Ahmad Ali Jafari, 20th February 1987 – 20th June 2013
Report and tribute by Graeme Swincer, Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group
Just before 4pm today, Thursday 20th June 2013, I said goodbye to my dear friend Ahmad Ali Jafari at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. Little did I know it would be the last time. As usual he had served me a cup of tea and this time he had also given me copies of his documents so that I could help him write a submission to the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship. It seemed like his last hope of obtaining what he had always longed for and deserved. But he is now beyond hope. He died of a heart attack late in the evening. He survived the Taliban and long and dangerous journeys but he did not survive Australia’s hideous refugee system.
In 2009 a flawed and uncaring system in the UK had forcibly deported him to danger in Afghanistan where he had no remaining family links. He immediately fled to Quetta in Pakistan to be with the remnants of his family, but the situation was even more dangerous than when he had left for Europe as a teenager in 2005. So he made his way to Christmas Island. He was deemed not to be a genuine refugee in May 2010, but once again he was the victim of a flawed assessment that used soft and dated country information to pretend that he could return safely to Afghanistan. With considerable professional experience and knowledge I have studied the reasons given and am appalled at their arbitrariness. Up to that time almost every other Hazara had been eventually and correctly accepted as a refugee. But political pressures demanded that this should change. Processing was suspended for 6 months and when it was resumed in September 2010 the numbers suddenly dropped to less than 40%. He was among the victims of this situation. He appealed for a review of the first decision and this was eventually finalised in March 2011. He was in a large batch of Hazaras who were now being rejected in spite of plenty of evidence that this particular ethnic group were facing increasing danger from the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the system the “merits” of his case were now beyond challenge. His next hope was to appeal the Independent Merits Review decision in terms of possible errors of law. After a long process the courts turned down this challenge in May 2013.
Meanwhile he had been granted community detention in February 2012. A few months later he was brought back into supervised detention at Villawood because the Department claimed to have found that he had a criminal conviction in the UK and had been sentenced to 4 years imprisonment. He immediately started to work towards clearing his name. “Ahmad Ali Jafari” is the Hazara equivalent of “Bill Smith” and he was adamant that this must have been a case of mistaken identity. Eventually he obtained a police certificate from the UK, dated 9th May 2013, indicating that there was no trace of any convictions, reprimands, warnings, cautions or impending prosecutions. But there was never any sign of an apology from the Department and no suggestion that Ahmad would now be allowed to return to live in the community.
Like many Hazaras with land Ahmad’s family had been harassed and persecuted by the Taliban in the 1990s. His father “disappeared” in 1997, so his mother and the 5 young children fled to Pakistan where they found a fragile form of safety as second class citizens. But this did not last. Young Hazara men became increasingly vulnerable to targetted attacks by the resurgent Taliban and other extremists. Thousands of them set off for Europe and other places – including the 18 year old Ahmad in 2005. He got to the UK, enrolled in study courses and worked on improving his English. He lived in Gloucester and linked with the “Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers”. This group wrote about him: “He was very polite and conscientious, and had worked hard to improve his situation whilst living here. He had been incredibly committed to his school work, and given that he arrived without any English, it was amazing that he had been able to achieve so much in the time he was here. We had personally witnessed his commitment to education as he had attended extra tuition using GARAS premises. He was very active within the community, going on residential weekends away with us and other deprived young people from our area, being well liked and respected by his peers as well. His honesty and integrity is impeccable as well as his manners, leaving us no doubt as to his character. It was always a pleasure to see him. Given his undoubted skills and ability he will definitely prove to be an exceptional and valuable member of any society that he settles down in.” I could not have said it better. He impressed all who knew him as a man of quiet dignity and serenity, gentle, respectful, and obviously popular with both fellow detainees and visiting friends. He was a natural and gifted leader. He bore the rigours of immigration detention with great patience and discipline. He continued to act with seeming fortitude in spite of the constant sense of uncertainty about his future and the pressures of having to clear his name. My wife and I counted him as a valued friend.
But in the end the constant pressure and tension caught up with him. It could have been so different. We do not know if a more prompt response to the symptoms of heart attack could have saved him. Ahmad was strong. But many others facing similar despair and similar treatment are self-harming, contemplating suicide and suffering irreparable psychological damage. I visit them often and talk to them every day. My heart is bleeding and my anger growing by the day as I am confronted by the web of dishonesty and cruelty that is being implemented by my national leaders – all in the interests of politics.
We certainly hope that this tragic experience will result in some soul searching on the part of the faceless people who manage the impersonal, unprofessional and inhumane system that treats innocent people such as Ahmad so badly in the name of “border protection”. There are thousand like him who are being mistreated by our government (supported by a misinformed electorate) for the misguided and ineffective purpose of deterrence. In a context of supposed acceptance of humanitarian principles, how can it ever be acceptable to punish innocent people for any agenda at all?
Ahmad our friend, brother, son, we grieve for you and we will miss you. We pray that your life and death are not in vain.