‘We had nowhere to go to’

November 14, 2017

Shepparton man Hussein Jamshaid who journeyed to Australia via boat.


However hard he tries to forget, Hussain Jamshaid is confronted by the memories of his journey to Australia when he combs back the hair from his forehead each morning.

At only six years old and without his parents, he was forced to jump from the burning people smuggler boat he had boarded out of Pakistan.

The Afghan refugees had been at sea for weeks and those still alive had little food and water, surviving ocean storms and a boat they thought would sink.

It was when they were met by ships from the Australian Navy, and told them to turn back, that a member of the group set the vessel alight.

‘‘Our boat was on fire in the middle of the ocean and exploded because of the petrol, and we had to jump in the water without life jackets,’’ Jamshaid said.

‘‘We were all in the water for two to three hours, and the navy didn’t do anything. I saw the two people next to me die.

‘‘They’d told us to go back, but we didn’t have anywhere to go back to.’’

When the navy eventually came by to help, groups of refugees were taken aboard, given medical attention and taken to Christmas Island.

And although all of Jamshaid’s family survived, his two cousins, aged one and eight, took several hours to regain consciousness.

When Jamshaid arrived at Christmas Island, families survived neck-to-neck in a hall on fold-out beds, and many would go to the bathroom without shoes, having lost them at sea.

After three months in what felt like a prison, Jamshaid and his cousins were taken to Nauru, one of Australia’s many offshore immigration centres.

For three years, he spent his days out in the sun and shared one bathroom with the hundreds of others there.

Dengue fever was rampant, and the thick, red mosquito rashes still line his elbows 17 years later.

Jamshaid was still on the island when Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock called boat people queue jumpers.

‘‘He said you can’t come through a window when there is a door, but when your house burns down and your safest option is through the window, that’s where you will go,’’ Jamshaid said.

After almost four years at the processing centre, Jamshaid, then 10, and his family were accepted to live in Australia, and lived for a year in Melbourne before moving to Shepparton.

It was only after six years that Jamshaid was reunited with his parents, and after 17 years he has made a life in Australia.

Now 23, he works as a contractor and plans to head to university.

But he has some strong opinions on how Australia has treated the refugees on Manus Island, having lived through the experience himself.

He said the money the government spent on the processing centres could better be used to help resettle lives in Australia, where economies, particularly around agriculture, could grow.

‘‘Australia is trying to protect its reputation and its security, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of people who need help,’’ he said. ‘‘Everybody has a right to feel safe and to live happy lives.’’

Although he has tried to block out the experience, he is reminded of his years spent without a home each time he looks in the mirror.

‘‘Long term, the scars are still there,’’ he said.

‘‘Whenever I do my hair, I see a scar on my forehead from when I jumped off that boat.

‘‘It’s there for the rest of your life, the memories are always there, every day. Those who haven’t been there will never understand what you have been through.’’

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