All We Can't See

Dear Prime Minister,

We remember the Nauru files. The exhibition 'All We Can't See' is on in Sydney at the Yellow House Gallery until Feb 10th.

Step Repeat II , 2017. Acrylic, ink and gouache on board. Artist: Mark Whalen

Step Repeat II, 2017. Acrylic, ink and gouache on board. Artist: Mark Whalen

27 September 2014 | Risk rating: Information | Type of incident: Complaint |

“...when an asylum seeker slashed his neck, other rushed to his aid. They were stopped by Wilsons guards who stood in a circle around the hurt asylum seeker. They then started to tease the asylum seekers about their desire to go to Australia, and told them ‘you will never be let out of here’.”

Where art leads, politics follows.

All refugees in detention are political prisoners

Dear Prime Minister,

The John Butler Trio opened the Amphitheatre at this year's Woodford folk festival. Across the big stage, in view of tens of thousands of people, was the banner 'All refugees in detention are political prisoners.'

In her letter to The Age, Anne Walker writes that:

It was galling to watch and hear the Prime Minister ask us all to be mindful of the welfare of others in this, the “most successful multicultural nation on earth” while we have had people locked up on Manus and Nauru for years in torment and despair.
— Anne Walker, Carlton

And on one of those places of despair, Manus Island, the torment by Australia continues. Forty Australian guards, formerly employed by Wilson Security at the now-closed Manus RPC, have been  re-employed by the new 'security provider', Paladin, at the three refugee centres of ELTC, Hillside and West Haus. Many of these guards have been accused of violence towards the refugees and participated in the destruction of food, water and property in November. It is now more than four weeks since the refugees were forcibly moved from Lombrun to Lorengau, yet the buildings at Hillside and West Haus are still not complete and there is no reliable access to fresh water, food, services, allowances, medicine, medical care or support services.

Who are the 'others' whose welfare you ask us to be mindful of? Only others like us? Or the most vulnerable, who continue to suffer the most, on Manus and Nauru.

Freedom of movement is a human right

Dear Prime Minister,

Letter from Behrouz Boochani – co-director of Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time – to the High Commissioner of the United Kingdom in Australia

Her Excellency Menna Rawlings
High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Australia
3 September 2017

Your Excellency,

My name is Behrouz Boochani, I’m writing this letter from Manus prison camp which is run by the Australian Government in Papua New Guinea. I’m writing in regards to the 61st London International Film Festival. I am a film director, and my movie Chauka Please Tell Us The Time (made with co-odirector Arash Kamali Sarvestani) has been accepted for the festival. It will screen on 8th and 9th October. This is a great honour for any director and I would like to attend the festival screenings. My movie was also selected to be shown in the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year, where it had its world premiere, but the Australian Government did not allow me to attend. I am asking you to give me a visa to attend the London Film Festival. I have been here in this prison camp for more than four years, even though I have committed no crime, and I am kept here by the Australian Government who exiled me by force.

Yours faithfully,

Behrouz Boochani

CC: Mayor of London, The Right Honourable Sadiq Khan
PEN International
BFI London Film Festival
Amnesty International
Geoffrey Robertson QC
— BFI London Film Festival
BFI London Film Festival response to letter sent from Behrouz Boochani – co-director of Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time – to the High Commissioner of the United Kingdom in Australia

The BFI London Film Festival welcomes any filmmaker wishing to support their film in the Festival and fully supports human rights and freedom of speech. If Behrouz Boochani was free to travel, he would be welcome as a guest at the Festival, joining his co-director Arash Kamali Sarvestani who is attending to introduce the International Premiere of Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time and participate in a post-screening Q&A. CHAUKA is an exceptional documentary filmed inside the Manus Island detention centre first-hand by Boochani who is detained there. It reveals much about his own experience as well as that of other detainees. It also questions the impact of the detention centre on Manus Island itself, through testimony from members of the local community. It is brave, thoughtful and urgent filmmaking and has earned its selection in our Documentary Competition in a very strong year for documentaries.

Immigration and the plight of refugees are significant topics addressed by a number of films – both fiction and documentary – throughout the BFI London Film Festival programme this year. This is one of the most pressing issues of our time and the Festival programme interrogates and reflects that reality.

Clare Stewart
Festival Director
BFI London Film Festival
— Clare Stewart, Festival Director, BFI London Film Festival

Amnesty now for all asylums seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, for a peaceful and supported settlement in Australia, and for Behrouz Boochani to travel to the London Film Festival.

It's a crime you've committed in Australia's good name

Dear Prime Minister,

Today, 30/8/2017, Mostafa Azimitabar and Farhad Bandesh have released a song and video, written and filmed at Manus Island Detention Centre, where they have been imprisoned by Australia for more than four years. The video was premiered at the Queensland Poetry Festival.

It’s Moz from Manus Island detention center.
The reason that I’ve created the song is to bring attention to our plight. We have been left in a political limbo four for years now. The conditions are hellish and how they treat us is deplorable. I hope that people who are listening to my song will understand our desperation,frustration,and fear.
The song was shown at Queensland Poetry Festival By Writing Through Fences (Janet Galbraith, Jenell Quinsee) on Sunday at 11:30 am. 27/Aug/2017
— Moz, Manus Island

In the song, Moz sings:

'Help us keep our sanity
Remember our humanity
I am, you are
We are all the same.'

Give amnesty to all detainees on Manus Island and Nauru and bring them to safety and freedom now.

Silence Land. A poem by Mohammad Ali Maleki

Dear Prime Minister,

The peaceful protests continue on Manus. The children on Nauru still have never walked on grass, only poisonous gravel. Men on Manus are handcuffed and flown to Port Moresby. An elderly, sick Rohingya man was told he must sign papers to go back to Myanmar or he will not be given any water or food. In Myanmar the Burmese army are burning Rohingyas alive. Ronnie Knight, MP of Manus Island, tweets that Toll are going to build a new detention centre on Manus. PNG police arrest any refugees they find unless they are paid cash. Women on Nauru cannot get terminations for their pregnancies while their rapists go unpunished. You are Prime Minister. This is done in your name. This will be your legacy.

Mohammad Ali Maleki fears he is losing his mind now that he is in his fifth year in Manus hell. He writes:

Silence Land

I have doubts about my sanity:
not everyone can bear this much.
They stole all my feelings;
there’s no wisdom left in my mind.
I am just a walking dead man.
I am just a walking dead man.

I yelled for help so many times –
No one on this earth took my hand.
Now I see many mad things and imagine
how the world would look if it collapsed.

Perhaps it would be good for everything to return to the past;
for nothing to be seen on the earth or in the sky.
It would feel so good to be a child
again and go back to my mother’s womb.
For there to be no sign of me,
for me never to have gone crazy in this place.

What if the woollen jacket I am wearing unravels
and begins to fall apart?
Or the butterfly flies back to its cocoon,
or the autumn leaf grows green and returns
to its branch on that old tree?
What if the tree becomes a seed in the soil –
I sound crazy speaking this way!

It’s the outcome of being detained for four years
after seeking asylum on the sea.

What if that sea returned to its source
and flowed back to the river mouth?
If that river receded back up into its spring?
What if only the sun and the moon remained in the sky?
If I saw even the sun’s birth reversed,
watched it dissipate into space?
Witnessed the moon implode upon itself?

All things returning to their starting place…

How beautiful, to live in a colourless world,
everywhere silent and still.
The earth would be calm for a moment,
free of even one miscreant.

But what do you make of my vision –
am I sane or mad?
— Mohammad Ali Maleki trans. Monsoor Shostari ed. Michelle Seminara


Dear Prime Minister,

'Brother', a poem by Mohammad Ali Maleki
Brother, how quietly you abandoned us alone. 
You left us alone, flew from our side. 
You made us mourn from your death. 
You broke our hearts and left us alone. 
We all saw you hanging from your neck in the tree. 
How cruelly that tree resisted. 
Whenever I see that tree,
I want to cut it down at the roots.
You're gone and the sun has turned pale. 
The moon and stars have turned pale too. 
The sun, clouds and sky were above your head. 
All of them were witness to your death. 
The sky, sympathising with us, 
Turned the clouds into pieces and it rained on us. 
It's so hard to die in estrangement. 
We all died with your death in estrangement. 
Brother, we have died from estrangement in captivity. 
We were condemned to die five years ago in captivity. 
Brother, you were witness to the death of your friends in captivity. 
You died but our turn is on the way. 
You saw your dreams were burning. 
Death made a flame and burnt everything. 
Brother, while dying in that moment. 
Many came before your eyes in a moment. 
You were dying in that moment. 
You wanted your parents to be beside you at that moment. 
I wish I died for your dried lips. 
There was no one to give you water that moment. 
What were you thinking about at the last moment? 
Did you see your childhood in that moment? 
Tell me: do you still feel pain in your body? 
Do you still have pain in your neck? 
You were hanging from the neck that day. 
We saw in the photo your neck was broken that day. 
Did you see the death dance with your eyes?
Did you hear the dance of your voiceless shouts? 
Youth’s freshness has faded from your face. 
The freshness faded from your face. 
The freshness of youth faded from your face. 
How cruelly death was whipping you. 
Your shouts were in the air but we could not hear you. 
You suffered so much in your life. 
Death was the end of all your pain and suffering. 
Now the strong arms of the soil,
The soil is hugging your body.

It is many years since I last attended church, but Mohammad Ali Maleki's lines 'There was no one to give you water at that moment. What were you thinking about at the last moment.' remind me of the Gospel verses about Jesus on the cross:

'... My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Mark 15:34

yet there was not even a soldier with Hamed Shamshiripour to offer him a cloth soaked in vinegar to ease his dry mouth. Prime Minister, you claim to be a Christian. How often do you read the Bible? Did you know that the description of the mob before Pilate ('Crucify! Crucify!') describes Australia's attitude to the refugees? That PNG and Nauru perform the role of Simon the Cyrenian who is forced to carry the cross? And even in Mark 15:40: 'There were also women looking on afar off ...' as do the activists in Australia who struggle every day for justice for the refugees on Manus and Nauru.

What sick compulsion in Australian culture has driven us to play out this travesty of the crucifixion story? Are you Pilate?

Australia's kyriarchal system on Manus and Nauru

Dear Prime Minister,

In Behrouz Boochani's article titled 'A Kyriarchal System: New Colonial Experiments / New Colonial Resistance' he describes Manus RPC as a Kyriarchal system of systematic oppression rooted in colonial ideology. To protest against this system, which we Australians use to detain and torture refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, he directs much of his efforts to producing documentation and protest in the form of works of art: a play ('Manus'), a film ('Chauka, please Tell us the Time') and soon a book (to be published by Picador).

Prime Minister, Behrouz Boochani, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, Imran Mohammad, Mohammad Ali Maleki, Mr Eaten Fish and other refugees who have been imprisoned and tortured by Australia have created a legacy of documents which will ensure that Australia's illegality and cruelty will never be forgotten. Will it be your cowardice and inaction that is recorded in these documents? Or will you bring all refugees on Manus island and Nauru to Australia and end the nightmare of indefinite offshore detention?

All living creatures feel the meaning of freedom

Dear Prime Minister,

On 6 July 2017, Surena Mirzaei, a refugee illegally detained by Australia on Manus Island wrote:

Trying of caterpillar to come out of cocoon.
All living creatures feel the meaning of freedom.
All of them try to get it.
What about human?
Human has high level between living creatures.
Human has morality.
For which reason, for what logic , a human must be in detention?
— Surena Mirzaei

He accompanied his poem with this video:

Prime Minister, how do you answer?

Bring the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru here.

End offshore detention. Bring all detainees here.

Dear Prime Minister,

The film "Chauka please tell us the time" shows the torture of indefinite detention that is endured by the men Australia has imprisoned on Manus Island. This film, made by Behrouz Boochani and Arash Kamali Sarvestani, continues to be seen around the world, revealing Australia's cruelty, lies and illegal behaviour.

Close the camps and bring all detainees on Manus Island and Nauru to Australia now.

End offshore detention #330

Dear Prime Minister,

Today, 24th June 2017, I gave an artist talk at my exhibition 'Cast Away' in Perth. I described how I developed the installation of stitched paper vessels hanging in the gallery, where viewers can walk under and past little paper vessels and read the arrival stories written on them. I created a space where anyone in Australia can share how they come to be here: no hierarchy, no exclusion. My audience asked questions about Australia's offshore detention of asylum seekers. And once again, when I open a space for discussion either through reading aloud my letters to you, or my art practice, I learn more about how Australia has allowed such a terrible policy. The people I meet struggle to hear about what we are doing because it is more cruel and terrible than they can comprehend. They do not rise up in vocal protest (yet) because they cannot find words to express their horror and outrage. Or even before they register horror their self-protective mechanism kicks in and they desperately, automatically, try to minimise, to deny, to reframe so that they can spare themselves the pain of facing what they and all Australians are complicit in. 

My primary concern is always with the direct suffering we continue to inflict on the men, women and children on Manus Island and Nauru. But a second ill is that we, as perpetrators of torture, must lie to ourselves and blame the victims so we can cling to our idea of ourselves as a good people. Australia's policy of offshore detention damages its victims and damages Australia. End it now.

End offshore detention #327

Dear Prime Minister,

Congratulations to Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a refugee on Manus Island, and the team* behind The Messenger podcast, for winning the prestigious 2017 International Radio Program award and two gold medals in New York last week. He is another of the articulate, educated people we lock away indefinitely in offshore detention who has found a creative way to be

"a powerful advocate for those held in the arcane world of Australia’s offshore detention. He is a messenger, and his story is compelling."

Australia's crimes cannot be hidden, Prime Minister. Close the camps and bring them here.

* The Guardian, The Wheeler Centre, Behind the Wire

Chauka, Please Tell us the Time

Dear Prime Minister,

The film 'Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time' was presented at the Sydney Film Festival on the weekend. The director of the film, Arash Kamali Sarvestani, was at the premier, but his collaborator, journalist Behrouz Boochani who filmed the footage on his mobile phone, was not at the premier because he was not granted a visa to travel from Papua New Guinea to Australia. His visa application was refused because he is in PNG without a visa because Australia forcibly removed him to PNG, against the law of PNG and against his own wishes and rights.

This article is an interview with Arash Kamali Sarvestani and Behrouz Boochani. In it they describe the process of film making behind the bars of detention. They discuss the creative process and their collaboration. They critique Australia's re-colonisation of PNG:

The politicians in Australia, they’re basically using the locals, they’re using the identity of the locals, to persecute refugees and asylum seekers. They’re treating the locals as colonial subjects. They’re using them. They look at them as worthless, as people who just do their dirty work. Just give them some money and they’ll do whatever they want to the people that Australia doesn’t want.
— Arash Kamali Sarvestani -

And reveal the use of time as a means of torture:

At the same time the Chauka bird is an identity symbol, it tells the time. At the same time it’s a symbol of torture for the asylum seekers. Sure, if we investigate the history of torture and all elements used for torture throughout the history of civilization the most impactful, the most dreadful one, is the one that uses the element of time. Time has no meaning anymore. Time is being stretched out, extended to such an extent that it’s boundless. There’s no beginning and there’s no end.
— Arash Kamali Sarvestani -

There is also a message for you, Mr Turnbull:

What you see is that those kids are on the other side of the fence and, inside the prison, Behrouz is singing a Kurdish folk song. They’re dancing. How more human can you get than that? Could Malcolm Turnbull watch this scene and sleep comfortably at night? Malcolm Turnbull is antagonising the children, he’s antagonising the detainees, but they’re dancing. I think every Australian needs to feel a shame at this point.

Close the camps and bring them here.

End offshore detention #310

Dear Prime Minister

On behalf of the 310th man on Manus Island, the activism by Australians and refugees to end offshore detention continues. On April 26 I invited you to attend the public reading of my letters to you, titled 'Dear Prime Minister',  which took place at the Denmark Festival of Voice on June 3 and 4. I and a group of volunteers took six hours to read the 308 letters which I have been writing to you daily since 30 July 2016. The event was filmed and recorded. People drove down from Perth (450km away) to participate and to listen. The listeners heard voices of women and men, young and old, reading and often weeping. We heard the words of refugees read aloud. The letters form a narrative, as the horrors of Manus Island and Nauru are revealed, and as the conditions there worsen. We start to know some of the refugees as their words reappear. We are shocked by how young most of them are, and by how much they continue to endure.

Prime Minister, I am able to give you another chance to listen to my letters to you. The 'Dear Prime Minister' readings will be performed in Perth later this month. I hope to see you there. We will continue to protest and bear witness, until you close the camps and bring them here.

Dear Prime Minister program image DFoV.jpg

Invitation to a reading.

Dear Prime Minister,

Every year on the June long weekend in WA, Denmark Arts hosts the Denmark Festival of Voice. It is a long weekend of music and poetry where international, national, local and community performers, music makers, and enthusiastic audience members enjoy a weekend immersed in music and poetry, in the beautiful coastal town of Denmark on the edge of the karri forest.

I have been invited to prepare a spoken work to be performed over the weekend. Volunteers will take turns to read out loud every one of the letters I have written to you since July 2016. Approximately 300 letters, taking about 10 hours, many containing the words of the refugees and asylum seekers themselves. You are warmly invited to attend. I suggest you book your accommodation early, as the festival attracts visitors from far and wide. I look forward to seeing you in Denmark, 2-5 June, 2017.

"Why are we still here?"

Dear Prime Minister,

J. Luan is an artist and a refugee. He started painting in detention on Manus Island and is now a political prisoner under Australian Border Force Policies in Port Moresby. In his painting "Confusion" he asks:

Why are we still here after 3 years? We have done nothing wrong. Even after Court said it is illegal, still we are here.
— J. Luan,
'Confusion’ 40 x 50 cm, oil. ‘Why are we still here after 3 years? We have done nothing wrong. Even after Court said it is illegal, still we are here’ $800 to $1000

'Confusion’ 40 x 50 cm, oil. ‘Why are we still here after 3 years? We have done nothing wrong. Even after Court said it is illegal, still we are here’ $800 to $1000

End offshore detention #253

Dear Prime Minister,

On ABC radio news today you were reported as being "non-committal" when asked about what would happen to the detainees on Manus Island and Nauru. The Financial Review headlines you as "undecided on unwanted asylum seekers." You have had four years to decide. Four years of these detainees lives lost to torture and degradation.

Photo: Hesam Fetrati

Photo: Hesam Fetrati

In Behrouz Boochani and Arash Kamali Sarvestani's movie "Chauka please tell us the time" a Manusian mans says "It's so frustrating to hear that name Chauka being used for the purpose of abusing people, or torturing people, or threatening people. ... We took them here to care for them until they find such place where they can settle."

As Mr Sarvestani says, we Australian have abdicated responsibility for the refugees, and by our racism and your unforgivable indecision, Prime Minister, we victimise both Manusians and refugees.

End offshore detention #251

Dear Prime Minister,

Time Goes

Time goes, time goes.
I was alone inside your stomach
Time goes, time goes.
I was born and I was called my child
Time goes, time goes.

I was a little girl and I played a lot
Time goes, time goes
I was a girl who could help with housework
Time goes, time goes

I was a girl who could make mature decisions, according to my culture
Time goes, time goes
I had triumphant blessings from my grandmother
Time goes, time goes

I was traveling alone and left my loved ones
Time goes, time goes
I was caring more about my safety and education
Time goes, time goes
I was alone and needed more help
Time goes, time goes
I was in the middle of the sea.
No one could help me, except God
Time goes, time goes.

I was out of the water.
I thought I would start a new life full of joy.

Woe to the world.
I am in detention now.
I don’t know about my future
or when I will be free.
— Hani Abdile, from her book "I Will Rise"

Close the camps and bring them here.

End offshore detention #242

Dear Prime Minister,

In the forward to "They Cannot Take the Sky", Christos Tsiolkas quotes Hani (one of the contributors to the book)

I realised that freedom ... means to be free mentally and physically
— Hani

and he asks

Chained to policies that we all know in our hearts to be destructive and inhuman, can it be said that we Australians are truly free?
... think of what our country could be if [we] had not had such stupid laws
— Christos Tsiolkas

Why have you settled for such a diminished idea of our country, Prime Minister?

End offshore detention #239

Dear Prime Minister,

End offshore detention #232

Dear Prime Minister,

While the interminable nightmare of Australia's offshore detention regime torments the men, women and children trapped on Manus Island and Nauru and while it poisons Australia legally, politically and spiritually there are artists and activists striving to create new ways of celebrating the arrival of refugees and sharing their voices.

This is what we need, Prime Minster. Refugees and Australians are in this together and we need an end to the nightmare. We need the people like the Harmony Art Collective and their project of creating large-scale murals with newly arrived migrants and refugees to restore hope and community.

Close the camps and bring them here.