Refugee Detained in Manus Camp Wins Australian Literary Prize
Behrouz Boochani
Behrouz Boochani(Photo: CNN)

Refugee Detained in Manus Camp Wins Australian Literary Prize

Behrouz Boochani, winner of two of Australia's richest literary prizes, could not attend the ceremony on 31 January as he was detained on the island of Manus since 2013.

Boochani could not attend Thursday's ceremony for the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, where he won both the Victorian Prize for Literature the Non-Fiction Prize for his book No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. The prize is worth around $7,200.

Australia detained the Kurdish-Iranian journalist for attempting to enter Australia without a valid visa in 2013. Boochani is among 700 refugees who remain captive in camps on Manus, a remote island in the north of Papua New Guinea

While detained, Boochani used his phone to write his award-winning book.

He sent publisher Picador Australia the transcript bit by bit via Whatsapp messages.

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"WhatsApp is like my office," he told CNN, "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. I was worried I might lose my writing, so it was better for me to write it and just send it out."

CNN reported that the award committee referred to the book as a "voice of witness, an act of survival. A lyric first-hand account. A cry of resistance. A vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile."

The judges report read, “Boochani has produced a stunning work of art and critical theory which evades simple description. At its heart, though, it is a detailed critical study and description of what Boochani terms 'Manus Prison Theory'... (He) provides a new understanding both of Australia's actions and of Australia itself."

“Distinctive narrative formations are used, from critical analysis to thick description to poetry to dystopian surrealism. The writing is beautiful and precise, blending literary traditions emanating from across the world, but particularly from within Kurdish practices.”
the report added.

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Speaking to the BBC on his win, Boochani said, “In some ways I am very happy because we are able to get attention to this plight and you know many people have become aware of this situation, which is great... But on the other side I feel that I don't have the right to have celebration – because I have many friends here who are suffering in this place.”

"[The] first thing for us is to get freedom and get off from this island and start a new life."

Boochani wrote for CNN last year, lamenting, “We are forgotten people, discarded on forgotten islands.” He continues, “We are victims of what I have defined as state-sanctioned hostage-taking.”

Australia justified what Boochani called its “ruthless political approach” to border protection as necessary to avoid deaths at sea by people smugglers. Their police maintains that anyone – even genuine refugees – who arrives in Australian waters by boat are to be sent to offshore processing centres. They are detained and told they won’t ever be settled on the mainland.

(With inputs from CNN, BBC)

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