Behrouz Boochani overstays NZ visa

Wellington: Behrouz Boochani, the refugee who wrote an award-winning book while being held in detention, has overstayed his visa in New Zealand, according to at least one official and the man's lawyer, in a move that could fuel diplomatic tensions with Australia.

Boochani travelled from Papua New Guinea in November on a temporary one-month visa to speak about his book at a literary festival.

Dr Graham Thom, of Amnesty International Australia, with refugee Behrouz Boochani on his first full day of freedom in Christchurch.

The book details the six years he spent held against his will at Australia's notorious offshore detention camp on PNG's Manus Island.

Ben Lomai, a lawyer in PNG who has been acting for Boochani and hundreds of other refugees, told The Associated Press this week that Boochani had not returned to PNG.

He said Boochani would be put back in detention if he did return.

"The opportunity for his future would be very bleak," Lomai said.

A New Zealand government official, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the situation but was in a position to know, told the AP Boochani had remained in Christchurch after his visa expired.

Boochani has kept a low profile since his November 29 speaking engagement at the Word Christchurch festival and has not publicly stated his plans. Many people assume he will seek asylum in New Zealand.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has vowed that Boochani will never be allowed to enter Australia, even if New Zealand ends up granting him asylum. That would create an unusual situation, because typically New Zealanders and Australians are free to live and work in both countries under a mutual agreement.

A statement from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office to the AP appeared to add further confirmation that Boochani remains in New Zealand.

The statement said the Prime Minister did not believe that Boochani remaining in the country would cause any problems for New Zealand's close relationship with Australia. Her office referred further questions to immigration officials.

Greg Patchell, the head of Immigration New Zealand, said the agency couldn't comment on Boochani's visa status due to legal and privacy reasons.

Boochani could not be immediately reached for this story.

An ethnic Kurd and journalist, the 36-year-old Boochani fled from Iran, eventually making his way by boat to Australia's Christmas Island.

On Manus, Boochani helped shine a light on the plight of hundreds of asylum seekers by writing about his experiences on a smuggled phone and posting to social media.

He documented unsanitary conditions, hunger strikes and violence, as well as deaths caused by medical neglect and suicide.

Called No Friend But the Mountains, the book won this year's prestigious Victorian Prize for Literature.


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