Trials and tribulations of an asylum seeker

Father of two tells how he spent his life savings paying a smuggler to get him into Australia but ended up in misery.


     Now that Australia's politicians have decided that offshore centres for asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea have to be reopened, they hope it will deter Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians from taking the risky journey on rickety wooden boats to the rich country. A wrong assumption it seems.

    I meet 50-year-old Ahmad Fazeli after he accompanied his sister to the Iranian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital. She and her family will return to Iran. Their dream for a life in Australia away from the discrimination and hatred they face at home - as members of the Arab minority - has fallen to pieces. For 10 months they have been stuck in Indonesia after an attempt to cross to Australia failed. After months of detention and no schooling for their children, their health started to deteriorate, physically and mentally.

    Ahmad does not want to give up yet although he is being treated for a severe depression.

    I have spent all my money to find a new life in Australia. Sixteen thousand dollars I paid to a smuggler for me, my wife and our two daughters.

    I believe in freedom and democracy. I didn't like to be forced to join an ideology which I didn't believe in [meaning the Iranian government]. This seriously affected my life and that of my children.

    They never could go to a proper school and I could not get an official job. This is the reason that we sold whatever we had - our lifetime savings - just to make the journey, for the future of my two daughters.

    We were promised that we would arrive safely in Australia. They really make you believe that you're going to have an easy journey. When we left Iran they made us believe that when we arrive in Jakarta we could consider ourselves Australians because the rest is a piece of cake.

    It was an 11-metre old fishing boat, probably it would not cost more than 10 thousand dollars. More than 60 asylum seekers were on that boat: Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians and Afghans.

    Four hours after departure the engine broke down and that happened every few hours. The next morning, at 10am, the captain and his son just jumped out of the boat. The waves drove the boat against the rocks and people started to jump out. That's where I nearly lost Ferra. She was under the boat a few times. I cannot forgive myself especially because all I thought of was the future of my two daughters, the future of their education and success.

    We were stuck on a deserted island for four days with no food or drinking water. We tried to give signals to vessels passing by. On the fourth day we decided to go to a village and find help. The next morning we were arrested. We were in detention for five months and now we are being kept in a village with no clear future.

    We have applied as asylum seekers at the UNHCR in Jakarta. One of the main problems asylum seekers are facing in Indonesia is the long process of the UNHCR. It takes more than three years of waiting with no clear idea about the outcome. This forces us to go ahead and migrate by boat and risk our lives.

    The majority of the asylum seekers who attempt this migration and this danger have no other choice but to leave their home country. And everybody's dream is to live in a free environment, in a free world. But unfortunately many of us, being a minority ethnically, or religiously, we have no chance of freedom. That's why we do it.

    The new Australian policy works only if everyone works together. If we see that only 180 refugees were accepted to go to Australia who were processed abroad in past few months while 5000 arrived by boat it doesn’t make sense for us to stay here and wait all these years. If they want to save lives Australia should help to speed up the process.

    I think it's a good move to stop the smuggling business but you have got to remember they would still prefer to go to Nauru or other far-away detention centres rather than being in their home country.  Believe me we would prefer to go legally than give so much money to the smugglers not knowing you would arrive or die at sea.



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