Ali Humayun's bid for freedom

May 24, 2008

Ali Humayun, a queer Pakistani, was recently granted permanent residency after spending more than three years locked up in Villawood Detention Centre. He made the following statement to Green Left Weekly on May 23.

In 2001 I arrived in Australia as a student at the University of Canberra College doing a bridging [English] course. I had to pay $48,000 in that first year, yet I didn't need to do that course. I had to do it to be allowed into the university.

In 2001-03 I studied at the University of Canberra and paid $12,000 per year for a course in IT. That was just tuition fees! Living on campus cost an extra $2000 per semester — just for accommodation and utilities! All this money went to the university.

My studies became hard when I became depressed. In 2002 I had sex with a girl for the first time, which spun me out. I could not stop thinking about the sexual abuse I'd experienced back in Pakistan over many years and at the hands of many men. One was a Muslim cleric who took mass every Friday in my neighbourhood.

This depression made me totally dysfunctional and stopped me from finishing my studies, even though I was undergoing counselling at the university. The academic board said they were considering expulsion, since I had failed all subjects at the end of 2002, unless I was able to provide them with reasonable cause [to allow me to continue]. My psychiatrist and I wrote to them and explained my history of sexual abuse. The academic board approved my reasons and let me off the hook, but said next time there would be no consideration.

When I started studying in 2003 the head of the International Students Department spotted me on campus and called the immigration department. The head of the [International Students] Department would not accept the academic board's pardon.

The immigration department interviewed me for 24 minutes, cancelled my student visa and put me on a Bridging E visa. The department didn't look at documented evidence from the University of Canberra one tiny bit.

By the time I got locked up in Villawood, it was January 2005. I rang the Department of Immigration to get them to renew my student visa many times over those two years — they never got back to me. I applied for permission to work three or four times while on that Bridging E visa, but was rejected.

Of course, to support myself, I started working by the end of 2004. Then in early 2005 I was dobbed in by someone and immigration stuck me in Villawood. After they locked me up, they asked for $25,000 as bail for another Bridging E visa.
They said they would have let me out if I had that money, but I didn't.

I was so depressed when I got into Villawood. On my birthday at the end of January I slashed my wrist, so they put me on suicide watch and fed me tonnes and tonnes of valium. I was placed in Bankstown Hospital in February where they pumped me with pills for two weeks. No counselling whatsoever.

Then, when I'd been in detention for three and a half months they used excessive force to send me to maximum security, Stage One. I stuck to a chair and demanded to know why. They nearly broke my arm getting me to Stage One. Two Global Solutions Limited (GSL) officials, my psychiatrist and two immigration officials came to talk to me, saying they'd got a letter saying I was going to escape, and that's why I was put in maximum security.

I'd been on a cocktail of about a dozen prescription pills a day and they took me off all these pills. They also pulled my psychiatrist, who knew I had no intention of escaping.

A few months later, in Stage One, a GSL security guard offered me heroin to help me cope. That's how I got introduced to heroin. Throughout the course of my detention GSL officers offered me — for money — ecstasy, alcohol and marijuana. Then I met Julio, who I had liked and admired. We got together and Julio convinced me to get off the gear.

Then a former detainee who was helped by Community Action Against Homophobia gave me an email [address], so I got in contact with CAAH. Activists came to visit and the campaign kicked off. [Greens senator] Kerry Nettle took up the case. She mentioned my case in parliament. We put my case in lots of media outlets.

Plenty of people kept on coming on board: [socialist youth organisation] Resistance, lots of members of the community. It became a really personal issue to a lot of people.

My release [from Villawood] came as a surprise. Protest action does work. My release is proof.

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