By Dana Affleck. This article is part of our December 2012 and January 2013 focus on Asylum Seekers.
Hassan is a little younger than me and we have the same cynical sense of humour. When I first met him early last year, he wasn’t very friendly. He just gave me a nod of acknowledgement and a half arsed smile and then went on chatting with someone else. The second time we met, again I got a disinterested nod and we had a short conversation about nothing. When I mentioned I spoke some Arabic we had a short exchange and it was an experience he found much funnier than I did, but it was enough to break the ice and we became friends. He had a big afro, a mischievous grin and smoked so much that even on freezing winter nights our conversations were only ever outside.
It wasn’t until I was seeing him regularly at MITA (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation) that I noticed his arms were criss-crossed from his wrists up to his shoulders in scars. And months later when he shaved off his springy curls, I saw that his head too was heavily scarred.
Hassan is my mate but he is not like the rest of my mates. He is an approved refugee from Kuwait who ASIO has deemed a threat to our national security. As a result he faces spending the rest of his life in our detention centres. The reason is this: Australia is prohibited by international law to return Hassan to his country of origin since he has been found to be a legitimate refugee and faces persecution there. However, due to ASIO’s assessment of Hassan, he has been given an adverse security check and therefore is not allowed into the community, leaving him in limbo.
“You want to keep me in here forever? Fine. Just tell me why. Just give me the reason you will keep me here.”
An assessment rendering someone a threat to the security of Australia is a significant accusation and should not be taken lightly. Imagine being told that ASIO thinks that Australia isn’t safe unless you are behind bars. Then you are told that you cannot appeal this decision and you cannot know the reasons behind the assessment – you just have to accept it. Looking back into the tunnel where you once saw a light shining at the end, your hope fades and the light is gone.
I went to Adelaide last week to visit Hassan after he had been moved from Melbourne. I was surprised when the map directing me to the detention accommodation led me to a quiet suburban avenue. In the no through road, the Kilburn house at the end of the street looks like a vet clinic. I wondered if the neighbours knew of the emotional turmoil and suicidal thoughts that were fenced in next door. I wondered if they had seen my mate being brought in and knew he might live there forever. I wondered if they knew he was the teenager in the news who tried to hang himself from the showers in Darwin Detention Centre. I wondered if they knew that he had been clinically dead but had somehow survived, left with an Adam’s apple that swims around in his neck.
“When I tried to kill myself, I was dead but then the officer found me. One week later I woke up in hospital, opened my eyes – the same life.”
Hassan first started struggling with his mental health after six months of being detained (“When I was in Christmas Island, I started doing stupid things. Cutting, screaming, stopping eating”). It’s been a year and a half since Hassan was given refugee status approval and just over a year since ASIO put a black mark on his name. So now he languishes.
During the visits we spend time mostly talking while Hassan either smokes or rolls a cigarette. He makes me tea and we talk about his family, his time in Indonesia, the boat trip to Australia and the arrival of his little brother, now detained on Christmas Island. Hassan smiles while he tells me about the time he escaped from Darwin Detention Centre. He said he knew his freedom was limited so he just made a beeline for the nearest nightclub. He was surprised when the bouncer asked for ID but wasn’t surprised that it didn’t take too long for the officers to track him down.
“I don’t want to see fences, I don’t want to see officers watching me, I don’t want to see cameras. I just want to go outside when I want. I want to have real contact with real people. I want a good life.”
Hassan’s mind torments him and since his hopes were shattered by an unexplained ASIO assessment, his spirit is broken. He doesn’t care about his scars or his cuts and laughs at people’s reactions. When people ask him what the scars on his arms are from he tells them “I was in the jungle fighting with a tiger” and smiles at his own joke.
“I cut my head because I wanted to take my mind out from me. If someone else had my mind, they would kill themselves after one week. I promise you this.”
Hassan is my mate but his life has been nothing like mine.
Dana Affleck is a student from Melbourne with a strong interest in human rights issues, particularly those of refugees. She studies law at Deakin University.