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.
Bahroz Bokani, a Kurdish Iranian held in an Australian-run camp on a Papua New Guinea island, won the A$100,000 ($72,390) Victorian Prize for literature on Thursday with his book “No Friends but the Mountains”.
Bokani, 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,” Bokani told Reuters in an exchange of text messages.
Bokani has been a prominent critic of the treatment of people under Australia’s hardline 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.
Bokani 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 Bokani has been banned from ever visiting.
“It brings enormous shame to the Australian government,” Bokani said of the policy responsible for his plight.
Bahroz Bokani holds a Masters degree in political geography and geopolitics. He is a Kurdish-Iranian journalist, scholar, cultural advocate, writer and filmmaker, founder of the Kurdish language magazine Weya, an Honorary Member of PEN International. In 2013, he fled Iran and became a political prisoner of the Australian Government incarcerated in the Manus Regional Processing Center (Papua New Guinea).
Reuters | PUKmedia