Cheer up, it’s not all bad

I’VE just finished class. It’s nearly 3 pm. Wednesdays are always busy – university from 9 am to 3 pm and I won’t be home until 9:45 pm tonight.

The weather seems to have turned around, it was very cold and cloudy in the morning, but now it’s sunny and blue skies.

12_mustafa's-articleI get in my car and go through the list in my head. Do I have everything?

Wallet, check. Phone, check. Keys, check. Lamingtons, check. Tim tams, check. And of course the red-rock deli chips that my friends and I enjoy munching on, check.

The journey normally takes about 45 minutes, but can take up to an hour-and-a-half if there is traffic.

There is also one more thing to check. My mood.

How do I feel today? I ask myself in the car while driving.

I feel good, I feel positive, I’m grateful to God that I can drive and go anywhere I want, I say to myself and keep driving.

It’s been 40 minutes. I’ve been through the city, past King Street and now on to Sydney Road. I am getting closer.

I suddenly feel somewhat uneasy and sad, but I have experienced this before and instinctively go back to the positive thoughts.

“Peter jumped off the roof.” Mohammad’s haunted voice in my head.

I fret and I struggle to keep positive.

Today is a different day and everyone is ok, I say to myself.

Camp Road is approaching. I turn left, and I know that one minute and thirty seconds later, comes the right turn.

This is the turn in the journey that has all the emotions packed in it.

There is a feeling of loss, a feeling of joy, a feeling of fear, anger, sadness, frustration.

But I shake my head and only concentrate on the feeling of joy.

The joy of seeing my friends again and catching up. And I remember the jokes I have prepared, which makes me smile.

Before I know it, I’m here at the parking lot of Melbourne’s Immigration Transit Accommodation centre, MITA.

More than three hundred-asylum seekers, including children, are detained here. In Australia and in offshore processing centres, there are several hundreds more.

According to Pamela Curr, campaign coordinator at Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, since the Houston Panel Report recommendations, the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat has increased dramatically, rather than decreased.

“It caused panic among the people and they boarded boats for a last chance of survival,” she told me.

Sister Brigid Arthur, from Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project, says, “MITA is one of the better immigration detention centres and it’s used for unaccompanied minors, single men and now families.”

“It’s meant to be friendly and hospitable, but clearly it’s not built for families,” Sister Brigid says.

The centre recently placed several dongas, made for two, for families, and this has caused issues of its own.

“There is a family of eight from 18 years old to 18 months old, and they are all separated.” Sister Brigid said.

But Sister Brigid is right; the centre does look very innocent and welcoming from the front entrance.

The garden is lush with flowers and the hedges are all trimmed.

If it’s your first time visiting, you could assume the people inside would be happy to have escaped death and be here. But I know that is not the case.

“I suddenly feel somewhat uneasy and sad, but I have experienced this before and instinctively go back to the positive thoughts.”

After parking the car, the short walk to the reception is the last chance of fresh air for the next few hours. I inhale deeply.

The first door is the reception where Blenda sits behind a yellow desk; there are some couches for visitors to sit while waiting, surrounded by blue walls and stacks of lockers.

Blenda is about 55 years old, slim built, blue eyes, blonde-grey hair, and friendly.

“Is this your first time?” she asks.

“No Blenda it’s not,” I reply.

“Oh I remember you,” she says.

And the signing-in process starts.

She copies my details from my license (without which, or an approved form of ID, one cannot enter).

“Who are you visiting?” she asks.

“Imran, Josh, Frank, James and Mohammad,” I reply.

She jots the names down on the visiting form and asks:

“What have you got in your bag?”

Before I say anything, she takes the bag and checks herself.

“Right you can put your things in the locker and I will call for your friends,” she says.

I always choose locker 28, it’s easy to remember my age, and empty my pockets.

“Client request, can I have number 547, 578, 657, 347 and 685 in the visiting area please?” she says on her walkie talkie.

The other voice confirms the numbers.

“You need to wait for them to come out before you can go in,” Blenda says to me.

I sit on the couch and look at my watch; it’s 4:30pm.

I’m not anxious; I’m happy and positive, I reassure myself.

“Peter jumped off the roof… Jon hanged himself.” Mohammad’s voice keeps coming back.

I convince myself that I need to be positive, after waiting for what feels like forever.

“You can go in, your friends are there,” Blenda yells out.

She buzzes me through the first yellow door to the hallway. The hallway facilitates a male and female toilet, before the second yellow door, which leads to the visiting area.

I quickly use the bathroom and then knock on the door. The guard sees me, he buzzes me in.

I see my friends, we hug.

“How are you?” I ask Frank.

“Something bad happened,” he says as he hugs me.


Former refugee Mustafa Nuristani regularly visits his friends at MITA. This is the first in a series of articles highlighting the plight of those held in indefinite detention.

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