Mehdi arrived in Australia seeking asylum in 2011 at the age of 15. Here he shares his experience as a refugee and the long journey towards healing, holding onto hope and finding community.
It is my great honour and privilege to share my story and experience with members of the Common Grace community.
I have had a complicated relationship with the word, ‘community’. I have been hesitant and doubtful. For many years I could not or would not accept that word ‘community’ for someone like me. There are reasons for that. I wasn’t born in this country. I didn’t grow up in one particular place. I was born in Afghanistan during the peak of the civil war, grew up in Pakistan and I was stateless. To others it was quite natural to see me as an individual but to me it’s been challenging seeing myself as part of something larger. I grew up in what I would call survival mode.
When you’re in survival mode, you focus on getting through one day at a time. When you are in that mode at 10 years of age and at 15 years of age you just want to escape. Why? Because you feel like you won’t fit in that community, you feel like you are not belonging in that society. Being stateless makes you feel like you are un-welcomed. In survival mode you won’t think of entrepreneurship or changing other people’s life for the better. You just want to survive through the day, weeks, months and years.
Being stateless in Pakistan and the thought of survival mode pressured me to leave my family and everything behind to seek asylum in Australia. This was probably one of the biggest risks I ever took; for a better future and to get rid of the stateless label from my future. In 2011, at the age of 15, I experienced several challenges while trying to get to Christmas Island on a leaky and broken boat. It took eight months of hunger, human traffickers, fear of drowning in the ocean and being illegal in many unknown places with no clue about the culture.
After arriving on Christmas Island and going through the identification interview process, I still remember one of the questions from the immigration officer, “…Where are you from?” The answer was quite confronting for me. I replied that I was born in Afghanistan, grew up in Pakistan and I’m stateless (meaning I’m neither Afghan or Pakistani).
That’s why I came to Australia to be accepted.
Once I went through the immigration/detention process, I finally had the opportunity to have community and I started pursuing my dreams. I thought the hard part was done and it was time to build a life here. I wanted to work hard, get an education and integrate into the Australian lifestyle.
Looking back now, those times were the easiest, that’s so naive of me at the age 16 and 17, dreaming like that. Then the hardest part started from then on. Over the course of the following years, I felt lonely, full of anxiety, extremely depressed and miles away from my family. I literally had no one to share my feelings of joy, sadness, sorrows, or guilt with.
I thought “It’s not working” and everything was going against me.
One of my all-time dreams was to be reunited with my family (mother, sister, and brother) who were stranded in Pakistan. I had planned to bring them here and be with them in a safe and peaceful place that we could call home. Everyday it seemed like my plan and dreams were shattering into pieces.
On the other hand, from 2013 Australian Immigration Laws were becoming tougher on refugees like us, counted as ‘entering Australia illegally’. We lodged family applications multiple times and received refusal letters each time. Nobody cared how I felt. This type of risk I didn’t even anticipate before coming to Australia. My family was in great danger of deportation, being harmed or getting kidnapped in Pakistan. My mother, a single mother with 2 young children, in a male dominated country was at a great risk. Yet, I couldn’t help them. Nobody listened to my struggles and hardship.
The thought of being useless almost killed me emotionally.
Battling this, I still managed to focus on my education and having my dreams fulfilled, graduating with an honours degree in 2019. I had planned to visit my family back in Pakistan for the second time after all these years. Then in 2020, the pandemic hit and lockdowns were enforced all over the world. I promised my mother to visit her as soon as I could, only to break another promise. I am still waiting for my citizenship application since 2016 and immigration is not considering processing my citizenship application as I arrived by boat in Australia 11 years prior. Now, Pakistani officials won’t grant me a visa with my current Travel Document status. Unless I become an Australian citizen.
As you can see, anything linked to immigration goes against refugees in a very systematic pattern. This has been happening to me consistently. Most of the time, I sit quietly and ask myself “Why me? Why does this have to be happening to me?” After all these years this is still uncertain for me.
Sometimes, I force myself to forget everything and quit.
Sometimes I convince myself to keep pushing further and be optimistic about the future because I’m almost there. Sometimes, I don’t know how long I can keep going? This feeling of uncertainty and randomness drives me crazy.
Sometime, I lay on the floor in my room and cry. Rolling and crying incomprehensibly with nobody to talk to, wondering how I’m going through this.
Sometimes I write my memories in my diary. My diary is the only place where I can share everything openly. I write down my feelings: joy, sadness, struggle. I have found writing down every feeling is kind of like therapy. The only healing that excites me is to write them down when I’m feeling angry, guilty, or sad. This way, I learn how to understand myself and my feelings better than anybody else.
Once you learn the art of healing, you are no longer in survival mode.
You survive each day in one piece. You learn to understand yourself better than anyone else. For everyone the healing process is different and I have found healing in writing and a bit of crying too.
This is a short picture of decade-long refugee life under unhuman laws.
A good decision can change a refugee's life enormously but a bad decision can ruin their life.
I hope the new Australian government will make wise decisions by processing the outstanding citizenship application and expediting family reunion applications.
Thank you for reading my story.
We bring before you the journey of all those seeking safety and asylum on our shores.
We pray in their pain you bring comfort,
in their loss you bring healing,
in their despair you bring hope.
May we be your hands and feet offering the gift of welcome to our refugee neighbours,
and your voice in speaking out together for justice in these lands.
Mehdi’s story is a powerful and heartbreaking reminder of the importance of relationships, in particular the love and support of our family in bringing connection, belonging and healing.
For many refugees on Permanent Protection Visas, current government processes deprioritise certain family reunion applications depending on their mode of arrival to Australia, effectively denying permanent residents who arrived by boat the prospect of ever being approved for family reunion. Also, people on Temporary Protection Visas are not eligible to sponsor their family members to come to Australia.
Take action today in learning more and joining your voice with others calling for action. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) #RightTrack campaign is one action bringing people together to call on the government to ensure a fair asylum process. Learn more here.
Thank you for journeying with us through this special Refugee Week 2022 series. Please continue to join us in prayer for Justice for People Seeking Asylum.
As an independent movement, Common Grace relies on generous donations to help develop resources, reach more people and raise a generous Christian voice in the public conversation. As part of your Refugee Week 2022 engagement we invite you to consider making a donation to support the work of Common Grace as we continue to join our voices in calling for Justice for People Seeking Asylum in these lands now called Australia.
Share your reflections from this post, prayers and join the conversation by commenting on today's Common Grace Facebook, Instagram or Twitter post or write your own using the hashtag #RefugeeWeek2022.
Mehdi calls Melbourne home and currently works in one of the local Universities. He is engaged in various public speaking opportunities to advocate for refugee rights as well as exploring the topics of failure and taking risks. Mehdi's hobbies include reading and hosting the Sada Podcast.