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I am every asylum seeker


Tony Abbott, Stop the BoatsI was born in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. I was born in Kashmir, between India and Pakistan. I was born in Iran. I was born in Iraq. I was born in Sri Lanka.

I worked as an architect, building up my business. I worked as a negotiator, liaising with the government. I worked as an engineer. I worked as a veterinarian. I worked as an accountant.

I am a member of the Hazara ethnic group. I am opposed to the government's occupation of Kashmir. I am a firm believer in women's rights. I am a whistleblower for government corruption. I am an ethnic Tamil.

I was held down while I watched my father beaten to death. I was kidnapped by the government and taken to an interrogation room. I was knocked out with the butt of a rifle. I was shot three times. I was arrested and put in a camp.

They kept me in a solitary cell for four days without food or water. They drove a nail through my thumb and put fresh chilli in the wound. They beat the soles of my feet with canes. They pulled out my fingernails. They placed a metal roller on my shins and applied pressure until I screamed.

I bribed a guard to help me escape in the middle of the night. I fled through the mountains and a farmer smuggled me across the border. I hid underground for five months. I sold my property and used the money for a plane ticket. I cut a hole in the wire fence and crawled through the jungle to a safehouse.

I got on the first boat I could, wherever it was going. I paid a man $7000 to take me somewhere safe, but he left with my money. I spent months in Indonesia hiding in the forest. I was dumped in the middle of the ocean and had to swim to shore. I arrived on Ashmore Reef and collapsed from thirst and heat exhaustion.

I was so relieved to be in Australia! I was happy to be safe from the militia! I was alive, I was overjoyed, I was finally free!

I was then locked up on Christmas Island for three years without a lawyer. I was put behind bars and razor wire in the middle of the desert. I was called by a number not a name. I was kept in an isolation cell. I was beaten and abused by the guards.

Why am I locked up if I haven't committed a crime? How can I be in prison without a trial? Why can't they treat me like a human being? Why am I kept here all alone? Why haven't I been told when this will end?

I am depressed and have constant headaches. I am frightened and wake up screaming. I am losing my mind. I have sewn my lips together. I have tried to kill myself.

I didn't want to be a refugee. I didn't want to come to your country. I didn't want to leave my family. I didn't want to lose my house. I didn't want to have to start again.

I am not here to get rich. I am not here to receive charity. I am not here to steal your job. I am not here to cheat the system. I am not here by choice.

I am here because otherwise I would be dead. I am here because the militia threatened to kill me and my family. I am here because I was shot. I am here because my house was burned down. I am here because I have nowhere else to go.

I was born in a dangerous land. I was persecuted for who I am and what I believe. I was tortured in an interrogation room. I was dumped in the ocean. I was locked up in detention.

I am an asylum seeker, every asylum seeker, and this is my story. I am not a 'queue jumper'. I am not an 'illegal arrival'. I am not a 'political issue'.

I am a human being. Please treat me like one.

 Greg FoysterGreg Foyster is a freelance journalist who's written for The Age, The Big Issue, Crikey and New Matilda. The above stories are based on letters from asylum seekers in detention. Greg's website

Topic tags: asylum seeker, Kabul, Afghanistan, Kashmir, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Hazara, Tamil



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Existing comments

Oh, spare us. Razor wire and the desert indeed. Our natives live in the desert in primitive conditions which are natural to them. We have two army camps in the 'desert'...well it's salt bush country like Broken Hill and Las Vegas. These have been used for housing refugees. But they are good enough for our sons and daughters but not good enough for foreigners who come illegally from countries where the standard of living is third world minus. Oh shame.....a case of 'when only the Hilton will do?'... the only place for architects, veterinarians and other professionals?? As for the emotive 'razor wire'. In the countries where these 'professionals' come from, they have razor wire around their homes in the better suburbs to keep out the poorer classes.

philip | 21 July 2010  

Thanks Greg for reminding us of the humanity behind the rhetoric. Clearly Philip you have no idea at all what these people go through.

Kerry | 21 July 2010  

Pray tell, Philip, how you think you would fare under say, torture, loss of family and home, sudden uprooting of your life? To conflate the Hilton with a place safe from abuse is wrong. To dismiss this human being's experience of degradation, pain, torture, and loss, is wrong.

Oppression continues in this world because it is tolerated. Abuse and power games are rife because people are reluctant to give up their own privilege. You criticise from the comfort of your home or internet cafe, knowing you have a safe home to go to, a government that would not try to kill you or your family. Your attitude is part of the driving force that corrupts this world, not part of the solution.

Human rights for all, or for the chosen?

D | 21 July 2010  

"I was then locked up on Christmas Island for three years without a lawyer. I was put behind bars and razor wire in the middle of the desert. I was called by a number not a name. I was kept in an isolation cell. I was beaten and abused by the guards."
Name just one proven case where Australian Immigration Officials have ever beaten up an illegal migrant!

Beat Odermatt | 21 July 2010  

With all the emotive language in this article, you mislead people. How if one of these "refugees is an architect did he get the resources to become one in his own country and lead a nice life with his own house? How come they lasted so long into their life without trouble? Why did he leave his family? I would rather die than leave my family. Why did these people stir up this supposed anger against them. I have good friends from some of the countries mentioned and they live a peaceful life there, never coming into conflict with the authorities.

Trent | 21 July 2010  

To Philip: try visiting Villawood Detention Centre one day. You'll see plenty of razor wire there and a process of entry that makes you feel like a criminal just because you want to visit someone incarcerated there.

To Trent: that's right, blame the victim. Blame the person whose life has been taken away simply because he or she is of the wrong ethnic background or because some crazy group takes over their country and destroys all they have built up. The Tajik family who used to lived next door to us came from a professional background and had been involved in business in Afghanistan but were driven away by the Taliban because they weren't Pashtun. Was that their fault, too, Trent? Can you blame them for seeking something better, a safer environment in which to raise their children and to provide them with an eduction?

Erik H | 21 July 2010  

I wish to further my last post with some additional comments. I have a wife and 5 children and I am bed bound because of an extremely painful injury to nerves in the back of my head. We live in the country where most of the residents, including ourselves, live below the poverty line. I have a mortgage on the cheapest house and land I could find when I was able to work. We are flat out trying to put food on the table each day, pay the huge price for services such as electricity, rates and keep our own house.

Like most who live in this area, I couldn't afford a university degree like architecture, I don't own my own home yet, I have never held an amount of $7,000 in my hand. Every day brings such anxiety to us as we struggle to find money to live on.

Most of the people living here are existing, not living, all because we don't earn enough money to cover the basics. We have no one who will feed and clothe and give us free board and accommodation and dental and medical work for no cost.

This article makes a sob story for people who have run afoul for some reason against the authorities and who have obviously had much better opportunities than many Australians.

Trent | 21 July 2010  

There is no need to go to other countries to see poverty. It would be good for all the do-gooders to go out into the real world and see all the homeless people in our cities being freezing and hungry. I am sure that most of these freezing homeless people would not feel better if they could get free motel type rooms, free meals, free lawyers etc.

These people have also felt abuse, not necessarily in a foreign country, but in our neighbourhoods and in our streets.

I am sure it makes the do-gooder mafia feel good talking about their dreams of a perfect world, whilst drinking port in front of a fire.

Beat Odermatt | 21 July 2010  

Trent, I agree with you that emotive language is used in the article. And as it is an article which has effectively pieced together separate letters, the editor, Greg Foyster, has clearly played on the emotions of the reader. I question whether he has indeed taken it too far, with some of the responses, such as yours Trent.

But Trent, to criticize the author of using emotive language is just silly, if you are going to do exactly the same thing. Your two posts couldn't be further apart. Your first post manages to dehumanise an architect and his family who are all from a refugee background, yet your second post tells us of the very human struggle you and your family experience on a daily basis. What you need to understand is that everyone's story is important, and everyone's situation is important... as important as everyone elses.

I suspect the motives of the author of this article is to do exactly that, to humanise these people so that they can not just be looked upon with compassion, but so we can connect with them and share with them what is their experience of life.

God forbid we should love anyone whom we don't want to love!

Damien | 21 July 2010  

Trent, you, your wife and five children face daily difficulties but also live a life free from persecution. What would you NOT do to give them that. You are no different from the refugee who seeks the same.

Marney | 21 July 2010  

Beat – I am not suggesting Australian Immigration Officials have beaten up “illegal immigrants” (the proper legal term is “unlawful non-citizens”). I am simply airing the claims of asylum seekers who say that they have been beaten by guards at detention centres. Detention centre guards work for the private sector, not the Australian Government.

Trent – Contrary to what is portrayed in the media, many asylum seekers come from middle class or professional backgrounds. Sometimes they do live comfortable, enviable lifestyles. Then something happens to make them the target of the government or a group in power.

For example, I have interviewed an asylum seeker who blew the whistle on government corruption. From this point on, he and his family were targeted.

I don’t know exactly why this person left his family. But I do know that some male asylum seekers leave because if they stay then their wife and children may also be targeted.

I am saddened by your personal story and the poverty you have experienced. You are also right to say that some asylum seekers may have had better opportunities than many Australians. Yet socio-economic status is irrelevant to whether a person qualifies as a refugee. According to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the primary consideration is persecution and the inability to return to one’s country.

For too long, Australians have conflated the idea of escaping dire poverty with the idea of seeking refugee status. Genuine refugees do not come to Australia for “better lives”. Nor do they necessarily have better lives when they get here. They come – from all religions, races and classes – because they have been persecuted and cannot return home.

There may be some asylum seekers who are not genuine refugees and are trying to rort the system. These people will be found out and sent home. In the meantime, we should treat all asylum seekers with dignity, as is our obligation under the Convention.

Greg Foyster | 21 July 2010  

Hi Damien,

Thanks for the response. You are right - my motivation is to humanise the issue. Usually we read about the numbers of asylum seekers entering the country but we don't hear their stories.

I have stitched together the stories of many asylum seekers because I cannot publish details - such a move might put asylum seekers' families at risk or jeopardise their legal cases. Also, in some cases these details were not available.

So I picked sentences from different stories and wove them together to encapsulate the stages many asylum seekers go through: persecution, interrogation/torture, prison, escape, journey to Australia, detention, depression. If you read case studies of asylum seekers who've been in detention, common themes start to emerge.

Greg Foyster | 21 July 2010  

Why is it that the left feels that it is beneath them to engage in a political discussion? Instead, they resort to populism and spin. This is a nice bit of literature, but it essentially says that people are either left-wing and, therefore, correct or they are not, in which case they are wrong (as well as being inhumane, racist, sexist and whatever else these left-wing activists can think of). It's disrespectful. Democracy is about fair and honest debates and demonstrating due respect to those with opposing views.

sinha_view | 21 July 2010  

Congratulations Greg for putting in writing some of the experiences of asylum seekers so that others can hopefully get some insight into their experiences. Apparently Philip does not want to learn of the reality of their lives.

Margaret Gibson | 21 July 2010  

Unlike Philip, I am revolted with our treatment of asylum seekers and think we have lost the plot.

There is simply no need to jail anyone for simply filling in an application form for refugee status.

The great mystery of "processing" is no more than an interview, an application form and another interview.

We don't jail anyone else in this country without cause so why jail asylum seekers?

Marilyn Shepherd | 21 July 2010  

Read the many books about abuse and torment of refugees here, in particular the story of Shayan Badraei in the book "Bitter Shore", or the story of Parvis Yousefi who was awarded $800,000 for damages and torture by ACM and DIAC.

Read the HREOC report "A Last Resort" about the abused kids in detention.

Get a grip people, the last 20 years have been an absolute disgrace.

Marilyn Shepherd | 21 July 2010  

I wonder if Australia was a war torn nation, and people lived in fear of being killed, persecuted or imprisoned etc, what would one do?

Lets ask our indigenous people what they thought of the British presence in 1788. I wonder what there response would be.

Terry | 21 July 2010  

GREG, An old bloke, Scots descent, country bred and a WASP, I grew up were there were others, not WASPS.
When discussing with my mother and father the differences I saw.They would refer me to Mary Gilmore's Verse " Old Botany Bay".

They came here, as did many of the people I met in the towns I lived in.

Let us welcom these fleeing;

Check them, help them, but please do not denigrate them!

JOHN McQuALTER | 21 July 2010  

Congratulations Greg on not only the eloquent words quoted verbatim from the Asylum seekers with whom you have been journeying, but for having the courage to pen them. It saddens me that giving voice to the harrowing truths that people in our own community have and are experiencing can stir up such a backlash. Is it any wonder that such stories are kept under wraps. For all those who responded to Greg’s article in disbelief and outrage, I encourage you to do, as he has done, and get to know some asylum seekers.

Cara Munro | 22 July 2010  

It's about time someone highlighted the truths of what it is to be an asylum seeker/refugee.

My family was forced to leave their homeland, because they opposed the current government. (People who opposed, were tortured and/or killed)
And so they escaped to a nearby country, but were found.

This resulted in my uncle was shot in the head... he was only two years old.
And my grandfather was kidnapped and tortured for 'information' he didn't have.

And then they came to Australia... by boat.

My grandparents did this to protect their surviving three sons.

They went through so much, and to this day (over 30 years later) they are still haunted by their past.

cat | 23 July 2010  

Beat Odermatt: Gee, Mate, I think I'd prefer a 'do gooder' to a 'do badder', wouldn't you?

By the way, are you aware that those who speak and do for those poor and oppressed here at home are also frquently belittled as 'do gooders'?

Trent: I too grew up in abject poverty. I escaped that on a 10 pound assisted passage to Oz - an economic refugee you might say?? From war service in Vietnam I am now a TPI (can't work for more than 8 hours a week). Not a patch on your situation, but enough to awaken my compassion for you. Your situation, in turn, might not be a patch on that of the vast majority of asylum seekers (described so well by Greg and others above). But it might be enough to awaken your compassion for them, instead of your hostility - if you're game to let it.

Frank Donovan, Woodend, Victoria | 23 July 2010  

How right you are! And how disappointing that a big and wealthy country which was found by "immigrants" is treating refugees so bad! Austria, so small and having welcomed thousands and thousands of refugees from Communist regimes like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, South America in the past, and now trying to cope with thousands of refugees from Irak,Iran,Afganistan, Africa and Middle East countries, offering accommodation and money without imprisoning them as Australia does, must hear from AI and similar, that we do not treat "our" refugees well. This is not right.

It must also be seen that a part of the refugees which have been here for many years are definitely and willingly misusing Austrian's generous social system.
I am a defernder of Human Rights, where ever.
Misuse of laws and good will of Austrian peoples are more and more causing a kind of XENOPHOBIA, which makes things difficulty.

Wilma Allex

Wilma Allex | 23 July 2010  

What a wonderful article. Those who support Abbott's policy astound me with their lack of compassion or humanity.

tmc071 | 23 July 2010  

thanks for the insight greg. i wish there were more people like you and less like phillip below me

sara | 25 July 2010  

If i lived in their conditions I would risk my life to come to australia too.

troy | 26 July 2010  

Perhaps it's impossible for us, here in Australia, to really understand the circumstances which drive asylum seekers. Here we have relative poverty; we have people with physical and/or mental disabilities which should be better addressed and so on BUT people seeking asylum have been terrorised in their own country by their fellow countrymen. The worst feature is that it is torture deliberately and callously inflicted and there is no one to go to to complain because those in charge are the perpetrators.
Perhaps we can't understand but we should try.

Maureen Strazzari | 26 July 2010  

Thank you for this informed, accurate and humanitarian writing.

I hope some of your readers ponder, investigate and learn. Maybe some politicians too.

Geoff Allshorn | 26 July 2010  

Thank-you for reminding of us of the bad that is happening in our world.

Erin&Karlie | 27 July 2010  

Hi Greg, this article is extraordinary. I am the CEO of an NGO in Dublin, Ireland that works for asylum seekers and refugees and immigrants and your words are so poignant. Our facebook page is; Integration Centre (the one with 56 people signed up - the other with 135 is to be combined with this one. Ta Jo Ahern

Josephine Ahern | 28 July 2010  

You know what frustrates me about this whole situation. It is all good and well that they live terrible lives and we "australians" feel sorry for them but maybe just maybe one day instead of letting these people into our country we find a effective way to better theirs.

St Vincent de Paul's slogan is "A hand up rather than a hand out."

We can constantly keep giving our charity to these people but that isn't going to help the bigger problem overseas it just encourages asylum seekers.

Luke! | 28 July 2010  

Australia has a jus cogens responsibility, to accept all people seeking asylum as refugees. The pacific solution is nothing more than glorified concentration camps . Maybe it’s time that Australian's understand that asylum seekers are people and we have an international obligation to treat them as such.

Kim | 29 July 2010  

Hmmm. Sorry your life is so miserable, Trent, that you have obliterated compassion from it. I am interested, though, in a couple of points you make and I think they warrant a response. May I ask how it is that you can't understand how an asylum seeker could possibly have $7000 in their possession if they'd sold their house? You claim to own a house, yet wouldn't make at least $7000 from the sale?

You also have the capacity, presumably, to write your posts on a computer. Whatever circumstances we are in we are lucky to have access to the internet, whether it's at a public library, on our phones, at work or at a friend's house.

I would also request that you pause after saying 'I'd rather die than leave my family' and realize that those are precisely the choices you would have as an asylum seeker. Spare me your groaning about how bad your life is. You are clearly not hunted to death, under torture or the threat of torture, or have had to flee your own homeland for acts YOU wouldn't consider a crime, but others do. You have clearly abandoned the declared Aussie traits you would claim asylum seekers are incapable of presenting: a fair go, mateship, compassion. You have not begun to understand the world.

Nicola | 29 July 2010  

In the future i hope to do some sort of mission work. Camps would be a place i would definately like to spend some time. I believe these people have a story to tell. I believe that our media changes there story, so that our nation is confused and arguing - as the former posts have been.

This may be one part of the truth. Do your research. What do asylum seekers do when they come into your country? Are the camps offering enough support for these victims of abuse who may potentially have severe mental illness as a result.

Are we being decent human beings or going against a human code of ethics?

I believe we need to offer more to these people in camps. They do have little food and majority are under the age of 18 - and im sure alot of these children would love to learn and gain skills for work in our country.

I can have my opionion but untill i know the facts i have no right to prosecute. I believe Australia needs to know the truth and i believe our Government is not telling us the truth.

There are many secrets in this world. A Government that chooses easy options, quick fix, and lies, a media that uses emotion to convey the people. Gullable people that believe. Its dangerous.

What type of people are we to tell these tortured people to turn back to there country -to be murdered. How are we any better than other countries?

Someone needs to tell the truth.

Rebecca | 10 August 2010  

Timely and confronting article Greg !
Reading the comments post this article, can I suggest that dialogue is continued,by attending the 2010 Daring to be Different - Asylum Seeker Challenge "Q and A" , with Judge Frances Hogan, as moderator at Xavier College on Wed 8th Sept. at 7.30pm - run by the Xavier Social Justice Network Book tickets online at www.trybooking.com/hbc .

mary Storey | 18 August 2010  

well, I don't have sympathy at all. These people that seek asylum have paid large amounts of money to smugglers in hope they can 'sneak in' and jump the queue, but if they applied for a Visa the correct way (which costs the same amount that they pay to smugglers- i know iv done it)there is more chance to get into Australia the fair and legal way. Asylum seekers wonder why they are put in a 'gaol' when they HAVE done illegal things?? We live in a society where you do WRONG you get PUNISHED, why is that so hard to understand? They should be sent back to their country as quickly as possible and send a reminder to everyone you cant get away with it. If we allow one person in this way, of course wave after wave of people will try to sail over here too. Oh and by protesting on roof tops proves you are not fit to live in a civilised country, because you can't be civil yourself.

Simple | 22 September 2010  

IT almost bought me to tears to read this , and then to read philip's heartless comments on top of it just unbelievable. i hope you get asylum here your welcome here. if i was able to have a say but i dont..

josh | 21 December 2010  

I just finished a short video with Oday El Ibrahimy explaining his brother Madian's situation in detention on Christmas Island. His brother has lost his wife and children in the boat tragedy on 15 Dec, the wife and 4yo son are lost to sea, the 8 mo daughter is in the morgue still not buried. Oday is asking for his brother to be released to bury the child and come into his care in Sydney. View video here http://www.one80project.com.au/view_entry.php?id=83

colman ridge | 15 January 2011  

very good mate. all the detracters should read between the lines, and see the piece for what it actually is. I read it as an overall statement of what it is that makes an assylum seeker. there is a difference between hat and an illegal refugee.come on australia wakeup to yourself and put yourself in their shoes

Karen Williams | 03 May 2012  

I moved into a house and without knowing at the time there were boat refugees in the house next to mine. They were the only people to offer assistance during the move. They brought us cordial and cookies. As I was single at the time they invited me numerous time for lunch. They introduced me to their Iranian culture. None of the white Australians showed any compassion towards me. Australians have lost their way. We don't understand the suffering other go through. We demand more and more but don't want to give. I fail to understand why both main parties have not been ridiculed by the Australian public on their policies (which are similar) on asylum seekers. How do you sleep at night Keven and Tony? You are not leaders worthy of being Prime Minister of the greatest country in the world.

Charel | 23 July 2013  

I moved into a house and without knowing at the time there were boat refugees in the house next to mine. They were the only people to offer assistance during the move. They brought us cordial and cookies. As I was single at the time they invited me numerous time for lunch. They introduced me to their Iranian culture. None of the white Australians showed any compassion towards me. Australians have lost their way. We don't understand the suffering other go through. We demand more and more but don't want to give. I fail to understand why both main parties have not been ridiculed by the Australian public on their policies (which are similar) on asylum seekers. How do you sleep at night Kein and Tony? You are not leaders worthy of being Prime Minister of the greatest country in the world.

Charel | 24 July 2013  

Greg you are awesome.

jasmine obi | 22 June 2015  

Dear author, Salute to your heart touching description of miserable asylum seekers. Simply, cant stop my tears

Hakeema Khan | 03 November 2015  

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