Boochani's next move: A love story

Ben McKay
"In New Zealand I'm welcomed by people. I've experienced kindness," Behrouz Boochani says

While walking on the streets of Christchurch, Behrouz Boochani is often stopped.

Most just want to shake his hand and offer a simple greeting.

"Many people, when they see me in the street, they just say 'welcome'," he tells AAP.

"One man, he said, 'are you the man I saw on television?'

"I said 'maybe' and he gave me $100. I couldn't refuse it. He just put it in my hand."

Pausing to reflect on his welcome to New Zealand, where the Kurdish-Iranian refugee is visiting to speak at a Word Christchurch writer's festival event, he is drawn back to his six years of incarceration.

"What's happened for me, my experience in New Zealand, it is exactly the opposite of what I experienced on Manus Island," he said.

"In Manus I experienced violence. Cruelty. Humiliation.

"In New Zealand I'm welcomed by people. I've experienced kindness.

"Many people have stopped in the the streets and they they to show their kindness."

Boochani's story, as the beacon of humanity to defy Australia's offshore detention centre, has become understood in New Zealand.

Away from Australia's vexed politics of border control, locals just want to give the author a break.

"And everyone asks me to stay," he said.

Boochani's future has been the central question since he left Papua New Guinea earlier this month.

Officially, he is on a one-month visit visa, granted by New Zealand, which expects him to board his return flight in a fortnight's time.

Declaring himself a free man upon arrival, it seems likely that Boochani will seek asylum rather than return.

This is the only question he won't answer over two coffees on a warm Christchurch morning.

The 36-year-old says he isn't sure where he'll be - but he knows what he wants to do.

Eschewing his previous tag as a journalist, Boochani says he'd like to continue writing opinion pieces but his next major pursuit will be literary.

"I'm a hard worker. I work a lot and still I am working," he said.

"I want to work on a novel.

"I'm thinking about it. I think it will be about love. Fiction. A story ... but relating to my experiences in Manus.

"I have not started yet. I'm not in a hurry. I don't have to force myself to start to work. With any form of art, you need space."

Space is a paradoxical concept for Boochani.

Finally free of the constraints of Manus Island, and without the dangers of Port Moresby, the 36-year-old is luxuriating in Christchurch's parks and streets - even if he is stopped often by locals.

Boochani also has no space in his schedule: he is a man in demand.

He walks with a cigarette in one hand and his phone in the other, with dozens of messages left unread.

His calendar is a beastly thing; on the day of his sold-out event for Word Christchurch, he'll wake at 5am to Skype in an event in Italy.

He feels obliged to meet with refugee workers and migrant communities - and to continue his advocacy for the men still remaining in Papua New Guinea.

He has other events in Wellington and Auckland next week, and a cameraman trailing his movements.

"I am so tired," he said.

"My body has been damaged, physically damaged.

"Of course, I am carrying many pictures of Manus, memories of Manus.

"I have witnessed many deaths, suicides. That is so hard. I'm naturally traumatised. But me, I'm fine. I need some time to pass this and digest this, just settle down."

Christchurch, with a reputation for welcoming refugees, seems a fitting setting for Boochani's recuperation.

The city's mayor, Lianne Dalziel, was immigration minister under Helen Clark when the New Zealand Government accepted more than 100 asylum seekers rejected by Australia in the Tampa affair of 2001.

In spare moments, Boochani has ventured to nearby hills that he says remind him of Kurdistan.

"When I go to the mountains and I feel the breeze, I feel free," he said.

"Freedom for me is simple things. That we'd have a coffee, and just talk.

"It's when you lie down on the lawn in the park.

"When you're driving. When you are sleeping at peace.

"Christchurch is happy for me and I'm happy that the first place I'm speaking with the world is Christchurch."