I am leaving Australia’s torture chambers after nine years – but what I have is the worst kind of freedom


Show caption Mehdi: ‘When you read this article I’m heading to freedom and getting away from torture.’ Opinion I am leaving Australia’s torture chambers after nine years – but what I have is the worst kind of freedom Mehdi Happiness feels selfish and wrong when my friends sleep and wake up in detention Fri 4 Mar 2022 01.17 GMT Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share via Email

16 February 2022

These are the hardest days, and they are slowly passing. This early morning, before the sun had risen, I was remembering Nauru.

In our first year detained in the camp on Nauru, I remember most of the asylum seekers were completely depressed. I witnessed the suicide of one soul destroyed by this island. Death by self-immolation was the worst scene I had watched in my life. This was the new reality for us on Nauru. We were there, my cousin and I, for six years.

It was after these six long and difficult years that officials told Adnan and me to get ready for another trip. The last time we had been on a plane was from Christmas Island to Nauru. But this time, our destination was Australia.

The plane flew over a seemingly calm ocean. I had subconsciously distanced myself from feeling joy and happiness. After six years of continuous despair, it was as if I was dead inside.

I gathered my thoughts and said to Adnan, we must prepare ourselves for the celebration of freedom. I told him, the dark days of Nauru are finally over and we will experience the sweet taste of freedom in a few hours.

Yes, it’s over, Adnan said.

The plane landed at an airport in a city called Brisbane, and in moments our hopes were dashed. We were transferred to a detention centre near the airport called Bita, and then to a hotel in Kangaroo Point. It wasn’t over.

We spent several months there, back and forth between Kangaroo Point and Bita, until once again we were on another plane, handcuffed and surrounded by officers. This time I didn’t say anything to Adnan. We were so pessimistic and disappointed. The children of yesterday and the youth of today had entered the ninth year of this great uncertainty.

I wished to go back to this morning of remembering Nauru. I got so sick of this unfair treatment, being trapped in a hotel with no freedom of movement for almost three years. I thought about putting in a request to be sent back to that dark island.

Then Adnan knocked on my door. He was smiling. He seemed excited. There was news, and I felt frozen. “IOM just called me now, they will call you soon. We are going to America,” he said.

“When?” My voice was trembling. “The third of March.”

I opened my arms and hugged him. My heart was pounding.

Fifteen days until the flight

After spending nine years of my life as a prisoner in different cities and islands in difficult and exhausting conditions, I was going to be released from this torture. Now I would be getting back to nature, to the city and to life.

It was hard to believe a set date for freedom when I’ve been living my life in uncertainty. The thought to live my life in society brought the feeling of joy, but also struck my heart with fear.

We never knew when we would be released during our time spent in Australian torture chambers, but now that I did, fear has taken over my whole being. I decided that in these 15 days I would try to turn my fear with determination and perseverance into an opportunity to prepare myself for freedom. I had to keep myself busy and look after my mind before the dark and scary thoughts occupy it. Hopefully time would pass faster.

But still, we decided not to tell anyone, for fear that our hopes will be dashed again.

Seven days until the flight

I was reading Dostoevsky’s The Gambler when my phone rang. I was asked to go to a medical centre the day before the flight for an exam and take a Covid-19 test. I was happy with this news as the day of freedom approached, but this joy didn’t last long when I saw an old man smoking and staring at the floor with sorrow. My joy turned to sadness. Guilt rose in my heart, knowing that I was going to be released, but this person and others in this building, Nauru and PNG, and other detention facilities are suffering.

I wanted to let go of this sadness and fear with optimism, but it did not work. The fact that our flight might be cancelled by Home Affairs was always on my mind. I know people who got the same exciting phone call we did and were taken to the airport to finally fly to freedom. They left with smiling faces, only to return to the detention centre crying because their flight was cancelled by the department at the very last second.

The Australian government’s crimes against refugees over the past decade are unforgivable

That’s why I haven’t said anything to my family or my friends outside. Nothing is certain and it is impossible to trust the minister and the department. I also didn’t say anything to my friends in detention because I didn’t want to remind them of freedom and imprisonment whenever they would see me in my remaining days. Of course, we all rejoice in this hell for the freedom of every individual, but it is obvious that the reality of our captivity is felt more than ever by the freedom of one person, and it torments our minds and souls. Why can’t we all be free together?

Three days until the flight

A terrible sadness had gripped my heart. Getting out of this cage is so difficult. I’m used to this prison. I’m used to handcuffs. I’m used to guards. I’m used to this poor quality of life.

In the evening, I went to Adnan. “After nine long years we’re going to be free,” I said. A real smile lit up his face. “When are you going to tell your family?” he asked.

“At the airport.”

“It’s better to leave quietly” he said.

I agreed. We both fell silent and stared at the rain that had wet the window. We couldn’t believe that we were still here, how strong we were that we hadn’t died yet. Adnan joked that they were getting rid of us because we’ve been giving them such a hard time, and I laughed.

One day until the flight

The closer I get to the flight, the more scared and anxious I feel, but all of this turns into hope when I imagine calling and telling my family that I am finally free, and seeing their smiling faces.

We fought for our lives. We suffered and we endured and we waited and we are still waiting. But the Australian government’s crimes against refugees over the past decade are unforgivable, and to remain silent in the face of this oppression is unacceptable. The oppressor, the one who participates in oppression, the oppressed and the one who remains silent in the face of oppression are all partners in this cruelty.

I believe that the oppressed, the media and regular Australians should all work together to eradicate this oppression – not for economic reasons, but because it is our moral duty to do so.

I am like a worm, half of which has been crushed. I am separating the healthy half from the crushed half, which is a difficult thing to do. Certainly, it would be much easier for me to stay silent, but my conscience pushes me to write and fight with my friends who are suffering in detention onshore and offshore.

My freedom is the worst kind of freedom. I can’t be happy for long. Happiness feels selfish and wrong when my friends sleep in a detention centre with tears and sighs and wake up in detention with tears and sighs.

Tonight I am free and leaving Australia to start my life in the United States of America. But I won’t be happy until all my friends are get released from detention. It’s not freedom until we are all free. Thank you all for your support. — Mehdi Ali (@MehdiAli98) March 3, 2022

When you read this article I’m heading to freedom and getting away from torture.

Mehdi is an Iranian refugee who was held on Nauru and in detention in Australia since 2013