“I am always moving forward”

Khaled is a father, an engineer, a graduate from RMIT University who finished with first class honours and a scholarship to write his PhD, a soccer coach, a bit of a rev-head, an Australian, an Iraqi and a person who came by boat.  

Home in Iraq

Khaled grew up with his family in Basra - a city in Iraq’s south between Kuwait and Iran. Khaled was twelve when the Saddam Hussein regime invaded Kuwait, followed by a massive US-led military campaign, which obliterated hundreds of thousands of lives and forced more from their homes. Khaled’s dad rescued refugees where he could and was promptly imprisoned for it.

Months later he was released, blacklisted, into the community. Not allowed to work and living in a police state where “a brother could not trust his brother” they feared persecution. His dad decided to sell a block of land so Khaled could be smuggled out of the country.

Escape

In 1998, Khaled was smuggled to Jordan - on his own.  From there he was told to fly to Malaysia since Iraqis did not need a visa. Still, upon arrival, Malaysian authorities took an arbitrary $500 from him before they let him leave the airport. From there, he flew again to Indonesia, now with hope to be reunited with his uncle in Australia.

Khaled’s uncle too escaped Iraq after being imprisoned for his beliefs that opposed the regime. His uncle had built a life in Melbourne as a successful writer, and who’s son would also become a popular writer, actor and stand-up comedian. (You may know him as the co-creator of the comedy web series ‘Two Refugees & a Blonde’.)

Not only was his family in Australia, but also Indonesia and Malaysia would not grant refugee status, as they are not signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. From Jakarta, Khaled boarded a fishing boat with three hundred and fifty other people. After the first attempt, which almost sunk the makeshift vessel, bribes handed over to corrupt Indonesian officials set them on a route past Surabaya and towards Australia.

Days later, the boat came in sight of an Australian border force vessel. The smugglers used sand to cut the engine, compelling the Australian officials to tow the boat to the nearest port – Darwin.

Everyone was flown to Curtin, Western Australia and placed in detention. Indefinitely. With no communication to the outside world, Khaled did all that he could – he waited.

Anew

Six months later, in June 2000, Khaled was granted a temporary protection visa. He moved to be with his family in Melbourne and immediately enrolled in an English course. After four months he achieved a certificate IV and then saved up by working on a farm in Shepparton. Finally with some money under his belt, he bought a car and rented a place in Melbourne.

Since he was not a permanent resident, Khaled was unable to HECS any university student fees and therefore unable to attend university. So he enrolled in a diploma of computer systems at TAFE.

In 2003, the Saddam Hussein regime fell and marked the start of years of conflict between different groups battling for power. Subsequent, Khaled was interviewed by the Australian Department of Immigration and granted permanent residency.

He enrolled in RMIT University and graduated with a 3.9 (out of 4) GPA and first class honours in a Bachelor of Communication Engineering. Khaled’s son was now 3.

Despite graduating with so many accolades, he could not find work and initially worked as a taxi driver. Eventually he was employed part-time at a research and development engineering firm. He received a scholarship to study a PhD in fibreoptic systems but refused for responsibilities to his family. 

Khaled is now a senior IP/network engineer. He is incredibly passionate about furthering his education and is always looking for ways to learn. What's next? Anything.

“I am always moving forward.”

By Talia Smith

Letter from a former refugee - A personal opinion

Like many war-torn countries, Vietnam has a long history of being invaded by other foreign countries through imperialism or colonialism. The Chinese, the French, the Japanese and the Americans have all occupied and ruled Vietnam for their own political benefits and agendas.

I left Vietnam as an asylum seeker when I was 18 years old. This was six years after the end of the Vietnam War (1975). My family is from Southern Vietnam, and it was Southern Vietnam that happened to fight alongside the American army during the war. My father was a police-man, and two of my brothers were in the South Vietnamese army. After the Northern Vietnamese communist regime won the war and reunified the country, they punished people who had any former connections with the American army. My family was in this category. My father was forced to work in the jungle. He contracted malaria and died at the age of 50.

In 1981, when I was about to complete year 12, a local government official told me that I was not allowed to apply for any universities because of my Southern Vietnamese background. Around this time, one of my brothers was conscripted to join the army to fight in Cambodia. And so, I had no choice but to join my brothers in a boat in order to escape from Vietnam.

The crisis of the Vietnamese refugees in the late 70s and early 80s was horrific. Hundreds of thousands of so-called boat people died in their attempts to flee the country.  In Australia, during the height of the humanitarian crisis, PM Fraser and his government generously accepted many refugees from Indochina. Many Vietnamese refugees from detention camps in Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia were allowed to resettle in Australia.

Ask yourself: would you want to risk your life and travel to the unknown whilst you were in the middle of year 12? Would you want to leave your family and friends to start anew in a country where you were alone, in a country where you did not belong, and in a country where you did not speak the language?

Evidently, I have overcome such adversities but still consider myself exceedingly fortunate compared to the refugees in Nauru and detention centres off-shore. What have those asylum seekers done to deserve such inhumane treatment from our current Government?

Here are some realities regarding refugees and asylum-seeking:

1.      It is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia. Both Australian and International laws allow asylum seekers to enter Australia without authorisation.

2.      Compared to other refugee-hosting countries, Australia receives a very small number of asylum applications. In 2012, Australia received just 1.47 per cent of the world’s asylum applications.

3.      In 2010, 6879 asylum seekers arrived in Australia. That is 6.8% of the seats in the MCG.

4.      While asylum seeker arrivals have increased in recent years, the numbers are still very small in global terms and well under one-tenth of Australia’s annual migration intake.

5.      A refugee who has permanent residency in Australia receives exactly the same social security benefits as any Australian citizen or eligible permanent resident in the same circumstances. Centrelink payments are calculated at exactly the same rate for both refugees and non-refugees.

6.      The majority of refugees who have reached Australia by boat are found to be genuine asylum seekers. All must undergo rigorous assessment processes in order to obtain permanent residency in Australia on humanitarian grounds

I was a refugee back in the 80s. I have been a teacher within the Education Department for almost 27 years. My son is training to be a medical doctor and my daughter is training to be an optometrist. We are here because of the generosity of the Australian Government under PM Fraser. We are living and doing the best we can to continue building this great country, much like the generations before us. After all, post-colonial Australia is a land which was built by people from all corners of the world. We are all migrants, except for the indigenous population of the First People. We should show compassion towards those attempting to flee persecution, poverty, or any inhumane living conditions. Australia is a vast country with plenty of opportunities for everyone. We have to stop being so cruel, prejudiced, and narrow-minded; and instead open our hearts to all asylum seekers.

Tuan Quan Le