'We Exist And We Are Suffering': The TedX Speaker Who Couldn't Make It To The Stage
For the first time in TedX Sydney's 10-year history, one speaker couldn't appear on stage but gave a powerful address nonetheless.
Instead, Behrouz Boochani pre-recorded his talk to the Australian public in Port Moresby, before he was sent back under armed guard to Manus Island.
But that distance didn't stop the Kurdish-Iranian journalist and refugee's message from resonating beyond Sydney's International Convention Centre on Friday.
Boochani's face appeared intimately across five screens, his voice clear -- a far cry from the crackly phone lines journalists usually face to contact him.
"We are reduced to a simple picture. But we are human, we exist and we are suffering," he said.
Boochani has spent the last six years in detention on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island -- first in the Australian-run detention centre and now in an Australian-funded accommodation facility with other refugees.
"I have no choice but to make you uncomfortable, " he told the audience.
"This is my story -- a man who left his country because he didn't want to end up in prison ... a man who sought asylum but ended up in a prison for six years."
After years on the distant island, and with no prospect of resettlement in Australia, this novelist and journalist is intentional with his words.
"We found ourselves in a place that was worse than a prison," he said.
"We were deprived from having access to many basic things, including having a phone.
"It was not easy to communicate with the outside world. I didn't feel safe with the authorities and guards, which is why I worked under a fake name for more than two years."
In recent years, Boochani has become known from his words; his novel and articles -- written on a smuggled phone and sent from inside detention -- being his "act of resistance".
After establishing a global network of journalists, Boochani started using his real name.
"For me, writing and creating is a way of fighting to get my identity, humanity and dignity back in spite of a cruel system that is established to take anything that has meaning from us," he said.
But he said he continually struggles with the "language of journalism" that he sees as part of the power structures he is fighting against.
"How can I describe sick children living in exile in one of the worst prisons of the world?" he asked.
Since the passing of the medevac laws, more than 40 people have been transferred to Australia for urgent medical treatment from Manus Island and Nauru, in what emergency doctors and refugee activists are calling an "unprecedented medical crisis".
That includes those who have successfully applied through the medevac process, which allows people to be medically evacuated on the advice of two doctors.
Other critically ill people have been transferred by the Australian government following advocacy by the Medical Evacuation Response Group.
Coordinator Dr Sarah Townend said the situation has become critical, with a "spike" in the number of suicide attempts and self-harm reported in the days since the Federal election.
“We have been working rapidly, and around the clock, to ensure critically ill people are assessed by doctors for transfer as quickly as possible," Townend said.
"After almost six years, the demand for assistance with applications has been huge."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has maintained his government will repeal the medevac law, giving it complete control over who is brought to Australia for medical treatment.
Townend said while the bill gives doctors "a lifeline" to assess sick refugees, it "doesn’t diminish the responsibility of the Australian Government to look after the people in its care".
"The government has, and continues to have, the power to bring people to Australia for urgent medical care. They are in a position to do this more urgently than the medevac process allows for," she said.
Meanwhile, Boochani hopes the public will "closely" read and engage with his words.
"In the end, my wish is that people on Nauru and Manus reach their freedoms. Thank you."
And then, rousing applause, as the screen went black.
Featured image: TedX via Twitter