The cost of a broken system for asylum seekers

The story of Khodayar Amini’s death is one of anguish. He was a man fleeing for the second time a state he believed intent on killing him; a Hazara who believed he was not safe in Afghanistan, and who eventually made the same assessment of Australia.

It is impossible to guess at his terror as he walked out of his house in Western Sydney and fled to Melbourne. We do not know how he travelled. We do not know if he had a plan, if he thought he would stay in the bushland near where his body was eventually found.

We can only guess at the desperation a man feels as he makes the stinging preparations to set himself alight, as he feels on himself the cold petrol that will soon be murderously hot.

Today, we publish details of Khodayar Amini’s death because we believe them to be in the public interest. Amini makes two claims of police brutality, and these deserve to be investigated. He also shows us the realities of a system that denies a person certainty.

Undoubtedly, Amini was troubled. But he was placed in a system that could only exacerbate that trauma. The two cannot be separated.

For years, successive governments have been warned about the mentally corrosive impacts of temporary protection visas. While the Human Rights Commission currently supports the use of bridging visas, if a claim is not quickly resolved they are as bad as TPVs.

Asylum seekers on bridging visas cannot work. They must subsist on charity. They cannot travel and their access to education is limited. As if on bail for a crime they did not commit, they must make their address known and frequently report to the immigration department.

They live in a state of unknowing. They are driven mad by uncertainty. At any moment, they may find out they are to be deported.

The Human Rights Commission has noted that temporary protection visas create “a deep uncertainty and anxiety” and can “exacerbate existing mental health problems”. Indefinite bridging visas are no better.

“It is like a cancer. It is like a brain tumour or something – you know that you are going to die after three years,” a teenage boy told the commission’s 2001 inquiry into TPVs and other issues of detention. “Even if you have a brain tumour, you know that you are going to die in that certain time… so you live happily. With this, you just die every day. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Last month marked three years since Amini first arrived on Christmas Island. In those three years, Australia gave him no certainty. He lived in twilight, never properly treated, never properly a part of the community, always at the whim of a vicious system.

A coroner’s report is to be prepared into his death. To do justice to that death, it should investigate not just the circumstances of his suicide but the three years of hell that led to it.

Khodayar Amini was an unwell man failed by a system that could only be called sick.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 24, 2015 as "The cost of a broken system".

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