Behrouz Boochani's NZ stay 'a good strategic move' - human rights lawyer

From Checkpoint, 5:36 pm on 17 December 2019

Refugee journalist Behrouz Boochani has revealed he is still in New Zealand despite his 30-day visa expiring over the weekend.

The award-winning author, a Kurdish Iranian who fled Iran for fear of persecution, had been detained by Australia on Manus Island until the centre closed in 2017. He remained in Papua New Guinea before being moved to Port Moresby, along with the other detainees, in September 2019.

He touched down in Auckland in mid-November for a book tour. Leading human rights lawyer Craig Tuck told Checkpoint it was "a good strategic move".

In November Boochani told media he had been accepted by the United States for resettlement, and was not seeking asylum in New Zealand at that time.

On Tuesday he did not tell Checkpoint whether he has now applied for asylum.

"Technically if you don't have a visa you're subject to be deported," Tuck said.

"It may well be the situation where an oral or written application [for asylum] is made."

Applying for asylum can be as simple as making a phone call to Immigration New Zealand.

"It's a fascinating situation because of course somebody can seek asylum anywhere… So [Boochani is] certainly not excluded from that, but I guess the question is, if he's got somewhere else to go, why does he need to come here?

"The American position could change in a heartbeat. It could change as the wind changes, as we've seen their global strategy move and shift depending on the way the wind's blowing or the political will at the time.

"There is a concern I would have thought that if you are caged in Papua New Guinea - and we're seeing thousands, possibly tens of thousands, caged asylum seekers in the US - is he swapping one cage for another even if he could get there?"

Boochani is entitled to apply for asylum in New Zealand, given the certificate he has and the procedures he has followed, Tuck said.

"And looking at his contribution, it's pretty significant and would be of great value to New Zealand in any event, I would have thought."

Boochani's arrival in New Zealand was widely publicised as he arrived for a book tour and was met at the airport by Amnesty International leaders and Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman.

That sort of publicity could possibly assist his application, Tuck said, "but it comes back to what is the nature of the test, and what is the threshold, and whether not… he's indicating or showing to New Zealand that he's got a contribution to make.

"He's landed in New Zealand, he's on New Zealand soil, he's entitled to make an application. Any argument that suggests that he potentially goes elsewhere – well he doesn't have nationality in any other country."

Even though Boochani has been accepted to apply for asylum in the US, Tuck said that could be dangerous.

"My view and submission would be that that could change quickly.

"Who knows what sort of situation he's going into, given the changing landscape [in the US]."

Tuck said Immigration NZ would be "incredibly naïve" if they did not consider the possibility Boochani could seek asylum in New Zealand.

He said he can see why Boochani might not want to go to the US.

"Once you've got to New Zealand and there's a potential to stay here, we have quite a different, in my view, a much kinder landscape.

"Much more welcoming and accommodating than the harsh reality of Australia and their detention camps and the US and their camps."

Tuck's advice for Boochani would be to stay in New Zealand. He said he's a talented man who could contribute a lot.

"I'm not sure what his actions have been to date, in relation to this but in general terms, this probably was quite a good strategic move."