Writer to give festival speech ‘from behind bars’

 

AN author whose groundbreaking account of harsh conditions and dwindling hope of refugees in offshore detention camps has generated literary and political interest is expected to draw huge audiences at the Byron Writers Festival this weekend.

But Iranian-Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani will not be at Byron Bay to enjoy the sunshine and camaraderie of writers and readers. He will be delivering his message from behind barbed wire and fencing on Manus Island.

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Boochani's account of survival amid despair will be live-streamed from Manus Island for a radio interview in front of an audience on Friday morning and again at 9am Sunday, when he addresses a session with writer and philosopher Omid Tofighian, who translated Boochani's book No Friend But The Mountains, and award-winning illustrator Alex Mankiewicz.

Boochani's novel, which won the 2018 Victorian Prize for Literature, is a prose-poetry account written from Manus Island, where he has been incarcerated since 2013 after being taken on by a naval vessel after the boat on which he was attempting to reach Australia capsized.

He was rescued by a cargo ship after being found adrift and handed over to Australian border security forces. He believed he was safe at last and his future would be bright.

But he and the other refugees had arrived four days after the Australian Government decided all "boat people'' would be sent to PNG's Manus Island or to Nauru.

More than 140 writers are participating across the three-day festival, held in the grounds at the Elements of Byron resort. The program includes sessions for children.

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Detainee and journalist Behrouz Boochani posted this image to his Twitter in 2017. Source: Twitter
Detainee and journalist Behrouz Boochani posted this image to his Twitter in 2017. Source: Twitter

The line-up also includes former prime minister Kevin Rudd, television journalist and commentator Leigh Sales and climate change writer Tim Flannery.

"The 2019 Byron Writers Festival program has been so enthusiastically embraced by locals and visitors alike and we can't wait to see it all unfold over the weekend," said festival director Edwina Johnson.

More than 200 volunteers would help deliver a packed program of 120 different sessions, as well as writing workshops.



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