Our Faces of Asylum exhibition has been touring capital cities and rural centres across Australia for the last 6 months. Its aim is to show the human faces of the people who seek asylum on our shores.
However, when the exhibition was recently due to appear in local West Australian library this month, the local council banned it from being shown on the grounds that it was 'too political' and risked offending library patrons.
The controversial exhibition
The Dad family
In 1999, the Taliban told Hussein Dad they would kill him if he didn’t give up his oldest son to fight for them. After years of being terrorised by other ethnic groups, this was the final threat – the family sold all their belongings and fled. Hussein embarked on the long, dangerous journey to Australia, while his wife and children hid in Pakistan and waited.
After arriving in Australia, Hussein spent months in Woomera Detention Centre. He finally felt safe and was shocked to find that for the first time in his life, the authorities were kind and helped him. But he had no way to contact his family and was worrying constantly.
Hussein finally received refugee status in 2005. He was then able to find his family in Pakistan and bring them to safety in Australia.
"Australia is the most beautiful place in my life. It is the first time I am happy and safe. The first time my children are safe. It is the first place we have slept well for the whole night, without fear and bomb blasts." - Maryam Dad
"If there was no reason for us to come here, we would not. The trip is very dangerous, we know that. I didn’t know if my family would be safe. I came because of problems I could not fix. I came because I had no other choice." - Farida and Hussain Dad
"Hazara people were squashed into the ground. We would go to the council, to the police but they would make the torture double. We were a minority so we had no voice." - Zohal and Maryam Dad
"If I was returned to Afghanistan the Taliban would have killed me. The Taliban have no mercy, even my children would be in danger." - Zohal, Maryam and Hussein Dad
"I am so thankful to Australia and all Australians. If you hadn’t saved us, I would probably be dead. Now, I am safe and happy. I can go to school. Maybe I can be a lawyer." - Zohal and Farida Dad
The Wazefadost family
"Whenever we walked in the streets, we faced constant abuse and threats. Because we are Hazara, people thought we were nothing; servants, animals. This is still happening today."
Nooria and Najeeba were 14 and 12 years old when they fled Afghanistan with their parents and younger sister. Even though their mother was pregnant, Afghanistan was just too dangerous for them to stay.
The family fled first to Pakistan and then Indonesia where their son Madhi was born. They thought their only hope of peace and safety was to reach Australia, so they spent 10 days crammed on a small wooden boat.
Once in Australia, they were taken to Curtin Detention Centre. They were so shocked to see guards and fences they thought the Taliban had tricked them and somehow managed to capture them. They were in detention for three months, and then on temporary protection visas for three years.
They were finally given permanent protection visas in 2004. Today, Madhi and Raihana are at school, while Nooria and Najeeba have studied at university. They are overwhelmingly positive about their life in Australia and determined to give back to the country that has accepted them.
"It seemed like everyday we witnessed people disappearing. Our neighbours or friends just vanished and we never saw them again. We knew people who were forced to sell their daughters and people whose sons were taken by the Taliban to become soldiers." - Madhi, Najeeba, Raihana and Nooria Wazefadost
"The Taliban closed our school because girls were being taught there. We had an Iranian teacher who was very brave and kept teaching people in secret in her house. The Taliban killed her." - Raihana, Najeeba and Nooria Wazefadost
"We didn’t know the UNHCR existed. Who is there to tell you these things? When you don’t trust anyone, who do you ask?" - Nooria, Najeeba and Raihana Wazefadost
"Australian people are really great. When people know my story they always understand and I think feel proud to help us." - Madhi Wazefadost
"When I am outside, I don’t have to worry about being attacked or raped because I’m a girl. When my dad leaves the house, I don’t have to worry that it is the last time I will see him. I have the freedom to tell my story, to raise my voice." - Nooria and Najeeba Wazefadost
Chaman Shah Nasiri
Chaman Shah Nasiri fled Afghanistan when he was 19 years old. His brother had been kidnapped, and his father imprisoned. Fearing he would be next, Chaman’s mother collected the life savings of her extended family and paid to smuggle him out of the country. Not long after he left, his father was killed.
Chaman hoped that he would finally be able to find safety and peace in Australia. Instead, he spent three years without adequate water, food or medical supplies on Nauru.
Chaman was granted permanent protection in 2004 and now lives a peaceful life in Brisbane with two cats and two dogs. In his spare time he helps Amnesty International to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and asylum seekers.
I was the youngest son, so my family wanted to save me. After I left, my father was tortured so badly that he died in prison. If I stayed in Afghanistan the same thing would have happened to me." - Chaman.
"My family combined their life savings to smuggle me out of Afghanistan. I had never been out of the country before and had no passport or papers. I was 19 years old." - Chaman.
"One night I was told to get on a small fishing boat. I thought I was going to die. I had never seen the sea and didn’t know how to swim." - Chaman.
"In Nauru I was like a bird without wings. I was trapped and full of worry for the family I had left behind. I didn’t know whether I would ever be released." - Chaman.
"I became an Australian citizen in 2010. I am very proud of this. I want my family to be proud." - Chaman.
All images © Hamish Gregory / AI
Is this exhibition offensive and 'too political'?
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