NZ grants asylum to author who spent years in Australian detention

Behrouz Boochani, the award-winning author detained in Australia’s offshore detention regime for over six years, has been granted refugee status in New Zealand.

Photo: AP/Mark Baker

Photo: AP/Mark Baker

The Kurdish-Iranian man arrived in New Zealand last year after securing a short-term visa to leave Papua New Guinea and speak at a writers festival event in Christchurch.

Once on Kiwi soil, he claimed asylum and stayed in New Zealand awaiting that decision, as is his legal right.

Boochani was informed of the government decision to grant him a year-long visa – which affords him a pathway to citizenship – on Thursday, his 37th birthday.

“I am very happy some certainty about my future, I feel relieved and secure finally,” he told the Guardian.

His future assured, Boochani will take up a position at the University of Canterbury, and continue to write.

Boochani fled Iran, fearing political persecution, and was caught up in Australia’s offshore processing system after attempting to reach Christmas Island by boat in 2013.

While on Manus Island, he used his mobile phone to write ‘No Friend but the Mountains’, a memoir of his time in detention which has won numerous literary prizes.

He was transferred to Port Moresby and was accepted for a transfer to the United States in 2018 as part of a government-negotiated swap deal for the asylum seekers.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has pledged never to allow Boochani to set foot in Australia.

Boochani has attacked Australia’s offshore detention regime as inhumane, illegal and immoral.

“I cannot fully celebrate this because so many people who were incarcerated with me are still struggling to get freedom, still in PNG, on Nauru, in detention in Australia,” he said.

“And even if they are released, Australia’s policy still exists.”

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Amnesty International, which sponsored Boochani’s travel from PNG to NZ last year, said they were “thrilled” with the outcome.

“But we mustn’t forget there are still hundreds of others stuck offshore who also need to be brought to safety,” Australian refugee coordinator Graham Thom said.

New Zealand has offered to accept 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention system, but the two governments have not reached a deal to do so.

The University of Canterbury has offered Mr Boochani the role of senior adjunct research fellow, based at the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, an indigenous research institute.

Te Maire Tau, the centre’s director, said Mr Boochani would be warmly welcomed by the local Maori iwi, or community.

“As the local iwi, Ngāi Tahu is laying a protective cloak over Behrouz Boochani,” he said.

“The University of Canterbury has a history of supporting refugees going back as far as the 1930s, when Karl Popper the philosopher arrived as a Jewish refugee from Austria.”


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