I’m a proud Australian citizen. But it was a hell of a journey to get to this point. You see, I’m originally from Iran. In 2011, my sister told us she was going to travel to Australia, and a few weeks later she called from Sydney Harbour where she was having a beer. She kept calling my wife to encourage us to take the same journey, then introduced us to someone who could arrange the trip which they promised would be a piece of cake.
So along with my wife, two daughters and some of my neighbours I flew to Jakarta. We spoke with a smuggler who told us we would take a boat trip in a couple of weeks. We had a great time, eating ice cream and seeing a movie at the mall. When we got on the boat and set sail, I thought that this was turning out just like we were told. Then the boat sank. We spent days on an island before eventually being rescued by a fisherman. I knew that some boats had trouble. But being in that trouble was totally different. Imagine seeing your daughters in the water, then stuck on an island and running out of food.
The smuggler refused to return our money. Anyway, we were too scared to try another boat. We ended up living in Indonesia for two years until we were eventually resettled by Australia, flying safely over the same water where we’d swam desperately before.
I didn’t have a clue about the refugee system until I was involved in it. I remember taking my CV to the first resettlement interview with UNHCR in Indonesia, since I presumed that Australia would want to hire me if I was a good worker. I proudly showed off my fluent English, not yet realising that the system was really looking for vulnerable people (but not too vulnerable – or too religious).
I feel seriously lucky that I slipped through the closing door of Australia’s refugee system. Many more people came after me on the boats, even as Australia started sending them to Nauru and Papua New Guinea. I started telling people back in Iran not to try the journey, but many of them believed I was being selfish, trying to keep Australia to myself.
After looking through the pages of this book, I see a lot in my story that could have been different with better information and someone knowledgeable to talk to. Now that I’m safe in Australia I see my decision as justified. But I probably wouldn’t have taken the trip if I’d understood it properly to begin with. If that sounds complicated, I hope I’m making the point that migration communications campaigns are about people – individuals and families making difficult decisions. I was one of them, so I can say that if you’re reading these words and planning a campaign, please do it well, because there are lots of people depending on you.
Hamid the Australian