Kurdish refugee and writer Behrouz Boochani gets warm welcome in NZ

Behrouz Boochani travelled to New Zealand on a visitor's visa to attend a literary conference but told reporters he has no plans to return to Papua New Guinea.

Kurdish journalist, award-winning author and refugee Behrouz Boochani has been enthusiastically welcomed in New Zealand after spending more than six years in detention on Manus Island.

The outspoken refugee left Papua New Guinea on Wednesday after he received a visitor's visa to travel to Christchurch to speak at a literary festival on 29 November.

"I just arrived in New Zealand. So exciting to get freedom after more than six years," Mr Boochani wrote on Twitter on Thursday night. 

Behrouz Boochani speaks shortly after touching down in New Zealand.
Source: Twitter

"Thank you to all the friends who made this happen."

At the airport, Mr Boochani reflected on his new situation. 

"I think this is the first time that I am happy because I survived."

In Christchurch, the Kurdish journalist was greeted by the city's mayor Lianne Dalziel who gave him a traditional pounamu necklace. 

She told him it was "an incredible honour and a privilege" to host him in the city. 

Mr Boochani, who has been accepted for resettlement in the United States, is considering his options for his future but has ruled out returning to PNG. 

Amnesty International sponsored Mr Boochani's visa to attend the Word Christchurch festival. 

Executive Director Meg de Ronde said they were thrilled to have played a part in securing Mr Boochani's freedom. 

"Behrouz is not only a refugee, but a human rights defender whose dedicated journalism from within a detention centre earned him several awards and accolades," Ms De Ronde said.

Ms de Ronde said Mr Boochani's journey was a testament to the human will to survive. 

“Like thousands of others trapped in the cruelty of offshore detention, he simply wants freedom in a safe place.

"This is a spark of hope after he has fled violence and persecution, first in Iran and then from Australian authorities.”

Behrouz Boochani arrives in New Zealand.
Source: Twitter

Another Manus Island asylum seeker, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, was granted permission to travel to Geneva earlier this year to accept an international human rights award

Mr Boochani has often acted as a spokesperson for the hundreds of asylum seekers held in Australia's offshore detention and was awarded Australia's richest literary prize, the Victorian Prize for Literature, for his book No Friend But The Mountains, documenting life on the island.

Amnesty International Australia's refugee advisor Graham Thom said he was "delighted" to see Mr Boochani travel outside of Papua New Guinea in a statement on Thursday evening. 

"We will keep campaigning for all those trapped offshore by Australia. I’m proud that the Amnesty international movement played a small part in his release today," he added.

“Behrouz arriving in New Zealand illustrates the bizarre hypocrisy of the Australian Government’s decision to block vulnerable refugees trapped for seven years from getting to freedom."

Since 2013, New Zealand has repeatedly offered to accept 150 asylum seekers from offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru but was rebuffed by successive Australian prime ministers.

Prior to travelling to New Zealand, Mr Boochani had been living in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby, where all remaining men from Manus Island were moved in August, approximately two years after the detention centre officially closed in 2017.

Many of the men are being housed in hotels, while an estimated 46 have been re-detained in the Australian-funded Bomana Immigration Centre on the outskirts of the city.

Mr Boochani fled persecution in Iran and attempted to come to Australia via boat from Indonesia in 2013.

Published 14 November 2019 at 8:40pm, updated 15 November 2019 at 1:58pm
By Rosemary Bolger, Maani Truu