Opinion

Arash Rahnama
A letter from detention: Help before my soul is gone

I am a stateless, Kurdish Feyli. I was born on March 21, 1978, in Baghdad.

I was almost two years old when Saddam Hussein killed my parents. One day Ba’ath soldiers took my parents from home and they never came back. This was when my sad life and destiny started.

After that my aunt took me to Iran, over the Khosravi border. When we arrived in Iran we lived in Tehran at Toupkhāneh from 1980 to 1990.

When Saddam exiled us, my aunt was 42 years old. To look after and feed me she knit handmade carpet and did tailoring and sewing clothes. Sometimes I helped her. My aunt passed away from heart attack when I was 15 years old.

After my aunt’s death, a man named Reza looked after me and taught me to write and read. He gave me consolation and helped me to stand up on my feet.

Because I was stateless I had no choice to work instead of going to school and making my future. I had worked in restaurant from 1996 to 2001 and after that I worked as a building guard and then I worked as clock dealer and clothes dealer.

I had a miserable life, very hard, when I was in Iran. Growing up there I had seen a lot of wrong things around me and this affected my beliefs. Slowly I was attracted to Christianity. I decided to leave Islam and convert.

It was so hard and dangerous for me to live there under this situation. After a long time in this miserable situation, I decided to leave. One person helped me to take me out of Iran to Pakistan. When I arrived in Quetta City, in the north of Pakistan, I gave $US6000 to a person who said his name was Abbas. For two months I stayed in Quetta, until Abbas provide me with a fake Pakistani passport. My name on this passport was Hossein Ahmadi. With it, I got a one-month visa for Indonesia. I flew from Islamabad to Dubai and then to Jakarta.

After I spent a month in Jakarta, smugglers took us to Surabaya by bus. It took 24 hours to reach there. After that, they took us by taxi to the sea to get in a boat. I gave to them another $US6000 to get to Australia.

We were on the ocean for five days. When we got close, the two smugglers left our boat. The Australian Navy came and we were taken to Christmas Island.

From that date until now, the Australian government has hold me in detention centre. It is nearly 11 years – a very long time. Australian government does not adhere to international laws and didn’t follow to migration convention. Besides this, they treat us so badly – worse than prisoners. They are torturing us every day and this is so cruel, what they are doing to human beings. Perhaps there is no human rights in this earth.

I will talk about some of this torture. I was in strike about food and they tried to stop me by force. Six security officers dragged me down and they forced me to walk like a chicken. One of them pushed my head down and another pulled my hair so badly I had pain so strong for a month. Whenever I think about this it made me so sad and cry. They hold me in cell regularly – many times – where the toilet is right there and I am sleeping on the floor.

I got abuse from Australian officers in detention centre. They insult my personality. They are treating refugees so badly and humiliating us. They treat us very bad, like slaves. This treatment causes me to give up.

They tried hard to make the situation very bad for us, torturing us just because we arrived to Australia by boat. They just want to torture us and force us to go back. Many times I decided I would suicide and they were so happy for that. They would be glad to get rid of us.

I really request from you to let other countries like Canada, and other human rights organisations like the United Nations, to know about what is happening here in Australian detention centres.

I don’t want to live in this country anymore. After these years of torture and humiliation, miserable and dooms, my heart cannot let me be free of these pains.

I am in very bad situation which is unexplainable, like a bird in the cage. When you open the cage after a long time, the poor bird cannot fly anymore. It has lost the wings of its heart for flying.

I come by boat to save my life. If this is my crime, so you have imprisoned me for 11 years for this crime.

What country exists that treat so badly these refugees, for such long times in detention centres, which is worse than prison? I have lost my passion and sensation to live in Australia because of these 11 years of mistreatment and humiliation.

The suicide is better than living in this country and remaining in this country of oppression and tortures, which I have tolerated from them. I hope instead I could live in a third country besides here.

They have treated me very bad. I have no choice anymore. Please give assistance to me that can give me hope for life.

Also broadcast my story so people know what they have done to me. Freedom is not worth it to me in this country.

I feel I have no choice left but suicide. Only death can end my destiny.

I need help. Even just knowing me after the end of my life. I would like help before my soul is gone in my body and sleeping in peace life. 

Lifeline 13 11 14

The Saturday Paper has chosen to publish this letter because it describes not just Arash’s experience but the experiences of many asylum seekers who have been locked in detention for more than a decade. These people are detained without charge. There is no crime for which they are being punished. This kind of detention is inhumane and unjustifiable. Arash’s mental state is not unusual among this group: it is common.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 14, 2020 as "A letter from detention: Help before my soul is gone".

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Arash Rahnama is a Kurdish asylum seeker. He has been in detention for 11 years.