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