Today is International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. To mark today I thought that it would be fitting to publish some correspondence I received from some young Hazara men currently living in the Darwin Accommodation Lodge. They are unaccompanied minors but as the Darwin Accommodation Lodge is an Alternative Place of Detention (APOD), the same rules of detention do not apply.
The stories were sent round in a collective email to encourage people to support those in detention. They are from three young Hazara men under 17 years of age who left family behind (around Quetta on the Afghan border with Pakistan) to make the journey for peaceful asylum to Australia. One of them left Quetta at 11 years of age in the trust of an ‘agent’. He spent many years struggling as an ‘illegal’ in Malaysia and Indonesia before meeting another of this trio, and boarding a boat bound for Australia. They also befriended another Hazara family in their time in Indonesia, whom they say brought them some of the happiest times in their lives; that family is now in Leonora APOD in remote WA, also awaiting outcome of application for asylum.
As the forwarded email I received said, the boys are ‘confused as to why they have taken the journey at all and they had taken up smoking and drinking as a means of blocking out the pain and even routinely self-harm … Being aged over 16, the (Federal) Migration Act does not allow them to attend mainstream schools. These young men have not yet been outside DAL. As such, their resolve is being beaten down. It is well-known that detention exacerbates the mental suffering of people. It is also known that socialisation is good for people.
‘It would help if you responded after hearing this, and a sheet outlining how to do this is available. Please keep a mental or written note of what impacts you of their stories and how this strikes personal chords with you. This feedback will join them with you, the people they know are struggling with them on the other side of the electric fences … ’
If you would like responses forwarded, email blogeditor[at]overland[dot] org[dot]au to arrange guidelines and contact details.
I am a Hazara young man, from Afghanistan. I am scared and confused. I cannot sleep and have headaches all the time. Sometimes I self-harm. Before being placed in detention, I used to drink a lot. This is when I was in Malaysia and Indonesia, before I turned 15. I was suffering a lot in that time, since I left my Family at age 11. Now, smoking brings me comfort. A few weeks ago, I saw the death notice and photo of a childhood friend of mine. Before leaving my Family, I used to practise as an artist and wanted to be an accomplished artist. I had not painted until a volunteer brought me some paints about 1 month ago. At times this helps. I have a lot of pain and want to share messages with the Australian public, hoping they will join with me as fellow human beings and speak up for me. Mostly though, I am not in a mood to do anything. I am constantly worried and nervous. I had an interview about my application last week and await an outcome. Although I hear that unaccompanied minors will be released into the community, we are told it would not affect us till June next year. Anything can happen in that time. I so badly want to be outside, seeing how people live. I want to learn to live again. Being detained is unbearable. I hope that you will take my message to your leaders. I write this poem for you:
In this World,
some are in prison, some are at home,
some are happy, some are upset,
some are singing, some are crying,
some are alone, some are together,
some are enjoying, some are suffering,
some are rich, some are poor,
some are hopeless, some are hopeful,
some are thirsty for freedom, some are not,
some are stressfull, some are not.
And guess what am I!
When I think of my situation, I see myself as a caged person, like an animal. I am holding the string of a kite and the kite can at times fly outside, being free. Outside my cage is John Howard, watching me and jingling the keys to the lock. Flying this kite, my imagination takes flight and removes me from the pain of the past and present situation. This kite of mine is the kite of my life…it has various colours, each one being one of my abilities, showing the me that is possible given the freedom to express. Only, my body (self) is separate from my kite (abilities). Do you understand? They are not together, which is what I wish for. Also in the structure of my kite, supporting my abilities are my Mother, Sister, Brother, Friends, caring Community members and Advocates in Australia. My Father, who was kidnapped encouraged me to practice my art despite not being an artist. He also taught me how to choose Family above many other choices in life and how to struggle to provide for others and always seek better. His example shows me how to accept what is happening for my Family who continue to live and await my outcome with me. I must accept what is happening for my Family, if not for myself. I learnt and watched this type of attitude in my other relations. One day, if the right time comes, I would like to ‘take the chair’ that my Father filled. On the other side of acceptance, my kite is a protest: it declares: ‘I am also a human! I am also capable of being free! I have the ability! I am not an animal on show!’ My kite is here for you to see. Can you see?
I am looking for Family…when one has lost or been separated from Family, they must find new Family.
I also see myself as a seed (from my parents’ tree) that as a sprout, is trying to push out of the soil to see light and live.
That is my struggle now.
One of the greatest recent goals my Team of Life have achieved in the last year is surviving the boat trip from Indonesia to Christmas Island. Myself and others seeking peace and fleeing danger had to struggle together…it was hot outside, there was little water and strong diesel fumes, but we had to remain unseen and support each other. Although it took many days to feel we were on land, when we arrived, we were so relieved! Our Family and others were there with us in Spirit…they helped make it happen.
I want to hear from others who are struggling for me and with me. As a fellow human being, can you feel my feeling?
I am also Hazara. I left my Family more than 2 years ago and am now 17. Before leaving I also practised art and playing the piano. Since this time, I’ve not practised either, until now when I am drawing sometimes. I learnt how to play cricket on Christmas Island from Tamil detainees. I like this game. If I saw this game as a metaphor for my life, my Father would be the Team Coach. I would be Captain and main bowler. I’ve bowled 17 overs and each one had involved much struggle. However, my Mother has been behind the wicket as my keeper and she still is. My brother and sister are at leg and off leg, close to mother also with me in challenging the batsman, who is John Howard. Community advocates are at the slips, ready to catch the batsmen on any mistakes they make. In the crowd are Hazara community, people I’ve met on my journey who gave small gestures of help, people in Australia struggling for me. Their banners read: ‘Keep Going!’ Thinking of my Team helps me feel connected when I am so far from those I love. I am close to my friends that I share room with, but all people here are stressed. Every day is the same, with no news, nowhere to go. I feel I am going crazy and would love to go to school and go outside the fences.
Sometimes I ride on the kite of my Friend (above) with another Friend (below). As our imaginations take flight, we speak of living together, of finding jobs, furthering our education and making new Friends together. We talk of maybe meeting our Families again one day.
I am practising many skills for this Game of life, now in its most important innings. These include caring, assisting others, practising peace and acceptance. When other detainees are stressed and fighting, we find help for them. When others need help with English language, I help – this makes me feel really good, to help them be understood for exactly what they are expressing. I am also good at helping my Friends when I see the past taking over their mind, giving them pain. This is when I tell them where we are and what we have. Then, I ask them to join me in imagining other things…like, are there other people in this world like us?
The preferred Home Ground for this game is Sydney, Australia. I hope my Team can continue the game there one day, intact. Would you buy a ticket to this game?
I am Hazara like my Friends. I am an excellent football player. Last week my Team won the tournament in the DAL. I learnt some great skills in my childhood in Afghanistan, like how to properly strike a ball – this gem of wisdom from the Father of a boy in the neighbourhood. In the game of life, I am the goalkeeper in my Team. I would be the last one to say ‘No!’ if John Howard wanted to break my spirit. In front of me, as Central defence, is my Mother who looks out for me all the time. She is joined in defence by my Sisters and Uncle. Although they are deceased and this makes me very sad, my Father, Brother and Uncle are in the midfield, together with my friend. They are with me and move between attack and defence for me. At the striker positions are community advocates here in Australia. They make constant attacks for me, and fed by the Spirit of other Team mates, they score goals for me. One practice that helps my Team focus is prayer…when I pray, my mind is not in the pains of the past – it is in prayer, which is peace. I encourage my Friends to join me in physical practice to also relieve their minds, but at times they are lazy. I am a good Captain, encouraging them to keep fit and focused.
These are all the people I can think of right now who would help me. Other memories and people don’t come to me. But the crowd in the stadium have community members who barrack for me, for my Team. We are looking for more supporters for our Team…would you join the crowd, or even substitute, referee positions?
My Team’s Home Ground would be in Perth or Adelaide – they have excellent soccer pitches, so I hear.
Other skills I practice are helping others with English language. I learnt from my Mother how to help others and it gives me joy to exercise this…so, one day I wish to be a social worker. I also know what it feels like to be helped, by my Friends.
When I see my life journey also as making a river crossing, from one bank to another, I use these skills to stay afloat, to breathe. I use them to avoid being pulled under, running into rocks or getting caught in tree roots or currents I cannot see. This river is deep, fast and dark, but I am trying to swim. I am still in the middle, not knowing what can happen next…
I also love to sing! I am confident that one day I will be very successful with this voice. These days I get comfort from singing the Titanic song…’my heart will go on…’ I sing this to other detainees as well as traditional love songs…I want one day to be a good Father, Brother, Son, Friend. Would you write some words for me that I can practise singing?