Many Indonesian asylum seekers make the dangerous journey from their homes to Australia in search of freedom and safety. They sell their belongings and pay smugglers thousands of dollars to take them safely across the ocean, hoping for a better future. Instead, they often end up in Australian detention centers on Christmas Island or Nauru, where people without visas are detained.
For the government, keeping asylum seekers in detention centers is beneficial. It has made a dent in the people smuggling industry and it has discouraged asylum seekers from coming to Australia without a visa, as they will likely end up getting trapped in detention centers.
These detainees come from many different countries, and each of them have a reason to be called a refugee and to be resettled in Australia. Some flee to avoid torture and prosecution by their government, others are targeted because of their religious or ethnic identity.
Bachir* is one of those asylum seekers whose journey ended behind bars. Originally from Iran, he left his home because he feared for his safety and felt that emigration was his only option.
After three months, he arrived in Indonesia and got in touch with smugglers to take him to Australia. Once the smugglers received their money, things moved quickly.
“The next day they put us on a boat,” Bachir, 27, said. “But soon, the boat was spotted and returned back by Indonesian Security Forces.”
He tried two more times without any success. Bachir stayed in Indonesia for two years in frustration, and finally, on his fourth attempt, their boat was able to leave without being spotted by guards.
“When we realized that we were getting closer to Australia I was very happy, saying to myself that the hard work is finally paying off,” Bachir said. But after a few hours their boat was intercepted by Australian border security and they were taken to the detention center.
Bachir was detained for two years and seven months. During that time, he stopped eating for days and intended to take his own life several times. He remembers other asylum seekers who were depressed and were suffering from mental health issues, often trying to harm themselves. This is not uncommon in detention centers, as detainees often find the circumstances intolerable. In May, a Somalian woman set herself alight in the Nauru detention center just one week after a 23-year-old Iranian man committed suicide in the same way.
Bachir was released to Australia four months ago, and he is living on a bridging (temporary) visa. He said he is less optimistic about his future than when he set out, as he is still recovering from past experiences in Iran and the detention center. He also noted that the Australian government should do more for those who are being detained. He said the government should release all the detainees who have done nothing wrong.
The Australian government’s harsh treatment of these asylum seekers has been criticized by many international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the Australian Human Rights Commission. Still, this has not influenced government policy. The current approach toward asylum seekers contradicts international law on refugees and can destroy the lives of many innocent people who are locked up.
“I was traveling to Australia and to what I hoped was safety and freedom,” Bachir said. “I missed my family. I missed my country. I had no idea what would happen, but I had hope that things would be better.”
*Editor’s note: Bachir’s real name has been changed for his safety and privacy.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV