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Behrouz Boochani spent six years detained on Manus Island, a victim of Australia’s Pacific Solution. Last year he was granted refugee status in New Zealand, and since then has used his freedom to advocate on behalf of the hundreds of other asylum seekers detained by Australia. Today, Behrouz Boochani on the refugees we aren’t speaking about, and the reasons why.

Behrouz Boochani on the detainees we forgot

Read Transcript

Behrouz Boochani spent six years detained on Manus Island, a victim of Australia’s Pacific Solution.

Last year he was granted refugee status in New Zealand, and since then has used his freedom to advocate on behalf of the hundreds of other asylum seekers detained by Australia.

One group of detainees, the Murugappan family from Biloela, were recently moved from Christmas Island into community detention in Perth. 

But has their case shifted attention from those still trapped by Australia’s immigration system?

Today writer and former detainee, Behrouz Boochani on the refugees we aren’t speaking about, and the reasons why. 

 

Guest: Contributor to The Saturday Paper Behrouz Boochani.

Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Behrouz Boochani spent six years detained on Manus Island, a victim of Australia’s Pacific Solution.

 

Last year he was granted refugee status in New Zealand, and since then has used his freedom to advocate on behalf of the hundreds of other asylum seekers detained by Australia.

 

One group of detainees, the Murugappan family from Biloela, were recently moved from Christmas Island into community detention in Perth. 

 

But while there has been movement on their case - why hasn’t the same happened to the others, still trapped by Australia’s immigration system?

 

Today writer and former detainee, Behrouz Boochani, on the refugees we aren’t speaking about, and the reasons why. 

[Theme Music Ends]

BEHROUZ:

Hello?

RUBY:

Hi Behrouz, I’m Ruby.

BEHROUZ:

Yeah, hello. Can you hear me well?

RUBY: 

I can hear you, yeah. Are you in Auckland, where abouts are you?
 

BEHROUZ:

Right now I am in Christchurch, a city in New Zealand. So actually I am not in the home, I am just quite outside. It’s raining now, so I am just sitting behind the window.
 

RUBY:

Alright so you’re sitting down, are you ready to go?
 

BEHROUZ:

Yeah yeah. Let’s do it, yeah.

 

RUBY:

 

There is public pressure recently forced the Australian government to release the Murugappan family into Perth, into community detention. Can you tell me what you thought when you heard that news and how you processed it? 

 

BEHROUZ:
 

So this story I was familiar with, so I mean, many people in Australia have been following this story for at least two years. 

Archival tape -- Reporter 1:

“The couple and their two children were taken by Border Force officers three months ago from their central Queensland home and placed in detention…”

Archival tape -- Unknown person 1:

“Since this occurred there's been a vocal campaign run by Biloela locals who adore this family…”

Archival tape -- Reporter 2:

“Images of four-year old Tharniucaa displayed on billboards in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne…” 

Archival tape -- Tharniucaa:

“Hello Biloela I miss you!”

 

BEHROUZ:
 

So, of course, emotionally it’s difficult when you hear you know anything about this family and the kids. 

Archival tape -- Priya:

“Please help us get her out of detention and home to Biloela.”

 

BEHROUZ:
 

But that remind me of other refugees, you know. Of the people who are in the community or in the community in detention, the refugees who are under pressure, even inside the community, even when they are free. And remind me of the system that always chased the refugees.  

 

Even when they, you know, if they make a small mistake, you know, if they pass the red light, they you know, they arrest them and they put them in the camp for ages. 

 

So, I mean, people think that they are free, but actually they are not free because the system exists there. The system chases them. 

 

RUBY:

 

Mmm - and do you see a comparison, a contrast between the way in which the system operates, and the way that the Australian government talks about it - particularly in what they’ve said about their decision - with the Murugappan family? Because It seems like they were really framing that decision around compassion, saying what they were doing was compassionate. So what do you make of that? 

 

BEHROUZ:
 

Yeah, you know, the Australian government always try to show when they are under pressure by the public and they have to show the public, the people force them to make a decision and do something for the positive, for the refugees. They just justify that, and they say that we have compassion. 

Archival tape -- Unknown Person:

“Today, I've made a compassionate decision to obviously reunite the family in Perth and allow them to live in the community while all remaining matters are heard.”

 

BEHROUZ:
 

They justify it under the principles like humanity and morality. They hide themselves behind that. 

Archival tape -- Unknown Person:

“There are plenty of people we do owe protection to. And we have a very compassionate approach and we offer protection and they get temporary protection in Australia.”

 

BEHROUZ:
 

They always say that because we want to save the life on the sea, because we don't want to see people dying on the sea. 

Archival tape -- Unknown Person:

“But remember,  we've got to remember that when people smugglers ply their trade in human misery, people die, our borders are unmanaged, and that has a great cost and consequence. So this framework has stopped the boats entirely…”

 

BEHROUZ:
 

And that is really unacceptable because what they are doing actually, they are torturing. This system is killing people. You know, this system has traumatised people, you know, but always the Australian government just hides itself behind the morality. But in fact, in my perspective, the Australian government is a criminal. Yeah, it's criminal. 

 

RUBY:

 

Mm and hearing you talk about this, it reminds me of other times in which we’ve seen similar rhetoric. I’m thinking particularly of the kids off Nauru campaign and I wanted to ask you about these campaigns, if you think that there is a problem when they’re specifically focussed on children or on individual families and whether that has the effect of essentially letting the Australian government off the hook for their systemic refugee policies? 

 

BEHROUZ:
 

Yeah, I think it's very important question, and it's really difficult to talk about this, because if someone like me or people who are working in this field, if they raised this issue, you know, I think people put pressure on them and they say that “oh, we are doing this amazing job, we are supporting this family” and you just talk about others. 

 

But in fact, actually, if we have a true, a real campaign, if we should have a real campaign in Australia, that campaign should be against the whole industry, you know, so what we have in Australia, we have a detention industry. So this detention industry has many elements. Many companies are working. Many people are working there. So they want to keep this industry alive. 

 

We should have a campaign to actually destroy the whole industry, not only for a family, you know? Of course, it's important that this family, this story has shaken Australia. But now, right now that I'm talking with you, 14 refugees in Australia are in detention in Melbourne, they are on hunger strike and those refugees have been in indefinite detention for eight years. 

 

So I have this question from people from you know, that how you react to only this family which is very true. And you should do that. How do you support this family but in the same time, you don't care about these refugees who have been in indefinite detention for eight years? And I know that some of these refugees, they have been separated with their families, with their kids for many years. 

 

But of course, it's very difficult. If you talk about the issues, very sensitive. People react very negatively. They say, oh, why you of course, we, we should support this. Family, of course, is an important one. This family is only one example of many stories. I think that is very important and I think it's very simple to understand.
 

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.
 

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RUBY:

 

Behrouz, we’re talking about the Coalition government’s approach to asylum seekers and the way in which they’re trying to reframe what they’re doing as compassionate. But I wanted to ask you as well about the Labor Party in Australia - the opposition - because there are a lot of similarities between their policies and the coalitions, there’s been essentially bipartisanship on this issue for a long time now.

 

BEHROUZ:
 

Yeah, I think that is another issue that many people really don't want to talk about, but we should always say that, that Labor Party has been supporting this cruel policy towards the refugees. But people don't want to accept that because now the Shadow Minister, Kristina Keneally, actually that was very incredible the world that she visited the Christmas Island. And when I look, actually, I look at all of this as a show. It is a show off, you know?

 

These people, these two parties that they have, they established this policy. And for many years, for many years, this Labor Party has been supporting this policy. 

Archival tape -- Reporter 3:

“There is no substantial difference in border protection policies whether you’re Labor or Liberal?” 

Archival tape -- Unknown Person:

“That's absolutely correct. We believe in strong borders. Ultimately we arrive at that position as a matter of compassion because the loss of life we saw…”

 

BEHROUZ:
 

You know, just last week, again, the Labor Party say that we support this. 

Archival tape -- Labor Politician:

“We put in place offshore processing, that was Labor which did that.”

 

BEHROUZ:
 

So, I mean, there is a competition between these two major parties that who is crueller than the other one, you know?

Archival tape -- Labor Politician:

“The coalition put in place a system of turning back boats, particularly in Java and Christmas Island - that is a position which Labor supports. That is the regime…“ 

 

BEHROUZ:
 

That is a very, very typical kind of, you know, playing politics - that you create fake fear amongst the people, amongst the society, that if you don't support us the boats a ttack our country.

 

RUBY:

 

And as you say, these policies have been in place for a long time now. And in your piece in the Saturday paper, you asked this question of why imprisoning human beings has become so normalised in Australia. And I wonder what you think the answer to that is. Why has it become so normalised? 

 

BEHROUZ:
 

I think that is very related to the history of colonialism in Australia and colonialism mentality in Australia. That for hundreds of years, you know how they have been, I mean, the system has been treating the indigenous people, so that it has actually a cultural element and the psychological element is related to that colonialism mentality. 

 

And if I give you an example or, you know, during that time the Immigration Shadow Minister, she wanted to visit Christmas Island and they didn't let her on the first day and everyone in Australia were talking about that, why they didn't let her visit the family. 

 

But the main question was, why do you keep kids in detention? You know that that was the key question. But people were just talking about this. You know that, why they didn't let her go and visit them. You know, that shows that in Australia it is normalised. 

 

Now, they say that these two kids, they’re born in Australia, that's why we should support them. It means that if they are not born in Australia, we are allowed and we have this right to keep any children or any kids in prison for many years. But the key question is that you don't have rights. No one has this right to imprison innocent people, not only kids, innocent people. And the refugees are innocent.

 

RUBY:

 

Mm mm I just had one last question, Behrooz, and that's just about the Murugappan family and the fact that their story is seen as this good news story in Australia. The government is caving to public pressure and they've now been able to, to go to Perth, where they're in community detention. But is this actually a good news story for them? Do you have a sense of what might happen to them from here? Because their future is not at all certain, is my understanding. 

 

BEHROUZ:

 

Yeah, I think what I understand, because it's not the first time that we have a case like this. You know, already we had, I've had some cases and I think the Australian government always uses these cases to play with the public. They are able to just release them, but they don't do that because they need it. They need it, and sometimes when people forget about this family for a while, they raise it again, by separating them or, I don't know, playing with them or give them like a temporary visa. And I don't know, they just play with them just to highlight it again and become a national issue to hide something else. 

 

And I think, unfortunately, this family now they are you know, I think they became a subject for the government, for the public, and that is a huge problem, I think. You know, we...they have been playing with this family and with the public for more than two years. And that is my understanding. But hopefully through the court system, they release them and send them back to Biloela. But my experience, you know, with this system is that they use this story as like a story to play with the public. Yeah.
 

RUBY:

Behrouz, thank you so much for talking to me today. 

 

BEHROUZ:
 

Thank you very much. Have a good day.

RUBY:

 

Late yesterday, three members of the Murugappan family were granted three-month bridging visas, meaning they can work and attend school in Perth. One family member remains in community detention. 

 

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[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:

Also in the news today,

New restrictions have been introduced in Sydney and surrounding areas, after the New South Wales COVID-19 outbreak grew by 16 cases and spread from Bondi to the city's south-west.

Half of the new 16 cases were linked to a birthday party in south-west Sydney. 

Among the new restrictions is a cap on visitors to households of five guests, and mandatory masks indoors. 

Several states have now introduced border restrictions on NSW residents. 

Meanwhile in Melbourne, restrictions are set to ease from midnight tonight, with hospitality and workplace capacities increasing, and up to 15 visitors allowed in homes. 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow. 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Behrouz Boochani is a senior adjunct research fellow with the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, University of Canterbury, and is an associate professor at the University of NSW.