My journey to Australia began when I fled from my country in July 2013 to Malaysia then Indonesia. Then by boat when I was 10 years old, we came to Australia illegally seeking asylum. Our journey of coming to Australia started with a night in mid-September 2013. Arriving by boat and navy warship to Australia took us 4 days on the ocean. Three days with about a hundred people including kids on a small boat.
One of the scariest parts was the third day that the boat got damaged. As a child I didn't know how exactly it happened, but it was to the point that they had to call the navy to rescue us. That day I thought every bad episode of life had ended and we had been saved by angels, but when the navy came that's when I prayed to God to help us. You are probably asking yourself why? Let me explain.
At first, they sent four army officers to check the boat. When they did, they started shouting at everybody. I can still remember adults begging them to stop because children were terrified by their actions. This did not help at all because they were aiming to fix the boat to send us back to Indonesia, but the damage of the boat was worse than what they thought, so they prepared to move us to the navy warship. This was the scariest time of my life.
For the first time in my life, I thought I would lose my parents and siblings because army officers separated all the kids without even asking and pushed us to small boats heading to navy warships. By force, women and then men were next. It’s been eight years since that day, but I still have the fear that my parents and siblings might be taken away from me by officers. We were in that warship for a day in the worst conditions possible.
When we arrived at Christmas Island, we were not expecting a greeting from anyone but a safe place and respect, though instead, we were told that we will never be able to go to Australia, and they will soon transfer us to Nauru island to live forever unless we request to go back to our home country, where we escaped from. On the first day we as asylum seekers in the detention centre were named by our boat numbers including people aged as young as one years old. This still makes me upset, and I am still confused about figuring out the idea of being lost and what my identity is. Meanwhile, after 8 years, I still get called by the boat/ID number, especially when I must deal with the Australian Immigration Department staff. It sometimes makes me question if I even have any identity left to be upset about.
After a few days in Christmas Island, we were transferred to Nauru Island. When we landed not knowing what the future held for us, the only thing I could do was to tell my family that I love them. Eventually with all the fear we had, a new chapter of our life started. I also want to clear one thing beforehand. After living one year as an asylum seeker and four years as a refugee in Nauru, I can confidently say that Nauruan people are genuinely friendly people when they get to know someone in person and their frustrated reaction to people sent to Nauru is understandable.
After a year, the Australian Immigration Department announced that some people's cases in Nauru will be reviewed and if accepted, they will be refugees of Nauru. People were chosen very randomly, and it was rarely possible to exactly predict who’s turn will be next.
Unfortunately, my family and I are included as one of this first families to be known as “refugees of Nauru,” but the reality was that we were moved to another detention camp built for refugees, though we were no longer living in tents, we had “storage container homes (not luxurious types that you might search for to buy). We could leave the camp for the first time although without other limitations like not being able to use mobile phones. The officers were no longer there to protect as well, meaning that more people were getting into new camps, resulting in violent uprisings and conflict. Rules were very strict in Nauru which now thinking about it was the most unethical and inhumane conditions someone could possibly experience.
In a world where we grow up, safety used to be one of the most important things but when I became a bit older, I started realising and asking myself that if I was safe enough none of things that happened to me would've happened. I always thought as a child that going to another country to seek asylum is the only way to save yourself from all the struggles that your family has, and once you're there you are going to be saved. But the moment I became the ‘asylum-refugee,’ that's when I realised you will drown in your own world, and no one is there to help you unless you save yourself by raising awareness and begging people to listen to your story and experiences.
Violence was one of the serious things that got treated very casually, at least in detention centres where they had officers “PROTECTING US” but only putting us at more risk of danger. For example, some days could go by even with more than three or four huge fights between detainees. Most people have experienced at least one suicidal attempt themselves or at least one member of their family including kids aged as young as ten years old and officers did nothing about them.
My first year in Nauru we used to live in tents. And these tents were separated with large pieces of plastic curtains. Overall tents had six rooms with each room for each family. And every night we had a census because officers had to come and check every night to report to make sure none had suicided or escaped from the camps, simply to make sure everyone was alive. And that obviously meant that we didn’t have any control when they would come, because they wouldn’t ask for any permission, no matter if you are sleeping with or without your partner, naked, or whatever.
It has been such a long time since then, but I still wake up during the night and fear that someone might open the door of my room, or someone might be outside of my room. I have the fear of something happening to me, and this fear that someone might take me away from my family. I have a fear of losing everything I have today and ending up in Nauru again. My life is so uncertain.
Not feeling safe even with the most trusting people like family members is the worst thing that can happen because they are the people that truly love you. Some family members used to also blame our parents for coming to Australia and telling us that just because we came by boat, we deserved to be treated like this, that our life is going to be like this forever, and that nobody would help us.
There are multiple things to point at and start talking about but one of the main things that used to happen a lot was the violence towards people and children by the Serco officers who were the people to take care of people in detention. The violence between the people in detentions was a result of their trauma and they would be blamed for this and threatened to be sent back. It was a result of a lack of help, or attention.
Seeing this impacted me and my siblings. It had a large mental health effect on us, with high levels of depression, anxiety and PTSD shaping our lives. A large anxiety was not also being able to trust doctors, nurses, and psychologists to help us honestly. Serco officers and the case workers were in the detention centre for any safety and essential concerns, but the reality was the lack of duty of care towards us which they had responsibility for.
I couldn’t tell the difference between being a criminal and a refugee.
Since I stepped into Australia, I have been called an illegal person whom they don't even treat us as humans. I used to know myself as a child that was treated like a criminal which I always questioned myself about. I used to ask myself: “What crime did I commit to be treated like this and maybe deserve it all” but also hearing myself telling myself I didn't do anything?”
Throughout time, I started becoming more aware of what the word illegal really meant to Australia's Immigration institutions and Australian people generally. It made me want to know “if there're any rules or laws that matter regarding people in my situation and circumstances,” and if “seeking asylum/protection by going to another country really means illegal when you're in need of help.”
If you look at this in multiple different ways, it can show you the family of four being abused by the actual criminals. By “abuse” I mean, watching huge fights between people, sometimes my parents included, in the centre of the camp, and by “criminals” I mean, Serco officers, and their head bosses who had the power to do something instead of separating them to only let them go again and fight.
They used to even ignore the requests that we used to have from the Australian government, usually about asking them to give us essentials like clothes, books, and even requests like giving us more showering time simply because five minutes was not even enough to wet our body. I still have their word in my brain, and they still get repeated by other people in fact in Australia as well that “they can't do anything in regard to helping me and people like me.”
A few days ago, I came across a couple of videos of one of the new prisons in Australia. Looking at it made me really question if the Australian government is aware of what they are doing. It may sound hilarious, but I seriously wished that our detention centres were having the same services as the actual criminals! Prisoners in Australia literally have access to their cell phones, they can continue studying if they want. Some people do university courses in PRISON. They have good-looking rooms with TVs (at least we didn’t as kids in Nauru)! This may sound funny to you but thinking about it, for more than five years of my teenage years, I was living in Nauru’s detention centre, worse than an Australian prisoner, WITHOUT committing any crime.
I can’t trust doctors and psychologists anymore.
Since we arrived in Australia to seek any medical advice or assistance, we have had always worked with IHMS (International Health and Medical Service), which is an organization owned by International SOS, the world's leading health and security services company provided by Australian government for asylum seekers and refugees to access healthcare without the cost of psychiatrics, GPs, nurses, and other medical staff for health concerns.
Something that I assume is important to mention is that, since being released from the detention centre with the community detention visa, my healthcare is still covered by IHMS. However, now my healthcare providers are not IHMS staff, they are normal doctor’s clinics that you may normally go to.
Though in the past, within detention centres, specifically in Nauru, healthcare providers were IHMS staff, and we had to attend Nauru’s detention centre’s clinics to access medical assistance. For those who may not be familiar with the process, IHMS works under Australian immigration system in detention centres and this to detainees means no privacy because the medical histories will get recorded and sent not to you but immigration directly, without your permission. I say this from experience.
Furthermore, IHMS is known to many people who are or were in the past covered by it, for the false diagnosis to patients or in some cases no diagnosis. This was proven in many cases both mentally and physically, especially for those detainees who were at the time “at risk to lose their lives.” This may sound like something that would rarely happen, but it was very repetitive. I have seen people who have had cancers and disabilities that needed special treatments be misdiagnosed and or ignored. It also included women who got pregnant, my mother included, in detention centres; whether they got pregnant, or a foetus had a condition that could’ve been treated earlier, they often told us to prevent pregnancies and treat it ourselves.
The best way I can reason about their immoral actions, which by the way has had a lifelong negative impact on many people's lives, is that they were trying to stay silent to prevent Australian society from acting. I really don’t think this was because IHMS staff were not qualified for their job but that this was part of their “job description to stay silent.” I still don’t know what it takes to play with people's lives with a lack of honesty, especially to people who purely had medical needs, people like women who were raped and mentally devastated, to young kids who used to suicide - just to free themselves from the world without basic human rights. I could’ve died four years ago if no one helped.
IHMS’s silence has ended up in a few deaths in the past though. The most tragic one is the death of the young Iranian man, Fariborz, whose mother and wife after three years are still searching for the reason for his death. I would not blame IHMS for his death, but I do believe they were responsible to investigate for the truth and report that to the family, not only to the ‘Immigration Department.’
The second Iranian man who died was named Omid. One day he set himself on fire, simply because he needed to talk to a psychologist about his mental health and was not able to. Following that, he lost his life also because of lack of medical health support and getting emergency support way too late to transfer him to an Australian hospital. He was young and had so much hope for himself and his wife but unfortunately only left us with his great heart and memories that are going to stay forever with us.
In 2018, some doctors and clinicians were transferred to Nauru where they released the actual information from the Island to the lawyers and advocates in Australia, thankfully resulting in several children and adults (including myself) receiving the treatment they needed.
I was always told that if there is only one person, we can trust to seek help other than family members, it would be doctors or police officers. Because they take oaths to at least provide honesty and faith to people that seek help, it is not surprising that people believe this. But for me, it feels truly different. I am left with my sick brain that doesn’t let me trust doctors and officers for the rest of my life.
I have said all of this to come to one point, that being that trusting health care providers, in many forms, is the hardest thing for me. Opening about this to friends and family, made me realize I am not alone. Surprisingly, I am not the only one thinking psychologists are liars, or that they will reveal my biggest insecurities and mental problems to the IHMS company, without my permission. I still think at any time officers can arrest me and send me to the detention centre. I still think my doctors may not be honest with me when they are diagnosing me when I have issues, etc.
Walking on rocks and 5-minute showers
Nauru is a very hot and humid place. The average temperature is about 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year. But there were days when the temperature was as high as 45/50 degrees with no air conditioning plus not having enough water to drink. For a population of approximately 800 detainees in 2014, there were only eight tanks of drinking water that used to be filled twice on a specific time of a day. These tanks used to get empty in less than an hour every time and I hope you can imagine what a difficult situation it is to have this problem every day.
Reflecting on this reminds me of the times that I had to sit outside of officers' tents with my friends my age and younger, especially on those hot days, just to ask officers to give us water or refill the tanks because we were thirsty. Not to mention how many times we got ignored and rejected by them and how many times we got sunburns and sickness just to get what human basic need is.
Sometimes I wish I could stop here. But there were also rules like having showers for a maximum of five minutes once a day. This does not even include the days that they close the bathrooms and most of the toilets because they would ‘run out of water.’ There were also days that I would go to bed hungry because the food we were given had expired. Not to mention that using telephones was allowed only once a month for ten minutes for each family. We had no access to the internet at least for the first 8 months.
I thought education was a human right.
As we all know from the day that we are born we always learn about how education is important, especially for people aged younger than eighteen. This applies to those that are also older, in terms of receiving tertiary education. We also know that this generally benefits the whole society worldwide no matter if that individual stays in Australia or not. I never thought that I would have that taken away from me. I never thought I would need to stop learning properly, in a real school with a standard curriculum, from the age of 11.
As a young adult whose whole childhood was wasted in detention centres, after going through numerous traumas’ in my home country (just like other grown up kids in Australian detention centres) coming to Australia was the only chance/opportunity to have an actual normal life. However, we have always been treated like we don't deserve it.
The first day that we arrived at Nauru island, we were frustrated and confused. It took us as a family more than a few days to settle and understand the reality of what is going on. At the beginning, Nauru was getting built which they “assumed” was a bigger problem than providing education for children like us, (some of them are stated in other parts of the article). About two to three months later the Save The Children organization started working with the Australian government to provide education and specifically support for children. Save The Children staff were working as social workers (case workers/case managers), English and regular school teachers.
The new buildings were provided to them for this purpose. Going to school with Save The Children teachers was only about learning English and not any other subjects with kids with different levels of English in the same classroom. I was 11 at the time and I can clearly remember that for me and most of my friends the only motivation to attend these classes was for the air conditioning. It was exciting at the beginning where we still had the hope that the situation would change, and we would be able to go to Australia in less than 6 months to have a future and proper education. However, when 6 months passed, we knew this would become our normalcy.
I came to Australia and studied the HSC. But what do I do now?
At the end of 2018 that I came to Australia, I was terrified by what I was going to do when I had a gap of 6 years in my education and how I would survive when I was told I would get to complete the HSC in 3 years. When I was placed in my high school, I noticed how differently others had grown up. I felt like they could be teenagers. I didn't even know what that was. I felt like they were allowed to be lost in their own world while I could not simply afford to do the same.
I went to high school and studied the last 3 months of Year 10 and started Year 11 in 2019. It was one of the largest struggles because not all teachers were fully aware of my situation and my lag in education. I was able to receive academic help, but I felt so much pressure. The only thing that motivated me was the possibility of going to university if I succeeded in the HSC. But I remembered how uncertain my visa status was and how I may not even have the rights to go to university and get a job to support myself and my family.
I got into year 12 and I was more terrified. I worked hard, but I felt set back by what I was going through mentally and physically. I also felt frustrated that I could not be like the classmates in my classroom who did not necessarily need to get an ATAR to be able to work or feel worthy in Australian society. I always had to think: what am I going to do if they don’t allow me to continue my education in this country?
There were arguments, fears, expectations, lack of motivation, as well as feeling mentally unstable and lost. I would fear when other students would ask questions that I had no idea about. I felt stupid, and behind.
By the time that I got to the HSC exams I was aware that the Department of Immigration would not allow me to continue my education after the age of 18. I always asked myself how this would be possible when international laws consider education as a basic human right and why was it me that was being denied it.
Having to put so much stress on myself with all the other stresses from immigration I managed to go through HSC. While I was not treated fairly in the sense that my circumstances were never considered when I was graded, I look back and think about how far I have truly come. I wish Australia would see the same.
Fighting is hard, but I won't stay quiet because we need to stand up together, not alone.
You’re probably wondering how I am still surviving with all the tortures and the difficulties that I've been through from the Australian government; however, I am not keeping it to myself, and I am not staying quiet. I choose to share my story because I know words have power. I also know that my inability to have continued education will not stop me from educating others - because is that not ultimately why my education was taken away from me?
It is hard for me to fight and stand on my feet while knowing that what I went through was a disaster. But I still get up and continue to go forward. With the side effects, it can be hard. But I know this is not just about me, but others. The many others who have fought with me.
Becoming the young adult that I am now, the most important thing that I feel like I've lost was my childhood. You know how children can go without a worry and not have the pressure of growing up? I simply cannot relate. So many people think that leaving your home country and becoming a refugee in another country seems easy and that we do it by choice, but the reality is no one likes to carry the burden that refugees carry. No one likes to be called ‘illegals’ and to become a ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum’ with all its difficulties. But having gone through it, I have realised that sometimes you must sacrifice your most valuable thing to survive out of the situation.
I do believe that we all have issues and difficulties in our life to deal with in many ways, but this is about human lives and human rights that we all have and so many of us are being ignored for what's our right to have as a human. Many live in blissful ignorance about what happens in their own background. Many simple do nothing about it, or reinforce the problem at hand. There is so much suffering. But why is the truth not told yet?