Behrouz is a Kurdish journalist from Iran who fled persecution and attempted to seek safety in Australia. He rose to international prominence during six years in Australia’s offshore detention centres on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea), beginning in 2013.
His detention was the result of the Australian government’s cruel and unlawful asylum policies, which involved sending thousands of asylum seekers to Pacific Island nations of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru. Amnesty International’s research found that the conditions for people trapped in these centres amounts to torture under international law.
Behrouz gained a reputation as a journalist and human rights defender by talking about violations in the press and social media throughout his ordeal. He published over 100 news articles from detention, for which he earned an Amnesty International Australia Media Award.
His autobiographical book, No Friend But The Mountains, published in July 2018 while he remained detained, won five literary awards in Australia, including the Victorian Prize for Literature and the National Biography Award.
In November 2019, he made his first trip out of PNG. Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand was thrilled to sponsor Behrouz for a one-month visitor visa so that he could appear at a literary event organised by WORD Christchurch. Despite his literary accolades, this was the first time he was able to meet his audience in person.
In addition to Behrouz’s work as a journalist under incredibly difficult conditions, he also filmed a feature length documentary called Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time on a smuggled mobile phone. The film – a powerful exposé of the intentional cruelty of the Australian government’s system of banishing people seeking refuge to remote offshore islands – was screened in festivals all around the world. His work is also the inspiration for a play, a symphony, and there is a film adaptation of No Friend But The Mountains in development.
Behrouz applied for asylum in New Zealand during his visit. Due to legal restrictions that protect the right to privacy for asylum seekers in New Zealand, the authorities and his legal team, as well as Amnesty International (as his visitor visa sponsors) were prevented from discussing the case, even its existence.
Executive Director of Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, Meg de Ronde said, “When Amnesty International researchers went to Manus Island to document human rights abuses, Behrouz said the most important thing for all the men trapped there was, ‘Freedom…freedom in a safe place.’ It’s wonderful to hear that New Zealand is offering him freedom and the chance to rebuild his life here.”
De Ronde said, “Behrouz is a survivor. People who have no choice but to flee their home countries deserve our compassion. But the treatment he and thousands of others received from the Australian authorities was abhorrent. Many people didn’t survive it. Behrouz is a testament to the will to live. And his commitment to freedom for every other person trapped in Australian detention is an example for us all.”
“Behrouz has so much to offer New Zealand and the world. We can only guess what his intelligence, humanity, compassion and creativity will bring in years to come. But it shouldn’t take an award-winning book to be freed from Australian detention. Hundreds of people are still being held against their will in Australia, PNG and Nauru. Enough is enough. It’s time for Australia to accept the New Zealand offer to take 150 of these refugees per year,” she said.
De Ronde said, “Today is a day for celebration. Today is the first day in Behrouz’s life that he is free. Free from the persecution of the Iranian authorities simply because he is Kurdish. Free from the deliberate cruelty of the Australian government. Free from the physical and mental abuse of the PNG guards. Free from the crushing injustice of being denied his rights. Free to heal. Free to be who he is. Free to become whoever he wants to be.”