I WAS born in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. I was born in Kashmir, between India and Pakistan. I was born in Iran. I was born in Iraq. I was born in Sri Lanka.
I worked as an architect, building up my business. I worked as a negotiator, liaising with the government. I worked as an engineer. I worked as a veterinarian. I worked as an accountant.
I am a member of the Hazara ethnic group. I am opposed to the government’s occupation of Kashmir. I am a firm believer in women’s rights. I am a whistleblower for government corruption. I am an ethnic Tamil.
I was held down while I watched my father beaten to death. I was kidnapped by the government and taken to an interrogation room. I was knocked out with the butt of a rifle. I was shot three times. I was arrested and put in a camp.
They kept me in a solitary cell for four days without food or water. They drove a nail through my thumb and put fresh chilli in the wound. They beat the soles of my feet with canes. They pulled out my fingernails. They placed a metal roller on my shins and applied pressure until I screamed.
I bribed a guard to help me escape in the middle of the night. I fled through the mountains and a farmer smuggled me across the border. I hid underground for five months. I sold my property and used the money for a plane ticket. I cut a hole in the wire fence and crawled through the jungle to a safehouse.
I got on the first boat I could, wherever it was going. I paid a man $7000 to take me somewhere safe, but he left with my money. I spent months in Indonesia hiding in the forest. I was dumped in the middle of the ocean and had to swim to shore. I arrived on Ashmore Reef and collapsed from thirst and heat exhaustion.
I was so relieved to be in Australia! I was happy to be safe from the militia! I was alive, I was overjoyed, I was finally free!
I was then locked up on Christmas Island for three years without a lawyer. I was put behind bars and razor wire in the middle of the desert. I was called by a number not a name. I was kept in an isolation cell. I was beaten and abused by the guards.
Why am I locked up if I haven’t committed a crime? How can I be in prison without a trial? Why can’t they treat me like a human being? Why am I kept here all alone? Why haven’t I been told when this will end?
I am depressed and have constant headaches. I am frightened and wake up screaming. I am losing my mind. I have sewn my lips together. I have tried to kill myself.
I didn’t want to be a refugee. I didn’t want to come to your country. I didn’t want to leave my family. I didn’t want to lose my house. I didn’t want to have to start again.
I am not here to get rich. I am not here to receive charity. I am not here to steal your job. I am not here to cheat the system. I am not here by choice.
I am here because otherwise I would be dead. I am here because the militia threatened to kill me and my family. I am here because I was shot. I am here because my house was burned down. I am here because I have nowhere else to go.
I was born in a dangerous land. I was persecuted for who I am and what I believe. I was tortured in an interrogation room. I was dumped in the ocean. I was locked up in detention.
I am an asylum seeker, every asylum seeker, and this is my story. I am not a ‘queue jumper’. I am not an ‘illegal arrival’. I am not a ‘political issue’.
I am a human being. Please treat me like one.
The above stories are based on letters from asylum seekers in detention. This article is available for re-publication. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.