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'Political propaganda': Behrouz Boochani slams Christmas Island detention centre reopening

Behrouz Boochani was detained at the Christmas Island facility for a month in 2013. Source: SBS Kurdish

Former Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani has criticised the Australian Border Force's plan to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre, describing the move as "political propaganda" intended to "criminalise" asylum seekers.

The Kurdish journalist and author told SBS Kurdish on Friday that the prospect of asylum seekers and refugees being detained on Christmas Island again was “really hard to imagine” due to the “harshness” of the detention centre.

The Australian Border Force on Tuesday said the reopening of the facility, located more than 1,500 kilometres from the Australian mainland, would help relieve "capacity pressure" in detention centres across the country.

The facility was shut down by the federal government in October 2018 and it was briefly reopened in 2019 but did not house any detainees.

Boochani spent a month as a detainee at the facility in 2013 before he was transferred to Manus Island, where he was held for six years.

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In November 2019, he obtained a visa to travel to New Zealand, and was granted asylum in July 2020

“Christmas Island is a real prison," he said.

“They opened this before the [2019] election for propaganda, and now they are doing this again. The refugees are victims under this political propaganda.”

Border Force said its ability to deport detainees has been “curtailed” due to global coronavirus measures which have closed borders and reduced international flights.

The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre will be re-opened.
The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre will be re-opened.
AAP

The agency said the detainees who will be transferred to the facility have been convicted of criminal offences.

A Border Force spokesperson said: “With unlawful non-citizens continuing to move from prison to immigration detention, and with required COVID-19 distancing measures in place within the detention network, this is placing the detention network under pressure.”

Boochani believes the federal government is “not in a position” to label any asylum seeker or refugee as a criminal or unlawful.

“How do you say that these people are criminals and we’re going to send them to Christmas Island? You’re not a court, you’re a government.

“They need these facilities to be open because they have a contract with the SERCO security company and IHMS [International Health and Medical Services]. They pay millions of dollars to these companies and they always need some people in those detention centres and that’s why they are saying this.

Boochani documented life on Manus Island in his book 'No Friend But the Mountains: The True Story of an Illegally Imprisoned Refugee'.
Boochani documented life on Manus Island in his book 'No Friend But the Mountains: The True Story of an Illegally Imprisoned Refugee'.
AAP

“I lived in that system for such a long time, so when they say that these people are criminals, it is completely wrong and they are lying because when someone commits a crime, there is a legal process. They should send them to court and the court would make a decision for them.”

The facility was used in February to quarantine Australians evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic.

It’s understood that the only people currently being held at the facility is a Tamil family of four, that was transferred to the centre last August while a series of court orders have prevented their deportation.

An earlier photo of the detained Tamil family from Biloela.
A photo of the detained Tamil family from Biloela.
Supplied

Boochani said the Australian people should “ask why it is necessary” for the facility to reopen.

“I’m not in a position to say that prison is expensive, or keeping people in prison is expensive or not, I’m not a taxpayer.

“Of course, Australian people should think about why they need to reopen this prison camp.”

Its reopening has been criticised by human rights advocates who fear relocating detainees to a remote location during the COVID-19 pandemic poses an increased health risk.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to Christmas Island in 2019.
AAP

A committee of business, political and cultural leaders on the Island are demanding further community consultation following the Border Force announcement.

Despite receiving asylum in New Zealand, Boochani affirmed that he would continue to fight for asylum seekers and refugees held in Australian detention centres.

He said it was time to end Australia's “cruel, illegal and inhumane” policy of offshore detention.

“What we can say is about humanity, it is cruel that you keep these people in indefinite detention for more than seven years and you justify that. You cannot justify that.

"We demand freedom for these refugees. I believe that the majority of people [in Australian society] are not happy with what the government is doing.”


You can listen to the full interview with Behrouz Boochani below:

Behrouz Boochani on Christmas Island detention centre reopening
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