No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I wasn’t really sure what I thought about this book until I finished it. This book was certainly not an easy read; but, it is a necessary read.
Behrouz Boochani, a Kurd originally from Iran, has been detained on Manus Island off the coast of Australia since 2013. Six years, without any indication of when he may be freed.
He is neither a refugee nor a migrant. He is neither here nor there, but trapped in legal limbo, imprisoned without a charge or end date in sight. His only crime was seeking refuge from a life largely untenable in his homeland. No trial, no hearing, no consideration preceded his detention.
He is sadly not alone.
This book does not provide a justification for why he left Iran, risking his life along the route and now ‘living’ in conditions we can only imagine because of his writing. He dwells not on why he left Iran, but on the ‘life’ he and those like him now live day in and day out on Manus. His reasons for seeking refuge are not the issue; the conditions under which he and others like him must exist are.
What makes this work even more impressive is that he wrote it entirely on a mobile phone from Manus Island.
As we in the West demonise those who seek refuge, we justify the conditions under which we detain them when the flee unimaginable suffering and conditions of systemic violence. We do not consider how bad it must be if individuals will leave their homes with only what they wear or what they can carry in order to seek something better. Nor do we consider the toil of confinement or the inhumanity of how we discuss and treat those individuals seeking refuge when they exist in limbo. As discussions about the detention of children reach a fevered pitch in the US, Boochani’s work provides not just the meaning of indefinite detention on the psyche of an adult man, but a critical examination of it from inside. And, it leaves me shuddering. Imagine, then, what such confinement and conditions mean to a child, separated from their parents and left to fend for themselves or rely on other children for their care.
This work is important. And, we should all be shamed by it so long as we allow such practices to continue, regardless of country of origin or country of destination or country of detention.