Australia’s richest literary prize has been won by an asylum seeker locked up in a remote facility in Papua New Guinea. Kurdish Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani sought refuge in Australia but instead was sent to the country’s infamous detention centre on Manus Island. Over the next five years he wrote the book No Friend But The Mountains one text message at a time.
"I did not write on paper because at that time the guards each week or each month would attack our room and search our property,” he explained. “I was worried I might lose my writing, so it was better for me to write it and just send it out." Now the book, an account of his time on the island, has won the Victorian Prize for Literature, worth A$100,000.
While other authors were celebrating the awards in Melbourne, Boochani remained behind bars, but told the BBC he was glad the refugees’ plight would now be spotlighted. Australia has a stringent policy on any asylum seekers who arrive by boat, refusing them entry under any circumstances.
Commenting on Boochani’s story on his Facebook, UCT writer and lecturer Ron Irwin commented dryly: “So I really do not want to hear about how difficult you are finding it to finish your creative dissertations, #UCT people…”