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Asylum seeker stuck in detention wins Australia’s most prestigious literary prize

No Friend but the Mountains-- an award-winning book by asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani
No Friend but the Mountains-- an award-winning book by asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani Picador

A Kurdish Iranian asylum seeker stuck in an Australian offshore detention center in Papua New Guinea has just won Australia’s highest literary prize for non-fiction and the top literary Victorian prize.


Behrouz Boochani, who has lived on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, for the past six years, won the prize for his book, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. The prize consisted of €15,000 for the non-fiction award, and €63,000 for the overall top prize. He was unable to attend the ceremony.

“Behrouz Boochani has produced a stunning work of art and critical theory which evades simple description,” according to the judges’ report on his book.

“Traced through an analysis of the ‘kyriarchy’ – a concept borrowed and elaborated on – Boochani provides a new understanding both of Australia’s actions and of Australia itself,” the report adds.

A frequent contributor on immigration to The Guardian, a UK-based newspaper, he told the paper that for an asylum seeker kept in offshore detention to win such a major prize “brings enormous shame to the Australian government.”

The asylum seeker wrote the book writes and speaks through text messages because he says his internet connection regularly fails.

He wrote the book in Farsi. His award was picked up on his behalf by Omid Tofighian, his translator, who also worked with an interpreter to translate the texts into English.

No Friend But the Mountains documents his life on Manus Island, which he is not allowed to leave. The Judges’ report calls the book a “vivid account of the outrage of experiencing total control: the perpetual queues, the absence of adequate food, the limits on telecommunications, the failing generator, the disastrous toilets.”

Boochani says he did not write the book to win a prize, but to speak of the injustices suffered by those in migration limbo.

“My main aim has always been for the people in Australia and around the world to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years. I hope this award will bring more attention to our situation, and create change, and end this barbaric policy,” he told The Guardian.



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