Asylum seekers and the threat of resettlement: The case of Farhad Bandesh

November 9, 2022
Image: Farhad Bandesh. Portrait titled 'This is me — day 615 in detention'.

Uncertainty upon uncertainty is the experience of asylum seekers who have fled danger to arrive in Australia.

Many are locked up. But those who are eventually released into the community have the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Now the sword is falling: some have been sent a letter by the federal government telling them they have to resettle in another country.

One such person is Farhad Bandesh. Farhad is of Kurdish ethnicity. He escaped Iran where the Kurdish people suffer persecution.

He told Melbourne’s 3CR Radio that Kurdish people are denied basic rights, including not being allowed to speak their own language, dress how they like or practice their culture, including art and music.

Many asylum seekers who have been locked up by successive Australian governments have escaped Iran.The current people’s revolution in Iran — which has found solidarity from across the world — is revealing how ethnic groups including Kurds, Balochis and Azeris, and women have been silenced and victimised over the past 43 years.

Despite this, Farhad was detained for nearly eight years — first on Manus Island, then at the Mantra Hotel in Preston and finally at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) at Broadmeadows.

Farhad was released from MITA on his 40th birthday and has, heroically, carved out a life for himself. He is a wage earner, pays tax, has friends and a family, creates art (including a notable entry for the Archibald Prize) and makes music. He has performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Midnight Oil. He is also the inspiration for Bandesh Wine and Spirits, a company owned by Jenell Quinsee.

Farhad has many strings to his bow, but none have stopped him from continuing to speak out on behalf of other asylum seekers as an Amnesty International Ambassador. “In Kurdish culture, it’s the artist’s duty to report injustice through their art,” Farhad told me. “It’s the artist’s responsibility to speak for and to the people about persecution and unfairness.”

Farhad wants to speak out against cruel refugee policies in two ways: first as an individual who has carved out a life for himself after experiencing more 40 years of extreme challenges and secondly as an artist.

Farhad is currently only on a bridging visa. He told 3CR Radio that it was like another form of torture on top of the uncertainty that accompanies being on a temporary visa. Refugees on this type of visa are not allowed to study or apply for qualifications. When the bridging visa runs out, this dramatically reduces the type of employment he can apply for: none that require qualifications.

Nevertheless, Farhad does not think the federal government’s plan to resettle asylum seekers in other countries is a solution. He said it only creates more uncertainty. Asylum seekers have to start again in a country that they do not know and where they know no one.

“There are benefits to going to New Zealand, for example. I would be free to move around without restriction for the first time in a long time,” Farhad told me.

“I would be able to study and apply for qualifications. I would be free to visit my family. But if I go, then unfair refugee policies in Australia will never be challenged.

“Refugees are human beings. We have escaped danger. We should be treated with dignity and respect. But instead we are locked up, kept in limbo not knowing whether we will be allowed to stay here, and now being asked to resettle in other countries.

“Other refugees will take this offer because they are tired. And who can blame them? But I want to stay and fight unjust refugee policies — so no one experiences what I did. And so that no other country copies Australia’s refugee policies.”

Many people stand in solidarity with Farhad. We will be throwing a cocktail party for him on November 13, and sampling Bandesh Wines and Spirits. The event will be also attended by politicians and activists, who will speak with Farhad and other asylum seekers. Farhad will also perform music and recite poetry. For more information about the event please contact Darren Saffin on 0411 089 209.

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