Please note – we are not affiliated with the organisation ‘New Humans of Australia’ in any way and are not being paid to promote their work, but we do feel this a worthy cause and the stories are very interesting. Here is just one such story about the horrors people go through to try and find safe haven in Australia:
My dad and his brothers were against the Iraqi regime because of its brutal ideology against its people, so they were always the focus of the government. One brother fled the country to Iran, and the other one was bashed to death by the regime before I was born. My dad was a humanitarian and helped a lot of people after the 1991 war. Eventually, he was arrested, and after he was released, he fled the country.
After that, I was also arrested. As a 13-year-old, it was a traumatic experience. I went through a lot of interrogations where I was abused and persecuted, as the security forces were trying to find out the whereabouts of my dad.
When I was 17, I was smuggled to Jordan, where I stayed for a few months, trying to find a safe place. But the Jordanian government was pro-Saddam back then, and were chasing people who exceeded their residence, so I had to look for other options.
I got in touch with a smuggler, who told me he would be able to smuggle me all the way to Sweden. But that did not work out. He took my money, and just disappeared. Then I heard that there was a way to Australia, via Kuala Lumpur and a boat from Indonesia.
When the boat left Jakarta, the weather was very severe; it was windy, and the waves were incredibly high. It was a scene like I had never seen before. There were about 250 people inside the boat from different places – Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, and Iran, and the boat was effectively only a fishing boat. In the end, it almost capsized and we almost drowned.
2-3 weeks later, we were off again, on the same boat, but this time with about 350 people on board. I can’t really remember much about the trip. It could’ve been two days or a week – it all seemed like a dream to me. Or it could be my brain is just trying to forget it. It was a very difficult situation.
Eventually, we were approached by the Australian border patrol, and they towed us all the way to Darwin, where we were placed in sheds and questioned. Then we were flown to Curtin Detention Centre. There wasn’t enough accommodation for all of us so we were put in tents. Eventually, we were moved to caravans which had air-conditioning. But there were still waves of people coming, and I was in the caravan with 4-5 others.
After 6 months, the Australian government issued me a Temporary Protection Visa, and I was released from the detention centre, and sent by bus to Perth where I was received by a group from a humanitarian organisation who were very nice and helped me get settled.
Then I went to Melbourne, where I studied English for a few months. After that, I worked at the farms, picking tomatoes for 4 months. My visa didn’t allow me to enrol at university so I went to TAFE first and got a Diploma in Computer Systems Engineering. But my passion was to be an Engineer, and finally, I got a scholarship to RMIT. I proudly graduated with a Bachelor in Engineering with 1st Class Honours in 2008. Since then, I have been working as an engineer and I love my work.
The day I was granted permanent residency was the happiest day of my life. For the first five years, I didn’t really feel I belonged to the country. I felt rejected, like an outsider who didn’t belong. But when I got my permanent residency, the whole feeling changed. I thought, “This is home now. It is time for me to start moving forward and build my own future.”
It also meant I could finally see my parents again for the first time in 7 years, as my previous visa didn’t allow me to travel out of the country. Not being able to see them had been hard for me to cope with. In this time, my dad had become a refugee in Norway, and now my Mum and brother live there with him. Hopefully one day, we can all live together again.
There’s a lot of stereotyping about refugees and boat people. And I believe it is very unfair. I see a lot of people who are locked up in detention centres offshore who suffer a lot. I would like to deliver a message to the government and everyone else that yes there are some people who may be ‘country shoppers’, but they are a minority, maybe less than 10% of the total number of asylum seekers, and you shouldn’t let the other 90% suffer because of them.
I wouldn’t attempt to come to Australia by boat again. I nearly drowned and I know many people who have family members that did drown. But sometimes, out of desperation, people don’t have any other choice but to do it that way. It may take years if we go by legal channels. And within those years, you don’t know what can happen.
Written by Khaled from Iraq, who arrived in Australia in 1999:
I am a genuine refugee who has built a successful life in this country, and I believe we should welcome all those who come to this country with open arms. I am sure the majority of asylum-seekers are hardworking people like me who want to live in peace.
If you want to learn more, visit https://newhumansofaustralia.org/