ARAD Nik, an aslyum seeker from Iran, loves living in Castlemaine.
The freedom and peace that abounds in Australia is something that Mr Nik – as a prominent activist and member of an ethnic minority group – couldn’t find in his homeland.
But he says Australia’s government needs to start respecting the human rights of asylum seekers and not treat them like criminals.
“I ask the government, please respect us. Respect all asylum seekers. They have problems,” he said. “They experience pain, torture and suffering.”
Mr Nik – who is a writer and an experienced anti-domestic violence campaigner – said he was arrested several times and tortured by government officials in his country before making the painful decision to flee.
“The government didn’t like me – but the people liked me,” he said.
“I never thought I would leave my country. I love my country. But I didn’t have time to choose another option.”
After paying more than $5,000, Mr Nik made it to Jakarta, Indonesia, before boarding a boat to Australia.
Australian authorities intercepted the vessel on which he travelled, which led to Mr Nik spending significant time in Australian detention centres.
He was eventually released into the community and moved from Melbourne to Castlemaine 13 months ago.
A pathologist in his homeland, Mr Nik now wants to get on with his life, but says he - like other asylum seekers – feels restricted and uncertain by remaining on a bridging visa.
“I haven’t had educational rights. I haven’t had human rights. I haven’t had job rights. Why?” he said.
Mr Nik said many asylum seekers – not just the ones in detention centres – were being treated like criminals when they had genuine claims as refugees.
“They think we are criminals. I am not a criminal,” he said. “I am an asylum seeker. Asylum seekers have human rights.”
“Australia is a beautiful country. I am an asylum seeker – I brought my documents to show them – I am not seeking Centrelink.”
It was important, Mr Nik said, for claims to be processed in a timely manner so that people escaping persecution could get on with their lives.
“Maybe some asylum seekers, somewhere, are economic migrants. But ask them. Let them talk about their story. After that, judge them.”
Mr Nik said he was grateful to be living in Australia.
“I have good relations with people. I talk with them. I am happy here. I am safe here. I say, ‘Thank you, Australia for giving me a new life’. But, please, respect me.”
A PICNIC with asylum seekers in April will give Castlemaine residents the chance to learn more about the struggles people face after fleeing persecution.
Nicola Fortune, a member of the Castlemaine branch of Rural Australians for Refugees, said her group was teaming up with a church in Harcourt for an event at the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens on April 30.
Members of the community, she said, were invited to come and meet a group of asylum seekers from Melbourne.
“People often don’t have a strong sense of what the experiences of asylum seekers are,” she said. “We hope that people from the community will come and meet an asylum seeker. That personal contact is so important.”
Interest in the struggles asylum seekers face had increased in Castlemaine with all the media coverage around the Let Them Stay campaign, Ms Fortune said.
“Every Wednesday we have a table set up in the foyer of the Castlemaine Library, which is mainly about encouraging people to write letters to asylum seekers in detention and politicians.
“We’ve had a lot more people come to the table since the Let Them Stay campaign has become strong.”
While only a few asylum seekers – people waiting for refugee claims to be processed – lived in Castlemaine, Ms Fortune believed the community could support more.
“Asylum seekers probably feel like they have strong support here,” she said. “They need a lot of support especially when interacting with officialdom.”
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