A call to action: Behrouz Boochani's Manus Island prison narratives

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Digital technologies are enabling personal narratives of trauma to be used in new ways as political protest and resistance. In recent years, Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer and filmmaker, has produced a body of work to much acclaim from inside detention on Manus Island in Papua/New Guinea where he has been held at the direction of the Australian government. Originally a journalist, Boochani fled Iran for Australia in 2013 seeking political asylum after the pro-Kurdish magazine Werya (Varya) was raided by the Iranian military. He is the first point of contact for Australian and international journalists prevented by the Australian government from seeking information first-hand about conditions in the detention centres on Manus Island. Over the past few years, he has written regularly for diverse publications, including the Guardian, Huffington Post, the Financial Times, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Saturday Paper, smuggling out his work using tweets, texts, and emails. He is non-resident Visiting Scholar at the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre (SAPMiC) at the University of Sydney. Boochani writes poetry, has co-written a play, is co-creating a video installation with an Australian artist and writes songs – all of which attempt to resist the Kafkaesque world of systematic violence and abuse inside detention on Manus Island.

Of most relevance for this chapter, are his feature-length documentary and recently released, 400-odd-page “memoir”. Boochani’s documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time was first aired in 2017 and has since been shown in film festivals around the world. Made with Iranian filmmaker Arash Kamali Sarvestani, it was shot clandestinely by Boochani using a smuggled smartphone. More recently, his “memoir” No Friend but the Mountains (Pan Macmillan, 2018) was released. Boochani wrote the book via WhatsApp messages on a phone hidden in his mattress and sent to a translator in Australia. It details in a mixture of prose and poetry the conditions endured by the refugees detained on Manus Island.

In the tradition of testimonial literature, Behrouz Boochani’s body of work performs as non-violent resistance to government policy and as political protest on behalf of Australia’s so-called “boat people”, refugees and asylum seekers using people smugglers operating Indonesian fishing boats to traverse the Arafura Sea with the hope of settling in Australia. As a result, he has earned three human rights awards: the Amnesty International Australia 2017 Media Award, the Diaspora Symposium Social Justice Award, and the Liberty Victoria 2018 Empty Chair Award, as well as the Anna Politkovskaya Award for journalism. This paper examines Boochani’s work as it straddles the divide in various forms between memoir and protest, prioritising subjectivities to convey the multi-faceted impacts of indefinite, mandatory detention on the physical, psychological and emotional lives of refugees.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStill here
Subtitle of host publicationmemoirs of trauma, illness and loss
EditorsBunty Avieson, Fiona Giles, Sue Joseph
Place of PublicationNew York ; London
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780429201707
ISBN (Print)9780367193188
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameRoutledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Literature


  • Behrouz Boochani
  • Refugees
  • Prison Narratives
  • Memoir
  • Testminonial Memoir
  • No Friend but the Mountains
  • Trauma in Memoir


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