Ahead of his speech at the annual Human Rights Law Centre dinner, Kurdish journalist and Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani spoke exclusively to SBS Kurdish about "fake fear", the plight of refugees and why he hasn't lost hope.
It’s not often the keynote speaker for an event doesn’t show up, but at Friday’s annual Human Rights Law Centre dinner Behrouz Boochani was absent. Not because he was running late or had fallen ill -- Mr Boochani has been held in an offshore detention centre for the past five years.
In a speech delivered to guests from Manus Island, he condemned Australian political parties’ use of vulnerable refugees for “political profit” and expressed the view the Australian Government was manipulating its people.
“Without a doubt, Australian governments have enacted an extensive propaganda campaign which centres on [national security],” Mr Boochani said via a pre-recorded video link.
“What should be a debate about people … has been deliberately poisoned to become a debate about borders and security.
“No one can ignore the fact that people have been killed and thousands of lives destroyed as a result of political power plays.”
In an exclusive interview with SBS Kurdish about his speech, the 35-year-old Manus detainee went on to accuse the major political parties of manipulating the Australian people by “spreading fake security reasons” to induce “fake fear” about refugees.
“In my perspective both Labor and Liberal parties are criminal and should [have to] answer [to this] one day,” he said.
“If Australian people [were] fully aware of what is exactly happening, they would not have let their government to do this. They are not cruel people, they are only manipulated by the government.”
The Kurdish journalist and humans rights activist has been the most vocal spokesperson for those held in Australia’s detention centres since he arrived there himself in 2013, but it wasn't until 2016 that he drew media attention. Firstly through Facebook and then his Twitter account. The latter of which was created in January 2017 and has since amassed a following of over 22,000.
In his first of many interviews with SBS Kurdish in August 2016, Mr Boochani spoke about the circumstances which had led to him fleeing Iran where he had been publishing articles that criticised the government for outlawing Kurdish culture. Mr Boochani's journalist colleagues were arrested and the Iranian government threatened him.
"I left Iran because of my political opinion and came to Australia but when I arrived to Australia the Australian government expelled me to a distant island... Australian government has treated us like criminals," he told SBS Kurdish in 2016.
"It is a political game the Australian government is playing -- with us, with [the] media and with people."
On Friday evening at the Human Rights Dinner, his view remained unaltered but he refuted any implication that five years of indefinite detention had made him lose hope.
"Losing hope, or relinquishing one’s duty to human rights are even greater forms of failure and moral bankruptcy. The worst thing any of us can do is give up," he told attendees.
Besides, he noted, refugees and their advocates had had some victories.
"We have been successful in making the plight of incarcerated refugees a central issue in public discourse and this has created opportunities for making our aims and objectives clear: we want freedom… we demand freedom for all the refugees," he said.
"We have also been able, at the very least, to document the history of this ruthless political ideology and the merciless act of exiling refugees. We are confident that these crimes will never be forgotten."
During his exclusive SBS Kurdish interview, the journalist also pointed to the "many brave people in Australia who have been fighting against this system," as a source for hope, placing particular emphasis on the "unknown people" who did it on their own accord.
Situation for refugees 'as desperate as ever': Amnesty International
The same day the Kurdish writer delivered his speech, Amnesty International hit out at the Australian government for terminating its trauma and counselling services for refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea.
In a new report released on Friday, the human rights organisation detailed fears that Manus Island detainees were having their lives put at risk by dwindling healthcare services.
“Nearly five years after Australia began implementing its harmful and illegal offshore detention policy, the situation for refugees and asylum seekers trapped in PNG is as desperate as ever,” said Kate Schuetze, Refugee Researcher at Amnesty International.
“Last year two refugees committed suicide in Manus Island, illustrating the terrible price of confining vulnerable people to remote detention centres. In the wake of these tragedies Australia has inexplicably cut counselling and trauma services, just one of a raft of changes which will make it even harder for refugees and asylum seekers in PNG to access healthcare.”
The Manus Island processing facility ceased operating in October 2017, but hundreds of men remain there.
The Home Affairs office maintains detainees on Manus Island and Nauru have always had access to what it calls "appropriate healthcare", telling SBS News: “The Department has engaged a new health services provider from 1 May 2018.
“IHMS will work with the new health service provider during a transition period in PNG to ensure service continuity. Individuals will continue to have access to appropriate primary health services.”
Mr Boochani wrapped up his address by asking supporters to "not give up", adding that although the "ongoing fight" had made him tired, refugees had no other option but to persevere.
"We cannot stop resisting. Until we are free our struggle will never end."
Prior to the Human Rights Law Centre annual dinner, the journalist concluded his SBS Kurdish interview by predicting the legacy of Manus and Nauru would be a permanent stain on Australia's history for many years to come.
"[The] next generation will definitely ask their parents what they did [during] that time," he said.
"History will get its answers."
Read the 2018 Human Rights Dinner keynote address by Behrouz Boochani in full here.