More than six years after he was sent to Manus Island as part of Australia’s offshore detention program, refugee advocate and author Behrouz Boochani is free in New Zealand.
There were emotional scenes last night as he was greeted in Christchurch by members from Amnesty International and New Zealand representatives.
He received a visitor’s visa to travel to New Zealand to speak about his book, No Friend but the Mountains, but said he has no plans on returning to Papua New Guinea.
“I think this is the first time that I feel happy that I survived,” he told reporters from the airport.
“After more than six years, I am very, very tired. But I am glad to be away from that place,” he told The Guardian.
“Everyone in Manus carries so many painful memories, we can never leave them on that island … but I am happy in my heart. I feel free.”
I just arrived in New Zealand. So exciting to get freedom after more than six years. I have been invited by Word Festival in Christchurch and will participate in an event here. Thank you to all the friends who made this happen.— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) November 14, 2019
Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist and author, is one of the leading voices speaking out about offshore detention, becoming a tireless campaigner and reporter on some of the atrocities he witnessed. His book, written via WhatsApp messages, won the Victorian premier’s prize for literature, Australia’s richest literary prize.
The ABC reports Boochani may apply for asylum in New Zealand, or perhaps the United States – but that first, he “would like to just spend some time as a free man”.
“The important thing for me is to start a new life, somewhere I feel safe,” he said.
He has recently been accepted for resettlement in the U.S., but said the process is slow and complicated, with several people waiting in limbo in Port Moresby.
“I really don’t trust in this process. I don’t trust in this system,” he said.
He has a one-month visa to stay in New Zealand.
His arrival in New Zealand is likely to put strain on Australian relations. New Zealand has the country has repeatedly offered to accept 150 refugees from Manus and Nauru, but Australia has always refused, arguing that refugees could eventually attain New Zealand citizenship and ultimately travel to Australia.
Abdul Aziz Adam, another former Manus detainee who recently travelled to Switzerland to accept a major human rights award, congratulated his friend – but advocated for those remaining on Manus to achieve freedom as well.
“Today is my best day and am really overwhelming with joy but also bit sad for the rest of my brothers and sister who are still stack in limbo. We will do whatever for your freedom stay strong brothers,” he said on Twitter.
“Ppl have no idea how difficult it’s to lose 6yrs & 6months of your live in place that deliberately built to treat humans as number with no dignity, respect or compassion. We’ve to break this wall that built on migrations whether here in Eu, Australia &USA.”
Today is my best day and am really overwhelming with joy but also bit sad for the rest of my brothers and sister who are still stack in limbo. We will do whatever for your freedom stay strong brothers.— Abdul Aziz Adam (@Abdulaziz_Ada) November 14, 2019