SYDNEY – A refugee held in a remote Pacific detention center has won Australia’s top literature prize with his debut book, which he wrote on his mobile phone and delivered one chapter at a time via WhatsApp.
Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian held in an Australian-run camp on a Papua New Guinea island, won the Victorian Prize for literature, worth 100,000 Australian dollars ($72,390), on Thursday with his book “No Friends but the Mountains.”
Boochani, who has been held in the Manus Island camp since shortly after he was plucked off a refugee boat on its way to Australia six years ago, said he hoped the prize would focus attention on the plight of more than 1,000 people in Australia’s off-shore camps.
“I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see many innocent people suffering around me,” Boochani told Reuters in an exchange of text messages.
Boochani has been a prominent critic of the treatment of people under Australia’s hard-line immigration policy.
Asylum-seekers intercepted at sea are sent for “processing” to three camps in PNG and one on the South Pacific island of Nauru, where many have languished for years. They are not allowed to set foot in Australia.
Boochani said one of his biggest fears when he was writing the book was that his telephone would be confiscated by camp guards.
“I was worried that if they attacked my room they would take my property,” he said.
He wrote the book in his native Farsi and sent it via the WhatsApp messaging service to a translator in Australia.
The award was announced on Thursday at a ceremony in Australia, a country Boochani has been banned from ever visiting.
“It brings enormous shame to the Australian government,” Boochani said of the policy responsible for his plight.