An Asylum-Seeker Wrote A Book By Phone Texts From Manus Island Detention Behrouz Boochani has lived in detention on Manus for five years. He tells NPR about the book he wrote using WhatsApp that tells the story of his failed attempt to flee Iran for asylum in Australia.
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An Asylum-Seeker Wrote A Book By Phone Texts From Manus Island Detention

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An Asylum-Seeker Wrote A Book By Phone Texts From Manus Island Detention

An Asylum-Seeker Wrote A Book By Phone Texts From Manus Island Detention

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani fled Iran fearing for his safety. He wrote for a pro-Kurdish magazine that was raided by the Iranian military. So he went to Indonesia, and from there, he got on a boat to Australia. He wanted to seek political asylum. But the Australian Navy intercepted the boat, and he and others were detained. Boochani was sent to remote Manus Island, which is a part of Papua New Guinea. That's where we reached him by phone.

BEHROUZ BOOCHANI: The Australian government calls this place a camp or offshore processing center, but for us it's a prison.

KING: Australia's controversial policy of picking up refugees at sea and sending them to remote islands has left hundreds of people like Boochani detained indefinitely. He's documented his five years on Manus Island through articles and even a documentary released last year using only his phone. Now he's written a book, titled, "No Friend But The Mountains." He wrote the whole book using the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp.

BOOCHANI: Because I was scared from the authorities. Any time, they could come and take my paper. So that's why I wrote this book on the phone and sent it out bit by bit.

KING: Your book is 400 pages. Were you texting a page at a time, a paragraph at a time?

BOOCHANI: So WhatsApp was like my notebook. Some nights, I could write two pages or one page and send it out to my translator. So my translator put them together in PDF and sent it back to me. So it was a long process, and a very hard process.

KING: So I understand that you don't have your book there in front of you so I'm going to read a bit of your book, an English language version. You write about Manus Island after it rains. You write about the flowers that look like chamomile, (reading) dancing incessantly, breathing heavily, gasping as though in love with the cool ocean breeze. I love those flowers. A zeal for resistance. A tremendous will for life bursting out from the coils and curves of the stems.

Behrouz, you make Manus Island sound beautiful. And, I'm wondering, in a book that is about being trapped on this island, what went into the thinking to make it sound so lovely?

BOOCHANI: I was able to survive in this harsh prison because of nature. Manus Island is a very beautiful island. And you know, I came from Kurdistan. Kurdistan land is very beautiful land. And I grew up on nature, and I think I could survive because of nature.

KING: Boochani doesn't know who will read his book, and he says he doesn't care how much money it makes. He has no use for a lot of money on the island. And so he is stuck, unable to move forward, unable to go home.

BOOCHANI: If I didn't have a strong reason, I wouldn't stay here for five years.

KING: No. Has there been any movement in your case to get off of Manus Island? Do you have any hope that you will soon leave?

BOOCHANI: Yeah. Actually, in the past few months, American government made a deal with Australia so they could accept some of the refugees from here. About one hundred people left Manus and they went to America. We all hope that finally after five years we get freedom in a place like America or other countries.

KING: He is effectively pinning his hopes on the United States. Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian journalist. He's been detained on Manus Island and is the author of "No Friend But The Mountains."

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