Why do they have to wait for years?

Imagine being locked up against your will for more than five years. How would you feel? This is the reality for refugees on Manus Island right now.

I am a former refugee who spent 16 weeks in Curtin Immigration Detention Centre during the Howard era. The centre was horrible, barbaric, cruel and worse than prison. The medical treatment was almost non-existent. On one occasion, I can recall having a stomach ache and asking for Panadol. The doctor replied, “Go drink plenty of water and you should be fine.” This was a standard response when one of us was unwell.

I’ve come a long way since I arrived and am proud of what I’ve achieved.

Curtin was set up for a maximum of 300 people but it housed around 1500 people seeking asylum. Just like Nauru and Manus Island, it was worse than hell.

The locals were also unwelcoming as they had lost their jobs at the centre and now had to look after the refugees as well. This made them understandably resentful and the refugees were afraid to ask them for help.

It’s a terrible thing when you feel like you have no choices in your future and you don’t know what is going to happen next. I faced this situation when I arrived at Curtin in 1999 – I didn’t know who to contact, who to approach or where to go. I was also homesick and had no idea what might happen in the future. This makes you feel very powerless, hopeless and depressed.

But I was lucky. I was allowed to look for employment when I left detention and soon found work as a labourer. Since then I’ve tried to educate myself and am now completing my Masters degree. I’ve come a long way since I arrived and am proud of what I’ve achieved.

We don’t have to punish people seeking asylum.

I understand they need medical and security checks but that should be completed in a few months and they should be processed in an orderly matter. Why do they have to wait for years? Some refugees have been on Manus Island for more than five years and their mental and physical health will be damaged from that experience.

Why do they have to be lumped in a detention centre? In Europe they are housed in the community while they are being processed.

The reopening of Christmas Island Detention Centre is just like reopening another jail. But in a jail, prisoners have a canteen and can buy things with their own money. You can’t do that in a detention centre. In jail you have access to high-quality medical care but in detention centres you don’t – that’s why the Medevac Bill that was recently passed by the Australian Parliament is so important.

Australia has a duty of care to the vulnerable people who come here seeking refuge. But instead, people seeking asylum are dumped off-shore and their basic rights are neglected.

We have to do better.

About the Author: John Gulzari 

John is a Melbourne based entrepreneur and a powerful advocate for the Hazara community. After growing up in Afghanistan, John sought protection in Australia in 1999. Since then John has built a career in property investment and is in process of completing his Masters of Entrepreneur.

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