Iran refugee detained in PNG wins Australia’s richest literary prize

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Behrouz Boochani ... wrote his award-winning book bit-by-bit via texting from Papua New Guinea. Image: Hoda Afshar/Behrouz Boochani/RNZ Pacific

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

An Iranian asylum-seeker detained in Papua New Guinea under Australian asylum laws has won Australia’s most valuable literary prize for a book he reportedly wrote using the online messaging service WhatsApp, reports France 24/AFP.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurd who has been held on PNG’s Manus Island since 2013, was awarded the Victorian Prize for Literature yesterday, said a statement on a government website for the state of Victoria.

The journalist and filmmaker was awarded the A$100,000 (NZ$106,000) prize for his book No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.

READ MORE: The book written one text at a time

He will receive an additional A$25,000 after it also won the non-fiction category.

“(Boochani’s) award was accepted by the book’s translator Omid Tofighian, who worked with Boochani over five years to bring the stories to life,” the state website said.

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Media reports said Boochani wrote the work on his phone and sent it to Tofighian bit-by-bit in text messages.

This was because he felt unsafe in the guarded camp, which was shut last year after a local court ruling and the asylum-seekers moved elsewhere on the island.

For years Canberra has sent asylum-seekers who try to enter the country by boat to Manus Island or Nauru in the Pacific for processing, with those found to be refugees barred from resettling in Australia.

The harsh policy is meant to deter people embarking on treacherous sea journeys, but the United Nations and other rights groups have criticised the camps’ conditions and long detention periods.

Boochani’s book beat 27 other shortlisted works published last year in Australia to win the overall prize.

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