No Friend But The Mountains- By Behrouz Boochani

Politics and Feminism

This was a very special book for me. It came as a reflexion. Because I am Australian. And it should be so for all Australians. Because no matter our privileges and our proudness of being Australians, I see this as a black spot in that perfect style of life that is slowly growing to show us that maybe we are not who we think we are, and we don’t have what we think we have.

Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish Iranian journalist who went to Australia to seek asylum. He almost drowned on the wild waves. Twice. And this was not even the beginning of this story. Because a person only face those furious waves when they have lost their hope to have a normal life in their countries of origin, and they decide to leave their friends and families, and everything they know behind, because they have already suffered too much. But he, as well as many others before and after, had to keep going against all odds and sometimes against each other. Like when the only thing he could think about was to eat an apple or some nuts to survive. Or when he saw everybody pocking each other to get a good spot on the little boat that at the end determined a safe arrival, or not. And then it came the resentment. And when they were rescued, as Boochani was, the illusion and hope that survival brought. And then the happiness of knowing he was heading to Australia. And the punch in the face when he was locked up in Christmas Island and got informed that he was actually heading to Manus Island, to an unknown place and future. And then absolute sadness when he realised he was never going to touch Australian soil but instead he was going to live endless days, months and years imprisoned as if he were a criminal.

He was being blamed for something he had no blame. He arrived in Australia by boat. He did not have a visa. But this goes deep in the Australian discourse. A person without a visa is not welcome in Australia. Because that person would be jumping the queue. As if you could do such a queue when you are running for your life. Boochani arrived in Christmas Island just four days after a new law came into place. From that day on, all off-shore asylum seekers were going to be imprisoned in the remote island of Papua New Guinea. He was dressed with oversized clothes that diminished and humiliated him. He was given a number instead of a name. He was put in a set up made by tents, crowded, overheated, and left there to merrily survive. No room for playing cards, for holding a pencil and a paper, for reading. Only boredom, only insanity. The Kyriarchal System as he baptised it himself, applied by the Australian authorities to confuse the prisoners, to put them at their own limits, to make them fight, to create anger and hate. Like giving food, cake, fruits, to only the first ones to arrive at the queue, or control de exact amount of milk that a prisoner received, once an exact quarter, once half, once full cup. Or when the generator went off at the hottest times of the day and the water on the toilets run out and all the camp was full of excrements and smell. He survived the torture, barely, but others didn’t. The anguished of seeing themselves and others on the break of existence made them stich their lips, go into hunger strikes, cut their veins, scream for help. At the end the only escape that worked for some was suicide.

This book was written in the form of thousands of thousands of text messages using WhatsApp. The files were then smuggled out of Manus and translated into English by a professor at Sydney University. The texts were framed in prose and we can see the beauty of that prose through the whole book. What an stunning and brilliant way of telling such a painful story.  Boochani shows us what is made of, his strengths, his weaknesses, his fears and his resilience. Boochani shows us what a great storyteller and human being he is.

And I wonder myself where were we between 2013 and 2017. And my shameful answer is that while the bad guys were in Canberra and PNG being bad, we, the good guys were also there, in Australia, just being indifferent. And the few who were fighting  to liberate them were completely hopeless, crashing one day after the other into the immigration system, as strong as the endless wall that was never going to break. And where was I? I guess I was giving up, leaving my job as a refugee law researcher, which was to find legal ways to help the asylum seekers to appeal to the High Court. I got tired of fighting the inevitable. I got tired of fighting that wall.

Thankfully the very good ones stayed. They kept fighting. And after many lawsuits the camps in Papua New Guinea closed. And Behrouz Boochani was able to leave Manus Island. I hope he is well. Because I don’t know how a sensitive soul like his will ever manage to recover from such a treason. I don’t know how anybody could recover from something like that. And the only thing that occurs to me right now is to say I am sorry for all the things Boochani and all the asylum seekers imprisoned in Papua New Guinea went through.

In the meantime our job as Australians continue. Because we are obliged to take the refugees’ matter into our own hands, that are gentil, multicultural and humane. And we need to make sure that such a thing will never happen again on Australian soil. No, not in our name. Not anymore. We owe this to our beautiful country, and to our own people, and to the people who is asking us for help.


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