Mohammad Ali Baqiri fled Taliban rule in Afghanistan with his brother’s family when he was just ten years old, leaving his parents behind. He came to Australia in 2001 by boat from Indonesia, where he spent three years in Australia’s detention center on Nauru. At that time, all incoming asylum seekers arriving by boat were to be detained in offshore centres while they waited for their application for refugee status to be processed. Although the detention centers closed down between 2008 and 2012, they have now reopened and are still in use at this date.
In the Nauru detention center, Mohammad was exposed to several acts of violence and abuse, as he witnessed how Australia’s offshore detention system brought people to hopelessness and acts of self-harm. Many Afghani detainees on Nauru ended up following the Australian government’s urge to go back to their country and were later killed by the Taliban. Those who are still alive are repeating their journey, twelve years later, waiting for a boat in Indonesia to take them to Australia.
When Mohammad was finally granted a visa, he was placed directly in 8th grade, with no special English classes to help him. He had to learn English and face the mockery and racism of his peers.
Today, Mohammad is 24 and finishing up his law and business degrees at university in Australia. He is using his experience to be a voice for asylum seekers and refugees everywhere, insisting that seeking asylum is a right and not a crime, explaining that people flee their homes out of desperation, not out of choice. Mohammad is seeking to shed light on the inhumane conditions in detention centers, stating that no child should ever go through what he went through.
Mohammad addressed the UN in Geneva on Tuesday, March 15th, in a side event to the Human Rights Council, telling his story, and urging the Australian government to comply with its international human rights obligations, to close its detention centers, and to put an end to the business deals that are currently financing the centers. The event, that also featured first hand information about the current situation of women in detention, was organized by Franciscans International, Edmund Rice International, Destination Justice, and ChilOut, a long-time partner of FI that advocates for the rights of children in migration detention.