Refugee stories – Rahim & Sari


My name is Shah Mohammed Rahim. I was medical doctor in a hospital in Jalalabad city. I had seven children and a wife, therefore I was not willing to leave my country and my family. I had to compromise with narrow-minded Taliban for the sake of my family. I spend my 22 years of my life in civil war.

In 1999 I had an unexpected dispute with one of Taliban member who was our colleague. That was the beginning of my problems and detained me in a conspiracy as anti Taliban. I escaped from the detention with the help of jailer by receiving bribes from my brother and left the country to tribal area near Pakistan. I spent about one month with my friend who arranged me travel to Australia by giving money to a smuggler.

I arrived in Sydney airport in November 1999 and was interviewed by immigration officer with the help of a telephone interpreter who was not qualified. They send me to Villawood detention centre which was unexpectedly shocking for me in Australia. The stage 1 had two barracks and some single cells. The loudspeakers in each dorm was highly disturbing especially at early morning. I cannot describe how my first 20 days in Stage 1 had passed.

(While in Villawood, Dr Rahim received news from his lawyer that his young son, one of twins had died while his family was escaping Afghanistan into Pakistan)

I had an interview with my case officer who rejected my claim…but it was not surprising because my case officer had history of giving negative result to detainees. I applied to RRT for review but was also unsuccessful. Thereafter I applied to the minister seven times for giving me protection on humanitarian base but unfortunately I was wrong in my expectations from a minister of civilised country.

(Today, Dr Rahim remains in detention after 27 months, severely depressed. He has asked to be repatriated as he says he would rather face the dangers in Afghanistan than to “die slowly” in detention. Two and half months after his application for repatriation, he is still at Villawood detention centre).


Sari (not her real name) is an attractive, young Iranian woman, detained with her husband. She gave birth to her young daughter while in detention. This is how it happened.

Sari had become increasingly concerned as the birth of her child approached. When her labour pains started, two Australasian Correctional Management guards escorted her to hospital. In her culture, Sari knew she would have had the constant support of her mother, her mother-in-law, and other close female relatives. Her husband was not allowed near her the whole time she was in hospital. The two guards were present throughout her hospital stay.

Sari had a very difficult birth. At one stage, the midwives leave her. She weeps pitifully as she relates her experience. “There was no interpreter” she cries. She found the most traumatic part for her was language. She could not communicate what she felt, her sadness, her pain, her distress. Alone, in pain, distressed, and treated like a criminal, Sari welcomed little Lana (not her real name) into the world.

Today, a long time after the birth, Sari still suffers severe post-partum depression. She developed mastitis shortly. Many mothers know how painful that can be and that it can cause death if untreated. Sari’s mastitis was not picked up for 5 days and the treatment was too little too late. With her post-partum depression, she sometimes forgets where she has put little Lana.

Sari says, when she thinks of her family “everything goes black.” She cannot think of a future for her family. She cannot think of a future at all. Sari’s family’s application has been rejected and they face potential deportation to an Iran, which refugee advocates say, will make an orphan of Lana.


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