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Christchurch prepares a warm welcome for Behrouz Boochani

Christchurch prepares a warm welcome for globally-recognised Manus Island detainee, Behrouz Boochani

WORD Christchurch, Christchurch’s Mayor and representatives of Ngāi Tahu will gather at the city’s Airport tomorrow morning to welcome a multi award-winning international author who has arrived in New Zealand.

Behrouz Boochani spent the last six years detained by Australian authorities in Papua New Guinea. This is the first time he has been granted permission to leave the country.

Mr Boochani is a Kurdish writer, film maker and refugee who wrote an award-winning book, No Friend but the Mountains, on a smartphone app (WhatsApp) while held at the Australian government’s infamous Manus Island detention centre. His documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, which Mr Boochani shot on his mobile phone, has been shown at numerous international film festivals, including in Auckland.

Mr Boochani will speak at a special event, hosted by WORD Christchurch, on 29 November 2019.

He will be formally welcomed to Christchurch at the city’s airport at 0730 Friday, 15 November 2019.

Mr Boochani will be flying into the city with WORD Christchurch programme director Rachael King, Amnesty International executive director Meg de Ronde and a representative of New Zealand’s refugee community, Golriz Ghahraman.

On arrival, members of Ngāi Tahu will karanga Mr Boochani onto their land and present him with a pounamu (greenstone). Upoko Te Maire Tau and Mayor Lianne Dalziel will officially welcome him to the city.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel was New Zealand’s Immigration Minister in 2001 when the country welcomed 131 refugees from the Tampa vessel. Mayor Dalziel says she was deeply moved by Mr Boochani’s story.

“His is an extraordinarily important voice in speaking to the reality of people who are driven from their country of birth in circumstances we can only imagine. We all need to start sharing stories like these – most New Zealanders, who do not have a refugee background, have no comprehension of what it is like to risk your life for freedom,” says Mayor Dalziel.

Mr Boochani is looking forward to arriving in Christchurch. Before he left Papua New Guinea, he provided a statement to WORD Christchurch.

“Christchurch is a city that has already educated the world by leading through kindness and humanity in response to the terrorist attacks earlier this year. I am very grateful that I have been welcomed by this city and have this opportunity to share ideas.”

“Christchurch already proves that dividing society is a dangerous threat to unity and democracy. I will be in New Zealand while still more than 200 people remain in Port Moresby and 200 in Nauru.”

“Among these people there are 50 innocent people who remain indefinitely detained at Bomana prison. I am here to warn against this kind of system, which is designed to deter refugees from seeking asylum and ultimately has caused grave harm and torture. I am here to ask New Zealand the government to take a leadership and allow those who remain in PNG and Nauru to find safety,” says Behrouz Boochani.

Rachael King says the invitation was in keeping with WORD Christchurch’s mission to bring the best writers and speakers to the city to celebrate literature and provoke discussion.

WORD worked with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, which intercedes on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers, who facilitated Mr Boochani’s departure and helped secure a visa for the event. Amnesty International acted as a sponsor for the visa application.

“It’s been months in the planning and we’re delighted to finally be in a position to welcome Behrouz. His story is powerful, his resilience is extraordinary, and his words have moved and rallied people around the world. That his book has brought him here is testament to the power of literature as an agent for change,” says Rachael King.


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