Former child in immigration detention Mohammad Ali Baqiri determined to prevent other children suffering same horrors
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Former child in immigration detention Mohammad Ali Baqiri determined to prevent other children suffering same horrors

Mohammad Ali Baqiri knows the effects immigration detention has on children.

He was seven when he fled Afghanistan to escape Taliban persecution of Hazaras.

But his hopes of safety in Australia were dashed when he was locked up for three years on Christmas Island and Nauru after he arrived by boat as a 10-year-old in 2001.

Mr Baqiri watched a woman drown after they abandoned their burning vessel as Australian authorities waited two hours to pick up the survivors.

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Locked up: Mohammad Ali Baqiri spent three years on Christmas Island and Nauru after he arrived by boat as a 10-year-old in 2001.

Locked up: Mohammad Ali Baqiri spent three years on Christmas Island and Nauru after he arrived by boat as a 10-year-old in 2001.Credit:Meredith O'Shea

In the camps, he lived with poor sanitation, extreme violence, self-harm, and watched the mental disintegration of its detainees.

It's an experience Mr Baqiri is fighting to prevent others from suffering.

"I went through that and know how it feels, I don't want anyone else to feel like that, so I'm going to do my best to get those kids out," Mr Baqiri - who was eventually granted a visa and settled in Victoria - said.

The 24-year-old - who is studying business-law degree with the ambition to become a Human Rights lawyer - now volunteers to raise awareness about refugee issues and challenges government immigration policies to allow all asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims are being processed.

Mr Baqiri will be a guest speaker at the End Child Detention Coalition's demonstration on the lawns of Parliament House on Monday.

The event will be part of a national day of action to call for all children remaining in immigration detention to be released.

About 3550 people, including more than 200 children, are currently locked up in both onshore and offshore facilities.

On average, people still spend 394 days in detention.

But even those granted visas do not live happily ever after.

An editorial, published on Monday in the Medical Journal of Australia, said there was overwhelming evidence that mandatory detention was "harmful to both adults and children, and children are often scarred for life by their experiences".

"Detained children experience significant language and developmental delays, sleep and behaviour disorders, mental health conditions - such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidality - and inadequately treated physical health conditions at greater rates than refugee children who are not detained," the article, written by Professor Professor Nicholas Talley, president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said.

"There are no circumstances, from a health perspective, in which conditions in detention are acceptable.

"Asylum seeker health is not about politics, but about our humanity."

The End Child Detention Coalition - which is made up of a number of Australian secular, church, and non-government organisations – wants the government to immediately release all children from detention.

The delegation - which includes former child detainees and child refugees - will also meet with members of parliament and senators during the week.

End Child Detention Coalition spokeswoman Claire Hammerton said the group sought reform of government policy and law so that children do not continue to suffer harm in immigration detention.

She said there should be a maximum time limit enshrined in legislation for detaining children.

Ms Hammerton said immigration detention was never, under any circumstances, in the best interest of the child.

"While children and their families are waiting on their immigration status to be determined, they should be allowed to live in non-custodial, community based alternatives to detention.

"These alternatives are used in other countries around the world and are cheaper to run, as well as being far more humane."

For more information, visit endchilddetentionoz.com.

When: Monday, June 15. 10am – 4pm (speeches at 2pm)

Where: Parliament House lawns

What: National day of action to protest children in detention

Speakers: formerly detained child Mohammad Ali Baqiri, former child refugee resettled in Australia Sarah Yahya, actor and activist Imogen Bailey, and ChilOut campaign coordinator Claire Hammerton.

Michael Inman is a courts reporter for The Canberra Times

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