politicians will stand up and speak up against this barbaric policy,” Behrouz said. “We are hopeful that something big will change. But, of course, Labor is a part of this system and they are responsible as well. They are, in my opinion, criminals. I call them criminals.”

No Friend But The Mountains

Behrouz outlines the experiences on Manus in his recently released book, No Friend But The Mountains. He wrote the book using his mobile phone, sending messages to his translators via WhatsApp.

“I didn’t write this book to make change, or to change policy,” he said. Rather, he felt it was his duty to write the book to capture life on Manus for his readers. “I just take Manus prison… and I deliver it to them.”

He used his book to describe the “life and suffering and systematic torture” occurring on Manus Island. He aimed to “take readers into the prison camp”, and hoped that “when people finish it they feel our suffering and feel that they were with us.”

He has previously delivered Manus prison to Australians through his journalism, and his documentary, Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time. He told me, “The movie got global attention, and we participated in many international film festivals, but nothing changed. There are many articles published by Australian independent journalists, and internationally many articles and documents have been published about this system, but nothing changed, so we’ve been here for more than five years.

Before today’s spill, I also reached out to Manus resident Samad Durrani, who I previously interviewed for Junkee in November. Things have worsened for Samad, and he has struggled with sleeping among other issues. “It’s hard to be positive and hopeful,” he told me.

I wanted to hear his thoughts about the change in leadership in Australia. He said that “Everyone is just terrified…We don’t know what kind of extra suffering we will see.”

I asked Samad if he thought that the change in leadership or a federal election could improve the situation for refugees in offshore detention. He said, “I don’t think anything would happen even if Labor came into Parliament. I didn’t realise seeking asylum in Australia is the worst crime. It would have been much better if my boat had sunk and at least there would be no suffering.”

Samad’s main hope is that “one day there will be a peaceful place where I can restart my life, if I get out safe from this death camp.” He added, “If anybody who is against us felt our pain for only one day, they would support us for sure.”

Roz Bellamy is a Melbourne-based journalist, researcher and activist. You can read more of her work on her website or Facebook.