Trapped in Limbo Down Under

Stadtratte

They came with what few possessions they could carry when they fled their homes: a watch, a copy of The Alchemist, a few pieces of clothing. Many were still children; others were barely adults; all of them were refugees. Yet the place where they were headed saw them, as journalist Lauren Martin writes, as little more than “cause for alarm.” In “Temporary,” a longform multimedia project published by the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, Martin explains how a decade ago powerful politicians in Australia insisted on preventing asylum seekers from reaching their country’s shores. The initial result was the establishment of detention camps on poor South Pacific islands. When those filled up, some people were let into Australia, only to be told to keep waiting, indefinitely, for an answer about where they would be allowed to live their lives. Now some 30,000 people are in a state of legal limbo — “they have been mostly lost across one of the world’s wealthiest countries, notorious for its punitive treatment of people seeking its protection.”

In “Temporary,” Martin introduces audiences to several members of Australia’s “legacy caseload.” Among them is Zaki, a teenager when he fled Afghanistan on the heels of his brother’s beheading and his father’s disappearance, both at the hands of the Taliban. Zaki is now a marathon runner:

Forty, fifty kilometres, “it’s not an easy process,” he admits. He doesn’t say how it began, this running for hours a day. But he proudly recalls that crossing the finish line in his first race, raising thousands of dollars for children with cancer, “was a very rewarding moment.”

He also clearly recalls telling his mother, when he first arrived in Australia as a teenager, “I don’t have to run from anything anymore.”

He can still remember the place he left, his village where a mountain river flows, and playing as a happy child with a happy family who was “there for me no matter what.” He remembers the killings that made his mother run with her remaining children to Kabul. But the Taliban found them there, too, delivering warnings—on Taliban letterhead—about him, the oldest surviving son.

So Zaki started running. Onto his first airplane. Through jungles. Into small, dark rooms, where he was confined, hungry, thirsty and very frightened. As he ran from Afghanistan, he was beaten, threatened, he made friends and walked for days and nights on end. He made it to the sea, where he was tossed until he went into shock in a broken boat, and then, finally, he made it to an Australian outpost called Christmas Island. He was blistered by the sun and wind. Tired.

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