Home > Features > Plans, pains and promise

Plans, pains and promise

Romero Centre director Frederika Steen with Chaman Shah Nasiri  at an Amnesty International and Helen Black group seminar at The Gap Uniting Church in August. Photo by Mardi Lumsden
It is often easy to dismiss refugees and a group rather than individual people. Media reports rarely tell individual’s stories.

Amnesty International Australia Community Campaigner Tracey Foley said it was important to remember that these people had possibly survived oppressive governments, torture, the destruction of their home and deaths of their loved ones.

Chaman Shah Nasiri is one such person.

An ethnic Hazara, Mr Nasiri’s family organised for him to flee Afghanistan in 2001 after the Taliban killed his father and eldest brother and kidnapped his other brother.

He went a well-travelled route via Pakistan to Indonesia, then by boat to Australia.

“Hazaras have been persecuted in Afghanistan for more than a century,” he said. “On the same day Julia Gillard took control of office about nine Hazaras were beheaded in Oruzgan province, where most of the Australian troops are.”

At the age of 19 and with three years of schooling he knew nothing about Australia or the world outside Afghanistan.

“Fleeing the Taliban, we can’t go to them and ask them to give us a proper documents to flee and go and complain against them.”

Mr Nasiri said despite the bad reputation of people smugglers, many people have no choice but to use them as their “travel agents”.

“All the countries we are coming through, like Pakistan, none of these countries are signatory to the United Nations Convention for Refugees so there is no proper channel for us to go through,” he said.

People smugglers give asylum seekers strict instructions not to go out in public during the journey for fear of being caught with fake travel documents.

“They are sending you wherever they want.

“We don’t know how to swim so it is really shocking to be in the middle of the ocean in a small leaky boat.

“222 people sitting there and you don’t know where you are going.”

Mr Nasiri’s boat crawled towards Christmas Island just days after the Tampa incident and weeks after the attack on the World Trade Centre.

A speedboat headed to the boat and the captain was given a note saying the Australian Government would not accept the boat and to turn back.

“The captain just kept going and after a few hours we saw a big Navy ship.”

After three days the women and children were transferred to the Navy ship while the 160 men spent nearly two weeks in the hull while people tried to fix the engine to send them back to Indonesia.

“We went two or three hours back towards international waters, but the engine was not properly fixed.”

The Navy was forced to take the boat back to Christmas Island and process the asylum seekers.

After two months on Christmas Island he was transferred to Nauru, where he spent nearly three years in detention.

“When we got there we were put in long houses they made with plastic sheets, with no proper electricity, food or medical facilities.

“We were rejected because they said the situation in Afghanistan had improved. If the situation has improved then what is the point to have the Australian troops there for the past nine years?”

He said someone with no education does not know what to say to fit the asylum criteria, for example that family members had been killed because of their race.

“When you are outside Australia, in a detention centre like Nauru, you do not have any legal representation.

“When you sit in those detentions centres you are thinking of your family, your children.”

Romero Centre director Frederika Steen said detention centres such as these are “mental illness factories”.

After a UNHCR worker was killed in Afghanistan, the situation was declared worse and Mr Nasiri was granted refugee status.

Mr Nasiri was brought to Brisbane and left in the hands of charitable organisations like the Romero Centre.

Photo : Romero Centre director Frederika Steen with Chaman Shah Nasiri at an Amnesty International and Helen Black group seminar at The Gap Uniting Church in August. Photo by Mardi Lumsden