The visit to MITA has become a permanent part of my week. Although difficult and sometimes unbearable – mostly because I feel helpless – I can’t stop going to see my friends. And even that is getting harder.
Some of the guys have been moved to Sydney and released in the community. But they are not free. They have curfews. They can’t go out after nine pm. And even if they didn’t have curfews, as their allowance is less than $30 a day, they can’t afford the travel expenses to explore the city.
I can’t imagine paying bills, rent, travel and eating for under $30 a day.
Lately though, my friends at MITA are young kids. It is university holidays, so I try to go early. There are so many kids, it’s difficult to remember names. I remember their innocent smiles. They greet me as Uncle. They are all dressed alike. Their pants and tops are all the same. Much like a prison uniform.
I noticed a while ago that the numbers of kids are growing. The noise is getting louder, with kids running around free from prejudice and hatred – just innocent. It was their first week in detention and perhaps surviving the boat journey helped with the smiles.
I saw a young boy.
“What’s your name?”
“Salam Kaka” (Hello Uncle), I am Jacob,” he smiled.
I normally avoid the “how are you” question as it reminds them of how they feel. So I skipped that and asked his age.
“I am 13.”
“Oh that’s nice, welcome to Australia,” I said.
“Thank you,” Jacob said.
“How long have you been in Australia?” I asked.
“One week,” he replied.
“How was the boat journey?” I asked him.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?” I asked.
I looked in his eyes. I could feel the pain, his smile fading away.
“It makes me cry,” he said, in a shy voice.
“Why?” I said. And immediately I regretted asking. Jacob took a moment.
“I remember my mother hugging my little sister and me and praying to God.” He took a deep breath.
“And at that time I knew that I needed to pray to God as well.
“The water was very high and I don’t know how to swim.” The terror in his eyes describes the rough sea. “And I didn’t pray. And we fellin the water. How could I save my mother and sister? There was no one. Everyone was going to die.
“So I prayed. I promised God that if he sends us to Australia safely…” He innocently looks up at the ceiling.
“…I would spend the rest of my life helping and be kind to everyone.”
His eyes gleamed with joy as he continued.
“He listened to me, God listened to all of us,” he said with gratitude.
This took me by surprise.
“I thought I was going to cry, but now you look like you will Uncle,” he said with a cheeky smile.
I suddenly realised and changed the topic.
“Ok, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked.
“When I was young, I wanted to be a pilot and fly,” he replied.
“And you don’t want to do that anymore?” I enquired.
“No” he replied.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“I was playing with my best friend Fawod, in front of our house. There were planes flying over our house and I looked up saying, ‘wow that’s awesome’.
“They came back and started shooting at us.” His eyes got wet as he gasped for air.
“Did you get hurt?” I asked.
“No. But Fawod did. He died.” He stopped talking, as he sobbed.
I hated myself for reminding him of his best friend’s death. I didn’t know what to say.
“You know sometimes our closest friends pass away, and we don’t know what to do. But we must remember that they are in heaven now.” I said.
That was the best I could come up with. But I knew that he didn’t care. All he wanted was his best bud Fawod to be playing with him. Again, I did what I do best. Change the topic.
“So what can I bring for you next time I come?” I asked.
He looked up, dried his eyes and said,
“Ketabe riazy,” he said in Dari.
“Do you go to English classes here?” I asked.
“Yes. But only English, I want to practice riazy for when I get out,” he said.
“In English, riazy is maths.” I informed him.
“Oh, OK. Maths.” he said. “So if you can get me grade nine maths books with examples, that would be perfect.”
Former refugee Mustafa Nuristani regularly visits his friends at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation. This is the third in a series of articles highlighting the plight of those held in indefinite detention.