Earlier this year, we reported the news that Australia’s richest literary prize, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, had been awarded to an Iranian-Kurdish refugee named Behrouz Boochani, who won for his book No Friend But the Mountains, which he sent via WhatsApp messages as he was being detained in a detention facility on Papa New Guinea. It has now been reported that Boochani has left PNG and has been given a month-long visa so he may attend the literary festival this month.
As the BBC reports, while Boochani’s permanent place of residence is still uncertain, he has vowed that he will never return to Papa New Guinea, where he has been forced to live since he sought asylum in Australia in 2013. He recently published a Tweet saying: “I just arrived in New Zealand.” He added: “I have been invited by Word Festival in Christchurch and will participate in an event here. Thank you to all the friends who made this happen.”
After failing to overcome Australia’s strict asylum policies in 2013, the human right’s defender and journalist was taken to an offshore processing facility on Manus Island where he remained until its closure in 2017, though he still remained living on the island. In an interview with the BBC, he said: “I didn’t want to go to prison in Iran so I left and when I got to Australia they put me in this prison for years.”
No Friend But the Mountains chronicles his time in the detention centre and tells both his story and the stories of others who were detained on Papa New Guinea. After leaving New Zealand, Boochani intends to travel to the US, where he has been accepted for asylum. This could change given his time in New Zealand but, if that happens, he will look elsewhere.
“I just want to be free of the system, of the process. I just want to be somewhere where I am a person, not just a number, not just a label ‘refugee’,” he said.
New Zealand has offered to home 150 refugees from Manus Island, but Australia denied this offer. For now, the only options for the people detained there are to apply for asylum in the US, remain where they are, or return home.