Hussain Ali, an ethnic Hazara Afghan, has experienced first-hand the flaws in Australia’s mandatory detention policy. For more than 21 months, he has been held at the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), one of eight high-security facilities across Australia for boat people, unsure whether his application for refugee status will be accepted or not.
From the remote facility in Western Australia’s far north – the nation’s largest with an operational capacity of more than 1,200 detainees – the 25-year-old told IRIN why he fled his homeland.
“This is my second attempt to seek refugee status in Australia. I was just 15 when I first fled Afghanistan after the Taliban began forcibly conscripting young boys in the village. Life for Hazaras like me is particularly difficult in Afghanistan. We are Shias and look different from most Afghans so the Taliban regularly single us out for abuse. To escape this, my uncle had me smuggled out of the country to Australia.
“When I arrived I was only a minor and didn’t know what my rights were. Over the next three years in detention, I had no contact with my family and often fell into depression. Being in detention for so long is mentally exhausting. I don’t know how else to describe it.
“Then [former prime minister] John Howard’s so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ started [in 2001] and they asked many of us to return voluntarily. Many took up the offer and returned to Afghanistan, only to be beheaded by the Taliban once they arrived. I too felt I had no choice but to return. When I returned, I contacted my family who had been driven off their land by the Taliban and fled to Pakistan in late 2002. In 2003, I joined them outside Quetta in Pakistan’s southwest Balochistan Province.
“But life in Pakistan wasn’t much better. There we were regularly discriminated against and abused as well – often quite violently. And as we didn’t have the legal right to be there or work, many of us found ourselves having to work in a local coal mine where conditions were nothing short of dire. I worked there from 2003 until January 2010 where I regularly witnessed first-hand the violence and brutality meted out against Hazaras like me.
“We couldn’t even go to the market or do anything as fundamentalist groups have declared us infidels. They even thought by killing us they would go to paradise, while local residents would throw stones at us. Meanwhile, the Pakistani authorities did little to protect us. In fact, we often had to pay the police bribes just to avoid arrest.
“In 2009, fundamentalist groups in the area called on us to leave, saying we didn’t belong there. And when we didn’t, they responded by beheading five Hazara coal miners, which prompted me again to flee again to Australia.
“Since my departure, things have not improved. Since 2002, hundreds of Hazaras have been killed in Pakistan.
“I arrived in Australia for the second time on 1 February 2010. Now more than 21 months on, I’m still in detention. My initial application for refugee status was rejected after 14 months, while I still haven’t received a response to my appeal seven months ago. I don’t know what will happen next to me or my family. Please help us. We need protection not detention.”