Call to reconsider refugee policy

ABDUL Hekmat arrived in Australia after five terrifying days on rough seas in a boat crammed with 170 people.

A member of the Hazara ethnic group, Mr Hekmat, who works in Fairfield, said he was forced to flee Afghanistan in 2000 because his life was in danger there, but memories of the journey still haunt him.

"It was very stormy, there were very big waves hitting the boat and people were crying; they were scared that they wouldn't make it," Mr Hekmat said.

"For most of them it was their first experience of the sea and of being on a boat.

"Many of them didn't know how to swim and they were very frightened."

Mr Hekmat now lives in Merrylands and works as a community worker helping refugees.

He has called on the federal government to reconsider its current refugee policy.

"The government's position at the moment is pathetic, they're not thinking of their international obligations or humanitarian interests, they're just thinking of their political interests.

"Refugees should not be sent offshore for processing, particularly not to a dangerous country like Papua New Guinea.

"PNG is a very violent society with a corrupt government, the Australian Government is not fulfilling its duty of care to protect refugees when they do this."

Mr Hekmat said he travelled to Indonesia from Afghanistan to find a people smuggler to take him to Australia.

"There's no other way of getting here, except through a people smuggler," he said.

"You need to pay them, of course, but most refugees sell everything they own to come here, just so they can get themselves to safety and then get their family out of danger.

"They're desperate and they take a huge risk and not everyone seems to understand that."

He said after the sea journey the Australian Navy transferred the boat he and the other refugees were on from Ashmore Reef to Darwin and from there he was sent to Curtin Detention Centre.

"I was there for five months, but I was lucky, there were people in there that had spent years there," he said.

"There is a general feeling of despair [at the centre] and it's contagious."

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