Yes. The time has come for an amnesty. An act of humanity. This recent Age editorial is eloquent, succinct, and just. The suffering of innocents must end. The detention of people who have committed no crimes, must stop. This torture, driving people to utter despair, must no longer be committed in our name. This injustice must be put right. It is time to set the refugees free.
PEN Melbourne has for many years argued for a more humane and compassionate policy for asylum seekers and has advocated for refugees in detention here. Both PEN Melbourne and PEN Sydney have called for the protection of asylum seekers making their way to our shores, those seeking refuge from persecution, war, famine and devastation taking place in their own communities. PEN has been involved with the broader issue of refugees and asylum seekers, regularly publishing articles in the PEN Quarterly, sharing writing by asylum seekers, and joining advocates Australia-wide in endorsing rallies and providing statements of support. The plight of asylum seekers and refugees is an issue that concerns PEN as a human rights organisation, with a special understanding of the effects of detention and imprisonment, and of the plight of displaced peoples. We will continue to argue the plight of asylum seekers incarcerated in brutal conditions on Manus Island and Nauru, and on Christmas Island and a range of onshore detention centres.
In late 2015 PEN International launched a campaign on behalf of Kurdish Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani, who fled the threat of arrest and interrogation in Iran in May 2013. After attempts to reach Australia seeking asylum, he ended up on Christmas Island where he was detained and later transferred to Manus Island Immigration Detention Centre where he has been held since August 2013. During his time on Manus Island Mr Boochani has continued to write about the human rights abuses he and hundreds of other men experience daily. He passes much of this information to Australian and international journalists. He also continues to write about Kurdistan, its culture, politics and language. Mr Boochani’s articles are published in Kurdish newspapers and online journals. Mr Boochani is an Honorary Member of PEN Melbourne.
In 2016, we will continue our campaign on his behalf and on behalf of all incarcerated asylum seekers, wrongly deprived of their freedom. We will continue to press the authorities, write letters, petition local politicians. We will continue to fight alongside other international advocates, such as Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. There are some signs that a gap is opening, talk of behind the scenes talk regarding how to solve the ‘problem.’ We will continue to apply pressure to widen the gap, and encourage media such as the Fairfax press, to continue the fight.
People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.