In Search of Refuge - A desperate Journey

by J u m a   K h a n   N a z a r i
Afghan Asylum Seeker
Topside Camp, Nauru
Monday, August 11, 2003
Project Safecom

It was January 21st 2001 that I left Afghanistan for the last time.

Before it I had several visits to Pakistan, especially in 1998, 1999 and 2000. I visited Pakistan in March 1998, as I needed urgent medical treatment on kidney. I had a serious pain in my kidney. The doctors suggested me to see any specialist doctor, so I went to Pakistan.

A month later, I heard about the murder of my dad. Religious fundamentalist group in district ambushed him while he was going to another village. After this incident my family suggested to me, to not return to Afghanistan for some time.

I stayed in Pakistan for more than six months. I met many youths and socialist activists in Pakistan who had left Afghanistan a few years before.

In spite of the worst situation I had, I warmly joined them. I had been involved with left educational activities during my school life though I had not the membership of any particular organization.

A very small group of Afghan leftists had discussions with ISA section in Pakistan and they had published a few issues of their papers. When I joined them they were in a very bad condition. They had been threatened and tortured by the Islamist groups so they had stopped publication of their papers.

A month later, I joined them, the Islamism groups attacked our secret office in Pakistan so we scattered to different places. Many of us left Pakistan and went to different countries. So with two others I went to the central office of our co-thinkers in Pakistan and stayed there for three months. We were asked to reorganize our group so we contacted some youths and previous members.

In October 1998 I went back to Afghanistan while the Taliban had recently got military control over central states of Afghanistan where I lived.

After a few months I went to Kabul to participate in the entry test of Kabul University. Before entry test I visited university. I met some of my friends there. I found the university entirely different. It was changed into a religious campus. I found the students having religious turbans and caps on their heads. When I entered in the campus of the university I thought I had entered a masque. The Taliban had imposed religious subjects and Arabic language. The students were compelled to waste their half time in religious activities and prayer. Many students had escaped from university. I did not take interest in university so I came back home.

I visited Pakistan many times in 1998-2000. I attended two conferences of the international socialist section in Pakistan in 1999 and 2000 so I got chances to discuss with international leaders and delegates of the ISA in the conferences. During that period I succeeded in organizing some students and youths, and recruit them in the group, in central states of Afghanistan. It was due to the secret organizational activities with the help of some other Socialists. We did not have any office. Our homes were used as organization offices. We could not distribute our papers and literatures openly. If anyone were found with these sorts of literatures Islamism groups would kill them.

In Oct. 2000, Taliban rushed at my home and found the magazines, documents and papers. Since then they prosecuted me. Moreover, I had been persecuted by different fundamentalist groups because of my political opinion.

A week before they had arrested one of my friends who was active in our organization. After [that] I took much care of me so I did not go to my home; after this incident I stayed in Afghanistan in different villages for two months.

January 1st 2001, I left Afghanistan and went to Pakistan. After discussions with friends and organization I decided to seek asylum in western countries.

I left Pakistan and came to Indonesia in 21 January. Some of my friends had already gone to western countries for seeking asylum.

The religious fundamentalist groups had much influence in Pakistan, especially in Baluchistan and NWFP states attached on Afghan border. The brutality and barbarity were dominating over these states. The religious and racial minorities of these states were too afraid of Taliban. They had broken many of their shops. The last election in Pakistan showed their influence when they won a large majority of the polls in these two states.

In the evening of 21 January 2001 I arrived in the airport of the Indonesian capital Jakarta. When I entered in the hall an officer came and asked my name he took my passport and went in his office beside the hall. Ten minutes later he gave my passport back and told me to cross the door so I came out of the airport. I saw an Indonesian man calling me so I met him.

After a few minutes walking I met other men who were smugglers. I saw another 29 Afghans in the cars that had just come out of the airport before me.

The smugglers moved us to a suburb of Jakarta, called Chepanas. Ten days later we were moved from Jakarta to the island of Bau Bau by a big ship. We were 111 people and the smugglers were accompanying us on the ship.

We landed on Bau Bau Island on 3 February 2001.

On the afternoon of the same day we got on a boat and left the island to Australia. After 4 hours travelling we confronted a strong storm and rain. The boat was unable to go ahead. Too much water was coming inside the boat we were about to sink. So we turned the ship back to the island.

We stayed on that island for 8 days. On 12 February we started travelling again. On the first day we travelled but in the evening the engine of the boat stopped. We remained on the water in that night. Early in the morning we started travelling again. For the whole day we travelled but in the evening the rain started. And the water became stormy. At 9 o'clock we ere caught in such stormy water that I had never seen in my life. We could not control us in the boat. We were moving from one side to another side like leaves in the wind. We were about to sink. Darkness had covered everywhere. We could not see any island. At 4 o'clock in the morning the water became normal.

At 8 o'clock we arrived at an island. Another boat had already arrived there. But the engine on that boat was failed, so we started repairing that boat. The whole day passed.

The darkness of night dominated everywhere. The water got stormy. The boat started moving at different angels near the island. In the early morning we started traveling in the correct direction but the other boat remained behind. The water was becoming stormier. In the afternoon the rain started and we confronted high waves. The engine of the boat stopped working. The waves pushed the boat to the beach. The boat struck with stones near the beach. All of us jumped into the water. It happened on 15th Feb 2001.

We stayed on that island for 3 days.

On 18 February the police moved us to an island called Larantuka situated in Flores, Timor.

On the evening of the next day two IOM officials came and moved us to a hotel. IOM promised they would call UNHCR in just a few weeks.

UNHCR came on 8 April so they interviewed us. The interviews finished in 15 days. UNHCR went back to Jakarta promising that they would announce the result in four of five weeks. They never came back.

We were kept in a very low standard hotel. The rooms had no fan and the weather was too hot. We used to drink the water taken from a well. The owner of the hotel and hotel staff did not use to drink that water. The distance between the well and the underground septic tank was just 6m.

Some time we had to starve because of food shortage. We could not sleep because of hotness and mosquitoes. The hotel was very dirty.

Three weeks after our arrival we suffered from malaria one by one. Every day more than ten of us were under medical treatment in hospital, I remember the day that I became unconscious when I was looking after patients with some others in hospital. In the early morning I got fever. After two hours I did not know what happened. Later on when I opened my eyes I saw me in the bed, the nurse and my friends were standing beside me.

On that night 18 of my friends were in the hospital. I was in hospital for 5 days.

The fever left from my body in a month. In the same time other sickness attacked one us. The majority of us got allergy. The doctor told us not to use the water from the hotel well for bath while we were using that water for drink. Therefore we got different types of the health problems so we contacted UNHCR because the situation was intolerable. We asked UNHCR to come and give our result. Whenever we contacted they said they could come next week, next week changed into next month and next month changed into next three months but UNHCR did not come.

At last we contacted IOM to move us to Jakarta but IOM rejected our request. In the last two months IOM did not visit us. In the month of June some of us escaped to Jakarta.

The police chief of that island had gone to Jakarta, so we asked the assistant police chief to send us to Jakarta.

He was a very good man and was much aware of our situation. He talked with IOM at the same time and IOM promised that they were coming next week but they did not come.

The surgeon of the hospital also wrote a letter telling the hospital was not able to control the diseases that had spread among us.

At last the assistant police chief sent some of us, those who needed urgent medical treatment, to Jakarta legally. The rest of us were free to go to Jakarta. The police of that island would not stop any one, but we had to escape in small groups. The police did not take any money. They were afraid of our bad situation.

The last two months I was the interpreter of the group. I talked with UNHCR on the telephone and explained our situation. I asked them when they would come, they people were crying and some were nearly to die. The officer said "let them cry and let them die, we will come anytime".

After a few days I tried to talk to UNHCR again they did not talk. After asking my name and group name they stopped talking.

IOM did the same.

In mid July we were only 20 left in the hotel. The others had escaped to Jakarta. So I with other 12 managed to escape. In the early morning on 14 July we left Larantuka Island. Some way we traveled by bus and some by boat.

On 19 July we arrived in Jakarta and talked with smugglers.

On 23 July 2001, we embarked on a boat in Jakarta. We were more than 300 people in the boat. We hoped to arrive on Christmas Island in 32 or 36 hours.

We travelled to Christmas Island for 40 hours but we could not see the island. The captain said that he had lost the way and said there was oil only for the next 40 hours so we turned the boat back to Jakarta. After 43 hours we arrived near an island in the northwest of Jakarta. On 26th July we got on the island. After few hours some of us left the island for Jakarta in small boats. So I and another 23 of my friends got on the boat in the evening. Three hours later we arrived in Lampoon port. The police arrested us and took us to police station the others who left the island before us were also arrested. Others who had left behind also arrived, only a few of us were not arrested. We asked the police to send us to IOM office so the police moved us into a big mosque.

At 12 O'clock at night the police sent us to Jakarta by six buses. At 9 o'clock we arrived at IOM office in Jakarta. The office was closed.

After an hour all of us left and we took buses and cars to a suburb called Chepanas. So I with another three friends got into taxi. After a few hours we arrived at the previous place. Smugglers came and took us to different places to house us.

This time I decided not to go to Australia by wooden boat so I contacted UNHCR and IOM by phone but the IOM rejected me, that it cannot support me.

At the same time I talked to UNHCR. They told that they would give the result of my interview the next day so I went and got a rejected result. I sent my application for next interview. After 15 days I asked them when I should come. They told me next day.

So I went in UNHCR office. They rejected that they had told me for interview. They told me for interview in next two months. So I talked to IOM and asked them to accommodate me but they said that I had to wait for some months.

I did not have any financial support. The smugglers told me that if I miss the boat they would leave me alone or I would have to pay them extra money. I was out of pocket so if I had stayed there I would have never been able to contact UNHCR again. I could not find any solution for the matter I was compelled to follow the smugglers.

On 23 august 2001, I got on the boat and traveled to Australia. In the morning of the next day the engine failed. We had crossed the international water. The engine was broken. We could not restart it. The wind moved the boat to unknown and different directions. We could not see any island. We were very afraid of the situation.

The sea was wavy. The second day passed. Too much water was coming in second deck of the boat when the boat confronted the waves. Almost 100 of us were always in water because we did not have enough space in the boat.

In the night we were trembling with cool. The water pushed us from one side to other side. Fortunately no one fell down into the eater. Two times I nearly fell into water. The same happened with many others.

On 25 August 2001, an Australian aircraft came. It flew over the boat in a very short height. We were very happy that the rescue help would soon arrive. It gave us some strength but the day passed we did not see any sign of the help. We were very disappointed. Many of us had lost their hopes and some were lying like a dead body. I saw people saying goodbye to each other. The water started coming in the boat. Every one knew we were in the mouth of death.

In the morning of 26 August, the aircraft came again. It flew over the boat once in every hour.

In the early afternoon of 26 August, the Tampa ship appeared. A few minutes later it came near to the boat.

We were over the moon. The crew hauled us up from the broken boat aboard the Tampa. About 5 O'clock all got aboard the Tampa. It took almost 32 hours from the first arrival of aircraft till we were rescued. After getting aboard the Tampa we asked the Captain Arne Rinnan to move us to Christmas island because we were near to Christmas island as the intention was get to Australia. He agreed. We were happy that we would soon arrive in Australia. But after getting near to Christmas Island a new story started. The Australian authorities did not allow us to land on Christmas Island.

On the 5th day captain Arne Rinnan said that he was going to get close to the island without permission. Nobody should jump in the water when the ship approached the island. We needed urgent medical assistance and food. It was really difficult for Tampa staff to get enough food and medicine. At the beginning they tried their best. We are very thankful to captain Arne Rinnan and the crews aboard the Tampa. They did for us whatever they could. They treated us well and compassionately with a smiling face unlike Australian government, authorities and commandoes.

On Monday 29 August, around lunchtime, SAS commandoes captured the Tampa while it was 3 or 2 miles near the island. They never allowed the crew to talk to us. The situation seemed frightful and the commandoes took control of the ship. Commander read the Howard statements whenever the report was passed to him. The last statement was that NZ would take the families and children up to 150 asylum seekers. The rest of us would be moved to Nauru for refugee process that would take sixteen weeks (4 months).

In the last days IOM official came on Tampa and told us that they would help us if we left Tampa. Many of us protested against IOM to leave the ship and rejected their assistance because many of us had seen them in Indonesia and new their deceitfulness and were much aware of how they deceived us in Indonesia. They soon left the ship.

IOM is an organization that is not independent. It does whatever it is told by any independent authorities, Howard brutal and racist regime for instance. By being called a humanitarian organization IOM has distorted the humanitarian sense. In the media it appears an independent organization but politically it is not different from Wackenhut Correctional Company, the parent company of Australian Correctional Management who runs the Australian Immigration detention centre. IOM has always followed DIMIA's policy.

On 3 September 2001, the SAS commander told us that we should leave Tampa voluntarily. If we did not leave Tampa voluntarily he would do it in just a few minute by force. First families left the ship. The reluctant majority of us were not really to leave Tampa. At last after evaluating the situation and the threats of commandoes we also left the ship and were moved to naval ship HAMAS Manoora. They took us in a hot underground compartment. The way they treated us on Manoora was very offensive. They used abusive words to us in their language. In last days on Manoora the word "Terrorist' was common. They became stricter to us while we were entirely unaware of the situation and terrorist action in New York. They did not realize that we were pushed from Afghanistan by the same Al Qaeda and Taliban Regime who were accused for those attacks. If I explain the way we were treated on Manoora it would cover many pages. When so called humanitarian organization IOM officials appeared in Manoora with their deceitful faces we asked them for enough food and well treatment they told us that we were under military control and they could not do anything.

On 20 September I left Manoora in second group and since then I have been detained in Topside Detention centre on Nauru with other asylum seekers. I have written the rest part of the story and the ways we have been treated in Nauru detention centre managed by Australian government in many of my letters and articles I sent to you and many other Australian humanitarian people and organizations. I am very thankful to you and other Australian humanitarian people for your humanitarian feelings and struggle for refugees' rights and I hope you will continue your struggle.

I have signed an execution letter provided by executioner Howard and Ruddock regime. I am going back to Afghanistan in the next few days. It is not a voluntary repatriation. It is a forced repatriation. The worst situation of detention and mental pressure imposed by Australian government has compelled me to leave the detention centre. I do not know what will happen when I get back in Afghanistan and how my political opponents and religious fundamentalist groups would treat me.

J u m a   K h a n   N a z a r i
Email: j u m a n a z a r i


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