Last week on The Spinoff, Tim Maurice of the Asylum Seekers Support Trust warned Behrouz Boochani, the Iranian who spent six years in an Australian detention centre on Manus Island, that New Zealand may not be the right place to seek asylum. Here Donna Miles-Mojab, Christchurch author and supporter of Boochani, offers a different view.
Behrouz Boochani is too busy with back-to-back media interviews and appointments to read much of what has been published about him, but when I told him about what Tim Maurice had written about New Zealand asylum system and its shortcomings he was pleased that the truth was exposed.
Maurice’s piece described how differently quota and non-quota refugees were treated in New Zealand and highlighted some serious challenges faced by asylum seekers arriving at the border without a passport or a visa. He concluded his piece with the advice that Boochani should not seek asylum in New Zealand.
As the chair of Shakti Christchurch, Maurice’s piece struck a chord with me. Shakti provides support services for migrant and refugee women struggling with displacement, isolation and domestic violence. The women at Shakti are also treated differently by state services depending on whether they are permanent residents or not.
When discussing Maurice’s piece, Boochani reminded me of what he had said shortly after his arrival at the Christchurch Airport. Although he was very touched and grateful by the warm welcome he had received, he was sure New Zealand was not without its problems and not every refugee received the same welcome as he did.
Boochani is not naive. For six long years he worked from his island exile to expose the brutality of Australia’s unaccountable border policy which denies the humanity and dignity of refugees arriving at its shores by boat. So of course he was pleased that his presence in New Zealand had created the platform for other voices advocating for asylum seekers to be heard.
By pointing to the serious deficiencies that exist in our asylum system, Maurice’s piece highlighted the need for these problems to be fixed. And who better to help us improve our asylum system than a man who has experienced and chronicled the human impact of asylum policies?
It is true, as Maurice noted, that asylum seekers receive little to no support from the New Zealand government, but this is unlikely to affect moneyed and well-connected Boochani. He has been received with incredible warmth in New Zealand and has many supporters here. By staying in New Zealand, Boochnai will also be close to his considerable network of friends and supporters in Australia, some of whom are as close to him as his family.
Now that Boochani’s struggle to free himself from exile has come to an end, it is important that he focuses on rebuilding his physical and mental health. This requires him to be in a supportive environment where his skills and talents are recognized and, more importantly, where he can depend on his friends for emotional support in order to begin the long process of undoing the trauma of torture and detention.
That place is New Zealand where Boochani is known and respected as a novelist, filmmaker, researcher and an activist.
But there is another reason as to why Boochani should stay here rather than choose to go to America where his asylum application has already been approved. All Boochani wants out of life is a simple existence. “I want a simple place with a roof above my head that I can call my home,” he told me.
Boochani’s simple wish is a yearning for safety, security, and stability. But the current political environment in America with its open hostility towards immigrants and refugees is hardly a guarantee for that safety and security – especially when it is unlikely that Boochani will have the same full rights as an American citizen.
After Boochani visited Arthur’s Pass, a place whose mountains reminded him of his native Kurdistan, he said he had already fallen in love with New Zealand and its people.
I have no idea what Boochani will ultimately decide to do, but I know there are many of us who are asking him to stay in New Zealand – a request he said was hard to ignore. I guess Boochani would also be aware that by taking his friends’ advice to stay here, he would entangle himself in yet another web of asylum processes that he, understandably, has come to loathe.
One thing is for sure, if Boochani leaves, I will miss the many conversations we have had about life and the value of freedom. I hope he stays in New Zealand so more people can benefit from his diverse way of thinking and being.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.