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Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani to become Visiting Professor at Birkbeck

The Kurdish writer, journalist and activist will participate in events at the School of Law.

The School of Law will welcome Behrouz Boochani, the Kurdish writer, journalist and activist currently detained by the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments on Manus Island, as a Visiting Professor from September, 2019. This is his first appointment at a European university. He already holds two visiting professorships at Australian institutions.

For six years, Boochani has used a smuggled mobile telephone to document the lives of asylum seekers and refugees detained on Manus Island under the controversial Australian migration policy which has sent thousands of refugees to offshore processing and detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, in an attempt to deter people from entering Australia by boat.

Boochani’s work has been published in The Guardian, Huffington Post, The Financial Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. His book, No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (Picador 2018) and films have won numerous awards and accolades. 

Material by Boochani is already required reading on Birkbeck law courses, and his work on state violence and human survival and resistance, focusing in particular on immigration detention and Pacific Ocean geopolitics is of direct relevance to much of the research being carried out in Birkbeck’s Centre for Research on Race and Law and Centre on Law and the Humanities.

Professor Stewart Motha, Dean of the School of Law, said: “During his internment on Manus Island, Mr Boochani has survived great hardship and humiliation to become the most internationally recognised and respected voice of prisoners in the Australian ‘gulag archipelago’. His book No Friend But The Mountains gives us an intimate and deeply insightful account of the degradation and suffering that arises from being used as a human weapon to protect the Australian border. It offers compelling critiques of geopolitical norms of bounded space and national belonging, and in doing so contributes to multiple fields of study. I have personally seen the extraordinary educational and transformative power of his work when discussing it with students. My colleagues and I very much look forward to building further links with Mr Boochani. We urge the Australian Government to end its cruel and degrading treatment of refugees”. 

Academics at Birkbeck Law School plan to build on the current inclusion of Boochani’s work in undergraduate and postgraduate curricula. Through Skype, he will participate in research and public engagement symposia on the legality and politics of immigration detention, the first of which will be the UK launch of Boochani’s No Friend But The Mountains in Spring 2020. These events will be hosted by the Centre for Research on Race and Law. Its co-directors, Dr Nadine El-Enany and Dr Sarah Keenan said: “Behrouz Boochani is a fearless, innovative writer whose work on migration and colonialism in the southern Pacific offers field-changing insights for scholars across a range of disciplines. We are hugely inspired by Mr. Boochani’s work and it is an honour for us to welcome him to the Law School and the Centre for Research on Race and law. We very much look forward to working with Mr. Boochani and continuing the fight to end Australia’s systematic torture of refugees.”

Mr Boochani welcomed his appointment as a Visiting Professor at Birkbeck, and said: “I have been struggling to write for years against this cruel system which I believe is a form of modern slavery and rooted in colonialism. My aim has always been to expose this inhumane exile policy from different angles and to fight for change. Over six years I have been able to draw international attention to these hidden prisons and I ask academics and researchers to work together to expose these horrific prison camps. I thank Birkbeck, University of London for my new role as visiting professor; this is a significant form of recognition and support for my work, and it creates more opportunities for deep analysis of the border-industrial complex. This is the beginning of long term collaborative action and research on Australia's exile policy and related issues."

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