Kurdish-Iranian journalist and refugee advocate, Behrouz Boochani, has called for a royal commission into Australia’s detention of refugees, saying Australians have a right to know about the conditions experienced by asylum seekers.
Boochani spent six years in Australian detention centres before he was permanently resettled in New Zealand in 2020.
“The people of Australia have this right to know what the government – and of course, I’m talking about both parties – have done in offshore and onshore [detention centres],” he said.
“Fourteen people have been killed on Manus Island and Nauru. Hundreds of people have been damaged”.
Speaking at Parliament House on Tuesday, Boochani criticised a decade of inaction and the ongoing expenses involved in offshore detention.
He called out a contract worth $420 million to manage the Nauru detention centre and its 70 refugees, as worthy of scrutiny.
The contract has been issued to a private prison operator, Management and Training Corporation, despite accusations of negligence and human rights violations in the United States.
Greens senator, Nick McKim, called Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers “psychological torture” and confirmed the party’s “strong support” for a royal commission.
“The Greens have been calling for a royal commission into immigration detention, both offshore and onshore, for many years,” he said.
“It is critical that we expose the corruption, and it is critical that we expose the rampant human rights abuses that have led Australia from an international position of being seen as one of the great defenders of human rights around the world, to an utter pariah in terms of how we treat refugees.”
While at Parliament House, Boochani took aim at Opposition Leader Peter Dutton for remarks he made during his previous tenure as Minister for Home Affairs.
“He said that I will never ever come to Australia, and I would really like to say that he’ll never ever become the Prime Minister of Australia,” he said.
“The reason I say that is because this man and his party [have] created a tragedy, and they have tried to humiliate us.”
Boochani also took the opportunity to address claims that asylum seekers want to use New Zealand as a “backdoor” into Australia.
“That is wrong,” he said.
“In Manus Island, we didn’t fight to come to Australia. We were fighting, and we are fighting, [for] you to let us go.”
Boochani used his address at Parliament House to also back a Greens bill to evacuate the 150 refugees remaining in offshore detention in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru.
He said Australia can no longer deny the damaging impacts of their immigration policies and urged the government to “be brave” in supporting the bill.
“The reason I say be brave is because the Labor party always have been defensive about refugee policy,” he said.
“It’s very important that Labor trusts itself and do the right thing.”
Both Boochani and Greens senator, Nick McKim, drew comparisons between the bill and the Medevac amendment Labor supported while in Opposition, which allowed refugees detained offshore to be brought to Australia for medical treatment.
“[Labor] told Australia that they were supporting [Medevac] because it was the right thing to do, because we had a moral obligation to the people who were in offshore detention to make sure they got the medical treatment they needed,” McKim said.
He said the bill was “absolutely in the spirit” of the Medevac amendment and Labor’s failure to support the evacuation of refugees from PNG and Nauru would suggest previous claims of care for asylum seekers were “rank politics”.
“That’s the test for the Labor party and I urge them to support our bill and finally help us to write an end to one of the darkest, bloodiest, and foulest chapters in Australia’s story: the chapter of offshore detention,” he said.
“It’s time to bring an end to this dark chapter and write a new beginning.”
Independent MP, Zoe Daniel, confirmed her support for a royal commission, labelling offshore detention an "inhumane way of managing refugees".
"I accept [Labor's] position that they will continue [offshore detention], however, you cannot hold people in offshore detention indefinitely, at vast cost to the Australian people, without providing a third country solution," she said.
"While the government's promise to end the limbo in which refugees are placed in this country, is welcome, their lack of commitment to a timeframe is unsatisfactory."
Daniel said she believes the government has "good intentions" but joins those urging action.
"It's been eight months now since the election, so hopefully this kind of conversation precipitates some action," she said.
"What we've created on a humanitarian front in regard to offshore detention, and indeed hotel detention, in this country is abhorrent."
Daniel indicated her support for the Greens' bill to evacuate PNG and Nauru "in principle".
It is unclear whether Labor will support the bill.
Following Boochani’s address at Parliament House, Labor – with the support of the Opposition – rushed through legislation to reauthorise Nauru as a regional processing country.
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