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Former child refugees living in Australia
One of the most controversial aspects of immigration policy in Australia is the holding of children in detention.

In the lead-up to World Refugee Day, Karen Barlow spoke to some resettled refugees who were held in detention in Australia as children.
KESHA WEST, PRESENTER: More than 12,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia by boat this year. But not everyone makes it alive.

The refugee statistics are stark: of those arriving in Australia by boat, 90 percent are deemed genuine refugees.

And this week, in the lead up to World Refugee Day, the UN released a report that says more people are refugees or displaced in their own country than at any time since 1994.

In Australia, one of the most controversial aspects of immigration policy is the holding of children in detention.

Karen Barlow spoke to some resettled refugees who were held in detention in Australia as children.

ALI KAHZADI, REFUGEE: I can remember every time when I see the sea. For three days it was raining. Everybody, we were 116, and it was really horrible. Everybody, like, sitting next to each other, like with legs and, yeah, and everybody was some of them were too bad.

ALI AL ALI, REFUGEE: It was night and the boat's gone down and down and down. And my dad he started to say “I'm sorry to bring you there. I was so wrong. I thought you have better future but now I'm wrong. You have to forgive me.”

KAREN BARLOW, REPORTER: The people seeking asylum in Australia by boat now number in their tens of thousands. The paths are often the same but each story is different.

NAJEEBA WAZEFADOST, REFUGEE: I did not know anything. I did not know that people in Australia looked different to me. They would have blue eyes, they would not wear scarf. I was wearing Burqa back then. I thought everybody in the world are just the same as me.

KAREN BARLOW: Afghan Hazara refugee Najeeba Wazefadost has come a long way since she fled the Taliban when she was 12 years old.

(Photograph of 12-year-old Najeeba Wazefadost is shown)

She's now in the middle of her second degree and she’s helping other refugee women in Australia.

NAJEEBA WAZEFADOST: I would have been either dead in my country or would have been kidnapped or raped in my country if I was there.

KAREN BARLOW: The 12 year old Najeeba was faced with an ocean for the first time in her life.

It can be a deadly voyage. Several boats packed with people have not made it this year, killing hundreds.

ALI KAHZADI: I didn't eat, they died, some of them fell down into the water. We couldn't do anything. If we get them we fell underwater.

KAREN BARLOW: How many people died?

ALI KAHZADI: Twenty, yeah. I was really sad.

KAREN BARLOW: Three years ago, Iraqi refugee Ali Kahzadi made it to Christmas Island as a 10 year old. He had to be head of the family until his father came home from a later boat.

ALI KAHZADI: I felt like so strong. I stand by myself.

KAREN BARLOW: Reem Jezan's family took a nine day voyage from Indonesia to Darwin, after giving up their lives in Iran when they couldn't give up their Christian religion in the majority Muslim country.

For three years, from 2001, Reem Jezan and her family lived in the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney.

REEM JEZAN, REFUGEE: I saw all of it. Saw people digging their own graves. Saw people sewing their own lips. saw people not eating for a couple of weeks. I saw blood on the ground. I saw little kids being traumatised with everything that was happening.

KAREN BARLOW: It was the height of an intense asylum seeker debate under the Howard government.

(Footage of the Tampa is shown)

The Tampa crisis, where a Norwegian ship rescued asylum seekers only to have them rejected by Australia, led to the Pacific Solution where they were sent to Nauru and Manus Island for processing.

JOHN HOWARD, FORMER AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER (2007): We will decide who come to this country and the circumstances in which they come.


(Footage of Kevin Rudd after winning election is shown)

KAREN BARLOW: From 2007, a new Labor government changed the policy, ending the Pacific Solution and closing offshore centres, only to reopen them later.

Last year, 287 boats arrived in Australia, carrying more than 17,000 people.

So far this year they've already been more than 180 boats, carrying more than 12,000 people.

More than 20,000 people are waiting to have their asylum claims determined.

All this is putting intense pressure on the Government and its policies. Detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island are open again.

And despite Government policy not to have children in detention, they're heading into so called alternative places of detention, attached to the detention centres at Curtin in Western Australia, Wickham Point in Darwin. Hundreds have gone through Christmas Island Detention Centre.

ALI AL ALI (performing): Our little boat is like a toy.

KAREN BARLOW: Kurdish refugee Ali al Ali survived quicksand in Malaysia and a sinking boat to come to Australia. He doesn't want anyone to follow him.

ALI AL ALI: Don't do it again. Don't try it. It’s bad.

KAREN BARLOW: Why is that?

ALI AL ALI: Because the way it‘s ... many people died.

KAREN BARLOW: Most children awaiting refugee determination are now released with their families into community detention.

(Footage of Najeeba Wazefadost at home is shown)

It was not an option for Najeeba Wazefadost back in the year 2000.

NAJEEBA WAZEFADOST: It was traumatising, especially for a lot of children, it is not the right place to live.

I was already traumatised in my own home country and then coming into detention centre I was re traumatised. I was more scared and I was more frightened.

KAREN BARLOW: Reem Jezan has finished a law degree and is working for a firm specialising in immigration. While Najeeba Wazefadost works for an organisation helping newly arrived refugees and migrants.

NAJEEBA WAZEFADOST: I never want to go back to Afghanistan to live there, but I do have a high aim that I want to go back there to help my people.

I love my life in Australia. You know, Australia has given me the freedom I've always dreamt for. Australia has made me an independent young woman. Back in my country I was never allowed to share my story, but I'm doing right now. I was never respected for being a female. I've never had any access to education. I never knew who I am or what I could do.
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