Asylum seeker’s fight for freedom

Karrar Albaheli (foreground, 24) a refugee from Basra, Iraq, with his family, from left, brothers Montadher (11) and Zolfeqar (19), father Qotaiba, mother Nawahedh and sisters Raghda (18) and Waqar (22).
Karrar Albaheli (foreground, 24) a refugee from Basra, Iraq, with his family, from left, brothers Montadher (11) and Zolfeqar (19), father Qotaiba, mother Nawahedh and sisters Raghda (18) and Waqar (22).

When he was three, his family left their home in Basra, Iraq, to seek asylum in Iran.

In 1991, many of those involved in the Shabania revolution against Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime were gunned down in the streets.

Karrar’s parents, who had taken part in peaceful street protests, feared for their lives and those of their children.

The family fled to Iran.

The next nine years of Karrar’s childhood were spent at the Ahwaz refugee camp.

When his family eventually moved to Kom, Iran, he completed high school and looked forward to studying information technology at university.

‘But I found out I could not enrol at university in Iran, so I went back to Iraq in 2008,’ he said.

‘However, they told me, because my (high school graduation) certificate was from Iran, they would not accept it and I couldn’t study, so I had to go back to Iran.’

Karrar said each day in Iran without being officially recognised as a citizen was difficult.

‘There was a war between Iran and Iraq for eight years and many people hated us,’ he said.

‘We had no rights ” we couldn’t study; we couldn’t work. I could not even buy a SIM card for my phone. There was no life at all in Iran.’

Karrar eventually found work as a typist at a publishing company.

He was quickly promoted to electronic website manager, publishing local and Iraqi news.

When his family felt the situation in Basra was more secure, they moved back to Iraq in 2010.

However, that lasted just 20 days after the ailing Iraqi health system was unable to treat two of his siblings ” Waqar (22) and Montadher (11) ” who both suffer from inherited blood disorder thalassemia, in which the body produces less than normal healthy red blood cells and hemoglobin.

When he returned to work at the Iranian publishing company in October, 2010, his manager asked for his passport to arrange a sponsorship for him.

‘But they never gave it back. I was told I would be working in the war media section, where I learned many secrets which tied the company to terrorist attacks,’ he said.

He confronted his manager and asked to resign.

‘However, they did not permit me to leave as they said I knew too much about their work’ he said.

‘I was assaulted and my father had a gun put to his head. They threatened my whole family.’

While he hid at a friend’s house, a fake passport was organised in July, 2011, to enable him, his father, mother and four siblings escape.

ON BOAT TO AUSTRALIA

THE Albaheli family decided Australia was their best option. “>

They travelled by air from Kom to Dubai before flying on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

After sheltering there for eight days they climbed aboard a boat headed for Indonesia.

They then travelled overland to the high mountain area of Cisarua in West Bandung, West Java, for the three month wait to get a boat to Australia.

In October, 2011, people smugglers took the family on a boat to Australia.

‘We were told we needed at least one week at sea to get to Australia but I was worried it would take longer,’ Karrar said.

‘My brother and sister with thalassemia need blood transfusions every three weeks and my mother has diabetes.

It was very dangerous but we had to do it. Otherwise we had no future.’

The refugees were picked up en route by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and taken to Darwin.

The family spent three months in detention at Darwin Airport Lodge.

Karrar said despite hearing of fights and suicide attempts, Australian detention centres were better than those overseas and were ‘safe places’.

‘The people running the centres called us their clients. They would say ‘client number one-four-one’. It sounds better than a prisoner number.

Sometimes they would take us to a swimming pool or to the sea, just to go out for a few hours. But we did not have free will,’ he said.

Karrar said detainees were often angry ‘or crazy’ while being held.

‘This is why they fight and want to die ” they are waiting too long’ ‘They told me it would take three months to a year,’ he said.

‘Immigration has the right to delay (applications), because without them all the people from all the countries will come to Australia and

the rest of the world will be empty.

‘It just needs to be a faster process.’

He said he had gone to the Department of Immigration last Friday and was told to keep waiting.

‘I feel like my life is on hold,’ Karrar said.

He said it was almost impossible to find a job on a refugee visa.

‘I’m the kind of person who wants to work and be busy,’ he said.

‘I do not hope for very big things; I just want to study here and get my certificate and find a job ” a normal life.’

His mother, Nawahedh Albaheli, described Australia as ‘very beautiful with a kind community’.

However, although the family is safe, she is worried for the future.

‘When I look at my children I feel very sad,’ she said.

‘They are just sitting at home every day. I want opportunities for them.’

Mrs Albaheli said the visa was especially important because the family needed a health card to visit a dentist and get discounts for medicine for two of the childrens’ medical conditions.

She said it was difficult to speak of their life in limbo to other family members in Iraq.

‘They ask me how are we, and what can I say to them?’ she said.

‘They ask about the children and what can I tell them?

‘If we got the visa we could work, we could study, we could be healthy. We would have a future. Then it would be a real home.’