Deport the government, not asylum seekers

Mojgan Shamsalipoor and her husband Milad Jafari.
Friday, March 17, 2017

“I’d rather kill myself than return to Iran — to the hell where I was violently raped by my own stepfather. But unless immigration minister Peter Dutton urgently intervenes by exercising his discretion and allowing me to apply for a partner visa while in Australia, I’ll spend my life in limbo with the never-ending threat of indefinite detention in Australia or forced return to Iran.”

Mojgan Shamsalipoor, a 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, wrote this as part of a petition appealing to Dutton to allow her to apply for a partner visa as her bridging visa was due to expire on March 21. She has since been given a new three-month bridging visa, but the uncertainty and fear remains.

Mojgan arrived at Christmas Island via boat from Iran in 2012, fleeing sexual assault by her stepfather — who has ties to the Iranian government — and an arranged marriage to a 60-year-old man. She was released into community detention on a bridging visa while her claim was being assessed. During this time she went to school in Brisbane, met the love of her life and made plans to study to become a midwife.

As she neared the end of high school, the Department of Immigration decided she did not qualify as a refugee. She was given a choice: return to Iran or stay in detention indefinitely.

Their rationale was that women fleeing sexual assault and forced marriage do not constitute an oppressed group in Iran. But the Iranian government often persecutes women who resit sexual assault and speak out against it.

Her story is now well known. It featured on ABC’s Australian Story and in numerous media outlets. It would be hard to imagine her family in Iran and the government are not aware she has shared her story.  

Mojgan chose detention, fearing persecution if she returned to Iran, and was sent to Darwin’s Wickham Point detention centre.

In September last year, after a committed community campaign, Mojgan was given a three month bridging visa. She then graduated from Yeronga State high school, completed a course in health science and dreamed of starting a family with her husband Milad Jafari, an Iranian refugee who has been granted permanent residency.

Mojgan has asked to apply for a partner visa, but one can only apply for one outside Australia. Dutton holds the power to allow her to apply for a partner visa in Australia.

Mojgan’s story is unique, but her fear of deportation is shared by thousands of people in Australia and offshore detention centres.

The department of immigration earlier this month issued notices to about 25,000 asylum seekers on bridging visas to submit their applications for protection. The time to complete the applications has been reduced from one year to 60 days — some people have been given only 14 days.

The applications involve a legally complex 60-page document that must be completed in English and detail the persecution the applicant is fleeing. It is not possible to add new evidence after it is submitted, even if the situation the applicant is fleeing from worsens. Those who fail to meet the deadline risk losing access to welfare, work and healthcare. Even their right to apply for asylum may be revoked and thus deportation becomes a greater possibility.

This is part of the immigration department’s fast track system that removes review rights for asylum seekers and gives the minister greater power to stop initial decisions being challenged. It has resulted in fewer claims for protection being found to be valid.

The process has left asylum seekers traumatised, even suicidal. Government cuts to legal assistance for asylum seekers in 2013 have made the process worse.

Thousands of volunteers, interpreters and lawyers have been working around the clock at organisations such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the Refugee Advice and Casework Service to help asylum seekers get their applications done.

People in Manus Island detention centre are also at greater risk of deportation after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court decided that 166 men who have had their refugee claims rejected can be deported.

The US Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also admitted that the US could potentially accept no one from Manus Island and Nauru and still honour the deal made with the Australian government. This leaves Dutton with the question of what to do with the people detained in offshore camps.

Australian immigration officials have been encouraging people to accept deportations with offers of cash bribes and threats that they will never come to Australia.

The refugee campaign must resist the pressing reality of mass deportations to danger. Already we can take inspiration from previous anti-deportation actions, such as the women who stood up on a Qantas plane to stop it departing with asylum seekers being sent back to danger, and the doctors who, with mass community support, refused to discharge Baby Asha if she was going to be deported to Nauru.

Hope lies in Mojgan’s story. After hearing her refugee application had failed, her high school community began a concerted campaign for her release from detention. The campaign forced Dutton to give her a bridging visa last year and again on March 17. Already the petition Mojgan started to support her application for a partner visa has gathered almost 100,000 signatures.

Communities campaigning together can stop deportations.

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