The journalist fled Iran for Australia in 2013, and was sent to a detention centre on Manus Island, where he has been held ever since. His dispatches for the Guardian reveal the true horror of conditions at the Papua New Guinea camp
In 2013, the journalist Behrouz Boochani, an ethnic Kurd, fled Iran after several of his colleagues were arrested. The decisions he took then have defined his life and in turn led to him becoming the essential witness to Australias hardline refugee policy.
Boochani travelled through south-east Asia and then by boat to Christmas Island, an Australian territory closer to Indonesia. From there he was deported to Manus Island, a remote part of Papua New Guinea (PNG), where he has been held ever since.
Triggered by outcries over people smuggling, contentious arrivals and boat sinkings, Australias policy developed by both rightwing Coalition and Labor governments is that while it will admit refugees, it will not take any that come by sea. It is not because they are bad people, the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, told Donald Trump in a leaked phone call. It is because, in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product. So we said, if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Nobel prize-winning genius, we will not let you in.
The human cost is nearly 2,000 people detained on Manus and the tiny island nation of Nauru. Most have been formally recognised as refugees, but live either in processing centres or in the community, unable to leave the islands. The cruelty is largely tolerated, indeed embraced, by politicians in Canberra because it is seen as a deterrent. But detention is expensive A$10bn (5.6bn) since 2013 and many experts believe the naval policing operation in the Pacific has had more of an impact. The UN, doctors, human rights groups and reporting by media including the Guardian have made detention a public relations problem.
Australian journalists have largely been barred from Manus and Nauru, and since he began contributing to the Guardian in 2016, Boochani has offered the most visible, trusted testimony. This year he was honoured with an Amnesty International award. The film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time was shot inside the Manus centre on a mobile phone by Boochani and shown at the London and Sydney film festivals. He is writing an autobiographical novel.
As the Australian and PNG authorities stepped up their plan to disperse the refugees from Manus into smaller, less secure accommodation by 31 October, Guardian Australia asked Boochani to keep a diary alongside his opinion articles; extracts from both are published here. Boochanis English is good but his writing is translated from Farsi by Omid Tofighian from Sydney University. Boochani has limited access to email and electricity. Sometimes he is simply too hungry to file.
His courage over the four years of his internment in the face of the horror of Manus a hell of repression, cruelty and violence has been of the highest order, the Booker-prize-winning Australian writer Richard Flanagan wrote last month. Behrouz Boochani kept on smuggling out his messages of despair in the hope we would listen. Its time we did.
Will Woodward, deputy editor, Guardian Australia