Boochani: Asylum seeker on Manus wins Australian literature prize

Iranian Kurd awarded $73,000 for his book written via text messages sent from offshore prison.

Behrouz Boochani
Boochani has been held on Manus Island for more than five years [Facebook]

A Kurdish asylum seeker has won one of the most important Australian literature prizes, the Victorian Prize for Literature.

However, Iranian Kurd Behrouz Boochani was unable to accept the award personally in Melbourne because he is being kept on Manus Island.

Boochani won the award, which comes with a monetary prize of 100,000 Australian dollars (approximately $73,000), for his book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. It was written in Farsi while he was held in the now-closed detention centre on the island.

It comprises of text messages sent mostly through WhatsApp to his translator.

The book also won the Non-Fiction Prize, worth 25,000 Australian dollars (approximately $18,000)


Boochani has been living on Manus Island since 2013 and, like all detainees, is not allowed to leave.

“It’s a paradoxical feeling,” said Boochani.

“I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see many innocent people suffering around me,” he told The Age daily. “Give us freedom. We have committed no crime, we are only seeking asylum.”

He fled Iran as he was in danger of being arrested by authorities over his journalism work.

Boochani attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia twice.

On the first attempt, the boat sank and Boochani was rescued by Indonesian fishermen. 

In July 2013, his boat, which held 75 asylum seekers, was intercepted by the Australian Navy and he was transferred to the Manus Island detention centre.

Manus is a territory belonging to Papua New Guinea but has been used by Canberra since 2013 as a place to send asylum seekers who try to reach Australia.

The practice has been denounced as contravening the human rights of the refugees and migrants detained there.

Many congratulated Boochani on Twitter but also criticised Australia’s “hypocrisy” and “cognitive dissonance”.

“I think it’s so great that Behrouz Boochani won the VPLA for nonfiction tonight, but I’m also struggling with the cognitive dissonance of a nation celebrating the story, the work, of a man we’re still torturing,” author Omar Sakr wrote on Twitter.

“[He] is still imprisoned, and kept stateless by us. We must free them.”

“Does anyone else see the jarring hypocrisy of a country that is applauding a literary achievement with one hand and torturing the author with the other?” another wrote.

Source: News Agencies