Manus Island refugee Boochani shares how writing helped him survive 'terrible violence' in detention centre

A journey across an ocean, a near-death drowning experience, imprisoned for over six years, a smuggled phone, an awarding-winning book, multiple deaths and most recently, multiple plane rides. Now, a taste of freedom in New Zealand.

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Behrouz Boochani tells his story of survival in an in-depth interview with Breakfast’s John Campbell. Source: Breakfast

Former Manus Island refugee Behrouz Boochani today shared with John Campbell his journey so far, and how his writing and artistic work helped him get through "terrible violence" on Manus Island.

Mr Boochani is in the country for Word, a literary event being held in Christchurch to talk about his book No Friend but the Mountains which he wrote on the island.

“I had a very long journey. I passed an ocean, I was drowning in ocean, then I was in a prison for more than six years. My journey from PNG to New Zealand was a long journey. Three airports In Port Moresby, in Philippines, in New Zealand,” said Mr Boochani.

“I witnessed many death, eight people died in Manus most because of medical violence,” he said.

“In Manus anytime you could die because of a small infection because of the violence from the guards towards you. We experienced terrible violence there.

“I survived through my artistic works and through my writing because it was an act of resistance in front of the system that was designed to take my identity, individuality and reduce me to only a number."

On the island, he said he was known only by that number - MEG45.

“They never called me by my name. It was an act of resistance that helped me to keep my dignity.

“I was working for two years. I exchanged my clothes with local people, and they sent me a phone so I started to communicate with the world."

He said he didn’t feel safe with the authorities, but eventually after two years he built up the courage to publish his work under his name.

“I did so much journalism, I think more than 100 opinion articles in Australia and internationally. Finally, I shifted my works to art and made the movie Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time. Actually, that movie reached Auckland I think it was two years ago. Then published this book."

When he was in Manus Island, Mr Boochani said he was imagining his freedom and what that looked like.

“I said when I be able to walk in streets just by myself, I will be a free man. So I did this here in Auckland and in Christchurch so yeah, it’s amazing."

While he remains in the country for his event next week, Mr Boochani said he isn’t looking at seeking asylum.

“I really love New Zealand and I feel good. Many people over the past few days stop me in the street they welcome me, they show kindness which is so valuable for me. It is opposite of what I experienced in Manus.

“Now I am here for the festival so I want to focus on this because I think it is important that I be able to share this story.

“Everything should be a proper process.”