To add context to Wasim’s story we provide a very brief history and account of the political and military situation in Kashmir. Historically Kashmir and surrounding areas have been a complex mix of ethnicities and religions. On the partition of India in 1947 the region was faced with choosing between becoming an independent monarchy, integration with Muslim majority Pakistan or integration with Hindu majority India. There were political forces pulling in all three directions and this ultimately led to conflict.
Sovereignty of Kashmir and some surrounding areas is currently contested between India, Pakistan and China. The main conflict is between India and Pakistan. These two nation states have fought two wars specifically over the territory and a third involving the territory. China has fought one war with India over parts of the territory.
There is no internationally recognised or respected border between India controlled Kashmir and the Pakistan client-state, Azad (Free) Kashmir. There is only a line-of-control. On the Indian side of the line-of control there has been an ongoing insurgency/freedom struggle fighting for integration with Azad Kashmir. This is waged from Azad Kashmir and clandestinely supported by Pakistan. Since 1989 there have been an estimated 70,000 deaths and 8000 disappearances.
There has also been an ongoing civilian and non-violent protest campaign demanding integration with Azad Kashmir. Arrest of agitators, protesters and suspected militants is common. There are many cases of torture. It’s not uncommon that in cases where people are arrested on suspicion of involvement with militants, but the authorities can’t prove guilt, that after their release they are found murdered. Such cases are referred to as ‘alley deaths’. It’s widely believed these murders are perpetrated by the Indian security forces as a convenient way to deal with suspected militants but also avoid the complications of deaths in custody.
What follows is a first person account of `Wasim’, the circumstances that led him to Australia and how the Australian Immigration system has treated him. Wasim was closely involved with the writing of this account and has endorsed it, even though the actual writing was done by a RRAN activists who has known him for 15 years.
I was born in India controlled Kashmir in 1974 and was orphaned at an early age. I have no memory of my father and only a vague memory of my mother’s face. My adoptive family was neglectful and I did not get a proper education.
My adoptive father was under suspicion by the Indian authorities because he was involved in political agitation and protests which were demanding integration with Azad Kashmir. One day the Indian security forces came looking for my adoptive father. Unable to find him they arrested me for questioning. They suspected him of involvement with militants. They tortured me trying to extract information that I did not have. When they could not get any useful information from me I was released by being literally thrown into the street. Fearing further torture or even being killed I decided to flee my home area and lived underground, moving around trying to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities for several years.
The hunt for infiltrators and militants means that the Indian authorities are always suspicious of anyone who can’t establish a permanent residential address, family connections or who lack identity papers. They also make arrests simply to extort money. Because of these factors I had been questioned and even beaten by the Indian Border police a number of times throughout my teens. I still carry a broken tooth, the result of being struck with a police rifle butt. Sometimes this harassment was simply for being a homeless youth.
Eventually I decided to leave Kashmir. For several years the pattern for me was that after crossing a border to a new country I was not able to seek asylum there and had to move on. I was in constant fear of being arrested and deported to India where I would now be under even more suspicion because I had fled. Via a complicated path of crossing borders on foot, stowing away on ships, passing through Singapore to West Papua and a dangerous foot journey through the jungle wilderness of PNG I arrived in Port Moresby in 1997. After a term of imprisonment in PNG for not having a visa in 1998 I had to move on yet again and decided to try to make my way to Australia, having heard that it was possible to seek asylum in that country. With the help of some local PNG fisher folk who took pity on me I made my way in an open dingy across the Torres Strait.
In Australia I faced indefinite mandatory detention without charge or trial because I arrived without a visa. I applied for asylum. I did not understand the system or laws under which I was being processed. Having limited literacy even in my own language Dogri and not speaking English, I was unable to advocate for myself effectively and could not pursue appeals against negative decisions in my case. My claim for asylum was denied and all my processing was completed within a year of my arrival and detention in Australia. The Australian government tried to deport me to India. At first I was not cooperative in that process because I was fearful of being tortured again . This non-cooperation took the form of refusing to sign applications for Indian travel documents and so forth. This frustrated the Department of Immigration efforts.
After three or fours years in detention I agreed to be deported to India even though I was scared of the consequences. The prospect of indefinite detention in Australia had become too much to cope with. By this time I had become dependent on antidepressants and sleeping medication and had already tried to commit suicide once by setting myself on fire. I had also engaged in other acts of self harm.
I decided that my only choice was to go back to India and face the risk of arrest and torture again. I signed all the applications and forms that the Australian Immigration Department put before me and that were required to organise my return to India. However, the Indian government refused to accept me saying there was no proof that I was from Indian controlled Kashmir.
Because I was an orphan and had left my adoptive home in my early teens they could not find anyone in Kashmir who was willing to give a statement as to my identity. I also tried unsuccessfully to find another country to accept me. I was even given a travel document by Australia which would allow to travel to a third country if only I could a visa for that country. I was never able to do this.
I was now effectively stateless with no country to go to. The government could not deport me, there was nowhere for them to deport me to, but they still kept me in detention at huge cost to the taxpayer.
Ultimately the Australian government kept me in detention for nearly seven years in places like Port Hedland, Curtin, Woomera, Baxter and Perth detention centres. I was finally released on a removal pending visa in 2005. This was a special visa that was created specifically to resolve a small number of cases of long term detention like mine. People like me had begun to be a bit of a political embarrassment so they just created a new visa so that they could let us out without giving us any permanent status.
On this visa I have work rights, health care and welfare. Because it is not a permanent visa I can’t get a bank loan, credit card or even a phone plan. Employment is more difficult to obtain because employers are unfamiliar with this visa and so can be nervous about employing me. I have tried very hard to be financially independent. I have completed TAFE studies in Catering and also Security Operations.
I have been on this Removal Pending Visa for 11 years now with the government unable to deport me in spite of my cooperation. I still have to report to Immigration regularly and let them know where I live. I may be subject to detention at any time, and deportation at any time if the Government is able to arrange that.
I am a torture survivor and have suffered immensely during my time in immigration detention where I had attempted suicide and been admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. I suffer ongoing psychiatric issues as a result.
Successive immigration ministers from both the ALP and the Liberal Party have refused to intervene and resolve my case even though they have the power to do so. I am now my early 40s and have been seeking safety and security for more than half my life.
Living in perpetual limbo and uncertainty is a very great burden. If I was given a permanent visa I would be able to look ahead to the future with some certainty and get on with building a life here and making a positive contribution to Australia.
RRAN MeetingsRRAN WA is currently meeting on Mondays from 6.30pm at the Activist Centre, U15/5 Aberdeen Street, Perth (just north of the McIver Train Station). For more details, send us a message via our Contact RRAN WA page, or call/text us on 0417 904 329. Fremantle RRAN meets at 6pm on the first and third Wednesday of each month at The Federal Hotel, 23 William St Fremantle. Contact Fremantle RRAN