Zahra's story

This is a moving story of Zahra's time as a detainee on Nauru, which she shared at the Palm Sunday Rally in 2023. Each year, tens of thousands of people march in cities and towns across the country to highlight the injustices experienced by asylum seekers and refugees under current government policy. The St Vincent de Paul Society encourages members and supporters every year to join their local Palm Sunday Walk for Justice and help deliver the message to all politicians that we want a fair society that welcomes refugees.
A phot of a woman in a black dress with long black, curly hair talking into a microphone, on a stage, at an outdoors rally. The backdrop features a picture of 2 girls and reads Justice for Refugees.

Hi, my name is tib14. An identity which was given to me right after I arrived in Christmas Island. The Immigration Department still knows me by this number. But this number is a mother, a wife, and a human being.

I only have a couple of minutes to speak about 10 years of my life. Ten years. Every second of these ten years has been passed with fear, apprehension, and hopelessness.

I am a mother, a mother who gambled the life of her children by taking them on a boat, to the heart of an ocean to save them. A mother who had a fear of losing her children every second of the boat journey. Whether you have children or not, please put yourself in my shoes. Imagine what it’s like to be a tired and desperate mum, risking everything to save your children and your family.

The situation in Iran is heartbreaking, even worse than when we left, especially for women. My daughters and I could have lost their lives just for wanting freedom. My husband and I saved their lives by taking a leap in the dark, but for what?

In this world, parents are always worried and restless for their children. They laugh with their children’s laughter, and they weep with their children’s tears. If they have any problems, parents put all their efforts into helping their children, parents care about their children’s education and their relationships.

But the worries of myself and other families in my situation are way beyond this. Constantly, there is a question in our mind: 

“Why? My God tell us why? What crime did our children commit? What crime did my husband and I commit? It is not illegal to seek asylum. Where is the end of all this misery and suffering?”

Sometimes I think, it would have been better if we were drowned ten years ago, and there would have been an end to this torture. I wish I could do something for my children. I wish I was a free bird, but now I am in a cage, like a bird hitting itself against a fence as it tries to find a way to freedom. At the end of the day, what remains for the bird, for me, is wounded wings and a depressed soul.

During the past 10 years, I have buried my children’s aspirations, their aspirations as kids and teenagers and now I am burying their future. Valuable days of their lives have been lost and now they are losing their future. The only thing that a desperate mum can do is regret and grieve.

When we were stuck in the hell of Nauru, my daughter was dreaming that someone like an angel in the stories would come and would rescue us.   Instead of playing with toys as a little girl, my daughter’s concern was about freedom from that hell.

My children witnessed self-immolation, instead of New Year fireworks. They witnessed suicide instead of Disney animations. Instead of thinking about holidays, their minds were preoccupied with self-harm. Instead of doing homework, they were trying different ways to kill themselves.

They lived in constant fear of the guards, who showed no mercy. They were scared of taking too long in the shower as the guards would cut the water after two minutes and get angry. They didn’t collect seashells at the beach because they knew the guards would throw them away. They couldn’t take even one more piece of fruit from the canteen, fearing the guards would find it when they were body searched.

These are only a few examples of how my daughters’ joy and freedom – their whole lives - were taken from them at the ages of 5 and 10. For ten years they have been treated like criminals for fleeing persecution in their home country with their desperate parents, sentenced to indefinite incarceration for no legitimate reason.

But despite all the pain and misery, they learnt to resist and tried to remain hopeful, because hope for freedom was all they had.

Senator David Pocock is outdoors in front of a microphone, speaking at the Palm Sunday Rally 2023. There is 'Justice for Refugees' banner behind Senator Pocock.

After five years of being deprived of education in Nauru, once we got to Australia, my older daughter started going to school and worked hard to catch up with her studies, she knew she had no choice but to be successful. She wanted to make up for the past and its hardship, she wanted to become a lawyer, to help people like us, something she had dreamed of since childhood.

She got a full scholarship to university, and again, the seed of hope was planted in her heart. She thought she would become the angel of rescue that had never come to rescue her. She felt the doors of heaven were opened for her, and her world became colourful, not black anymore.  She thought she was a normal person, able to build her own life.

However, after seven weeks of joy the government kicked her out of heaven. Her crime? Turning 18. They took away her study rights. They said university is not a human right. Once again, I have witnessed my daughter’s spirit melt away. She lost all her ambitions, and her hope has once again been replaced by pain and hopelessness.

My younger daughter is not motivated to do well in high school.  She feels it’s useless because she can’t go to university, and I don’t blame her. My five-year-old finally started school. When I had just set up my cleaning business, I had to take him to work because I could not afford childcare. He’d get tired and frustrated and I’d have to tell him in the middle of the day, don’t worry this is the last house. It was so hard on him, but I had no other choice. 

If you were in my shoes, how would you teach your children to fight for their lives when someone else has absolute control over them?

Our family has only 6-month visas. This means that every six months we must apply for new ones, a process so stressful I can’t put it in words. And now, after 10 years of mental and psychological torture, we are told we should go to a third country. We have no mental capacity to start a new life from scratch. Again. If we had been sent to a third country 10 years ago, we would have built our children’s life by now. Now, with this depressed and exhausted soul, how we can go somewhere else to start a new life?

My husband and I have endeavoured to teach our children not to lose hope, to work hard and believe that God hears their voices and looks after them. And things were starting to get better. I have a business, my husband has a good job and God put some kind people in our way who have become like family and helped us to restart our life. Our exhausted souls do not have the capacity to restart again. 

We are moving corpses, without the right to choose where we live, convicted to silent death.

A photo of a group of men and women standing, in casual clothes and some in hats, holding Vinnies banners and posing for the camera.

Act now

Share this page