“I was in suit – in French you’d say chic – I was so chic. They handcuffed me. Somebody came, with beard, very big guy. Check his watch and says, ‘After two hours I’m going to torture you.'”
This interview took place on
I’ve had prior contact with Amin. He’s been around here, at the Darebin Intercultural Centre, hanging out with other Iranian boys. But I’ve always seen him as different. There’s a confidence that sets him apart. Perhaps that’s why we haven’t had a conversation yet – because he seems calm, even well adjusted for an asylum seeker.
Now, Amin’s getting comfortable in the Pearl Room, munching on peanuts we’ve set out on a platter, easily bantering about the journalists from the New York Times who were found on an asylum seeker boat [see The Dream Boat].
Physically, Amin’s of medium height and sturdily built. He’s wearing a blue hoodie with his usual faux-hawk hairstyle. A white plastic cross hangs off his neck. I barely have to prompt him for the story. The words begin to flow.
I used to be boxer, you know. Very good one. Actually fighter, because it’s fight.
Did you box in school or something?
In Iran, at school you don’t have any sport. You know, sport is only football.
Where did you box?
In Tehran, the suburb I used to live was the poorest. We have three suburb actually. The richest, middle-class, poorest. We were in here. But fortunately, good area of the poorest. Even the poorest has divided in…most of the people who come here [to Australia], comes from the poorest. Not from the middle class. Some people say, ‘We are rich.’ But they are lying to you. Believe me. Because when we are living in the richest, middle class – everything is fine. Every-thing is fine.
We were poor. Because my father got cancer, wasn’t able to work. That was the source of anger. I hated my father. Sometimes you can’t get along with father.
I was the smallest among the sixteen guys. We were a gang. But I was the leader of that gang. It doesn’t relevant to the size of you.
I used to gamble with my life. You know, I used to be tough guy. I used to take part in fight-street. I had a dagger. Yeah. You know one of my friends just got killed because some person hit him from the back – with the knife.
Yeah. And he killed easily. I was in that battle.
“That was the source of anger. I hated my father. Sometimes you can’t get along with father. ”
And what did you fight about?
Nonsense. Anger. ‘This is my suburb – this is your suburb.’
But nowadays it’s different. No one can fight in the street. If you fight they put you in the jail. But in that time was chaos. Government couldn’t control the whole area. People control the area. In that time.
But now they decided to change the policy against tough guys. And there are too many tough guys. You get mugged easily in the street. Somebody comes with knife and says, ‘give your money to me.’ But there isn’t at the moment. It’s completely safe. They arrested three thousand person. Torture them in the street, in the public eye, and everything went fine.
“I was laughing. ‘This is funny. You can’t send people without any evidence.’”
What made you leave Iran?
I was twenty-one, I used to work at the airport. You know when you go to airport, someone just accept you as a passenger, your baggage, that person work for customs service; he’s called Traffic Man.
I used to be Traffic Man.
Someone came to the airport, at the last minute of the departure. You have only thirty minutes you have to close the counter, report to load control. We have, for example, two-hundred and twenty passenger, two thousand of baggage blah blah blah…that person came at the last minute. We have only three minutes. I accept that passenger. He has two baggage. Going to Thailand.
After one month, the person came back to Iran. He came to our office. They were three guys. He pointed at me and said, ‘He’s the guy, he’s the guy. He’s stolen my baggage.’ I was a little bit confused. These guys look familiar. Because working at the airport you see too many faces – but you can remember it.
I said that, ‘This is nonsense, because at the airport there is Lost and Found.’ If something lost, you have to do some procedure, some paperwork, they telex to the other station and they find your baggage, whatever you have, your cargo. If it does find the line is responsible to give you money.
In that time there was an aggression inside me. I was so angry. We fight each other physically. They was three, I was one – but I won the battle. I hit that guy.
You know in my country if you have someone in government you pull the string, something like this. You can use the power. After one month, a lawyer of the company I used to work for, the airline said, ‘You are summoned to court.’ I said, ‘Why? This is nonsense.’ He said, ‘I know about this. I’m going to defend you, don’t worry.’
They summoned me in the court. And you know the clergymen in Iran, with the long beard…and I was sitting at the court like this [demonstrates hunching] and he said, ‘Don’t sit like that, shit!’
‘Shit?’ I was the only person in the room and the lawyer wasn’t even there. I said, ‘Are you talking to me?’
‘Yes! You theft! You piggy theft! You’re all theft! Stealing. I know you!’
It was shocking. I said, ‘Do you know me?’
‘Yes! I know you!’
He has three pen with different colours – green, black and red. He picked up the red one and said, ‘I’m going to send you to jail.’
I was laughing. ‘This is funny. You can’t send people without any evidence.’
“I used hashish and I lost my logic. Nothing was logical for me. And I went crazy that time. ”
They just send me to the police station for investigation. I was in suit – in French you’d say chic – I was so chic. They handcuffed me. Somebody came, with beard, very big guy. Check his watch and says, ‘After two hours I’m going to torture you. You will tell me what happened to that baggage.’
And I laughed again. ‘This is funny. You can’t hit person like me.’
They put me in the corner of the room. And there was some criminal. Because at the airport they just catch too many criminal. You know in the parking bay, there are some theft. Real theft. Even some junkie person – because this is so crowded area.
So this is near the airport?
In the airport. Even the courts is in the airport. Because, you know, drug trafficking in the airport is so high.
For one week, I was sitting in the corner watching other people tortured. They put some stick in the ass of that person. Hit them. I just think that I’m the next person. Actually they tortured me mentally.
Fortunately someone came and helped me. After seven days, someone in the government, one of my friend’s father, because my parents asked them to help us. He came, put me out of that – it was a detention.
Actually it is illegal because they’re not allowed to keep someone more than two days. This is the definition of the constitution. Nobody allows to be in detention more than two days. But they kept me seven days.
What happened after the seven days?
They had to release me.
Did you keep your job?
Yeah. What was my title in that time? I was the Supervision of Traffic. When I just came back to the job, what do you call in English…I lost my position.
The court – you know the process of that – took about one year. Since then I suffered from insomnia. I wasn’t able to sleep. I just lost my way. In that time I was sixty-five [kilograms], I suppose. At the end of the year I was fifty-five. Skinny. It was the start of insomnia in that time.
I used hashish and I lost my logic. Nothing was logical for me. And I went crazy that time. And they send me in some hospital, in some drug and meditation actually. But I wasn’t okay from that time.
It was the first time somebody uses a string, you know their power…and exactly eight months ago the same scenario. And this time I can’t go for detail for you. Is not confidential but is my case.
“My definition of god is different from the others. I believe in god as a universe. Source of energy – not a person or thing just created you to…I don’t know, this is nonsense.”
Then what happened?
I used to be a religious person. But, during those days I disconnected to the god. My definition of god is different from the others. I believe in god as a universe. Source of energy – not a person or thing just created you to…I don’t know, this is nonsense.
I was twenty-four, I committed suicide in front of my parents. They were watching me.
They took you to hospital?
I asked them to take me to hospital.
Why did you do that?
Because the life is nonsense.
That time, in Iran we have too many religious person. And the religion is a high. The first thing is important is a religion. But we have too many atheist, agnostic, people like me. People just cannot believe that – no offense to you if you’re religious or not, no offense – but, yeah, there was an anger inside me. I told you. That was the reason.
I decided to be different when I just cut myself. I asked them to take me to the hospital.
So you didn’t really want to die?
I wanted to be die.
Because my mother was crying in front of me. And I just saw that. Because of her I am going to take back to life and change it again.
And it’s a shock too, to do it.
You know, when I saw the blood, I felt comfortable.
[laughs] This is crazy.
Everyday we see each other but I can’t distinguish that, if this person is normal – the definition of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ are different. You can’t find ‘normal’ people in society. Even in Australia. But, people need some experience.
In that moment, my mother was the motivation in taking back the life. Because my mother and my father were both hugging, they were crying. Because they didn’t dare to tell me, ‘Don’t do that, do that,’ you know. I take back to the life. I decided to be rich guy. I decided to change everything. I became lone wolf in that time.
So the gang was dissolved?
Thirteen of the gang, dead. Because of using drug, fighter street, changed. We are only three, at the moment. One lives in Germany. I, myself, here. And another guy in Tehran.
That was a good decision in that time. Everything went well.
After you got out of hospital?
Yeah. I was in hospital only two days. Or, one day, I don’t remember exactly.
I started English again, and I joined very well-known airline removed Airways. The salary was good. I bought house, I bought car – everything was fine. I even recruited my brother. I find a good position at the airport.
How many siblings do you have?
Three. My sister lives in Germany. Even my brother joined me here.
Then what happened?
Eight months ago, someone threaten me to kill me, over the phone.
Is that eight months before today?
Yes, eight months ago.
That was the reason I come here.
“Actually, when I got on board that boat I feared a lot. I didn’t sleep for nine days.”
So how long have you been here now, Amin?
Whenever my case [referring to accusation of theft] is closed, the story just began. Because my story is case, why someone called me in the middle of the night, threatened to death.
Is it linked to the suitcase thing?
It’s linked to everything.
And there is something, this is traditional in Iran. If they want to kill someone badly, they cut the penis and put the penis inside the mouth of the person. You will be dead by bleeding. Because there are too many vessel…I suppose after ten or fifteen minutes you will be dead.
That person threatened me…there is no expression in English, but in Farsi we have something.
Now it’s funny, but at that time it wasn’t funny.
I’m suffering from insomnia again.
When I got on board that boat the story changed. I have some movie and…I can give it to you. Actually, when I got on board that boat I feared a lot. I didn’t sleep for nine days.
Fear of not making it here or fear of going back?
Fear get arrested in Indonesia, fear of taking back to the Iran, fear of sinking, fear of eaten by shark. Too many fears.
How long was your boat journey?
Nine days. And I was the leader of the boat. After twelve hours the first one [boat] broke.
How did it break?
The engine broke.
Was there a sailor, a people smuggler?
Three of them. Because the small boat came to pick them up, and they wanted to dive into the sea. One of the others, Nepalese person, came to me and said, ‘This is the second time in the boat, same scenario. The boat doesn’t work, they just jump in the water, [clicks his fingers] they abandon you.’
Where do they go?
Because there was some small island. Even the support boat came to pick them. I call the others, only eleven. I can’t say they’re tough guy – but they saved us – I call for back up, they came, we arrested the crew, captured them, tied them, and call for that person – the big boss in Indonesia – said that, ‘we take hostages. You have to send another boat.’ That was the reason that after nine hours they send the second one. Yeah.
Fortunately they send the second one. Transfer from this boat to this boat was chaos. Everyone think for themselves. And, I was the leader. There was a dagger. I gave it to one of the guy, say with dagger you have to threaten them. Because we need to organise this boat. We were eleven person. Before we didn’t know each other but we forge friendship on that boat.
Yeah, we went to the second one.
And the journey started again. For eight days.
“That’s the reason they can’t find some people. For example one boat sink and ten person is missing. They have been eaten in the ocean. That is my fear, it’s shark.”
So those three guys [people smugglers] were still on the boat with you?
Still tied up?
No. We untie them. And in the day seven we were out of food and water. There was two little kid.
This is my insomnia right now, this is my nightmare: one of them crying for water and food.
And Navy catch us on day eight. I’m going to give you the movie – in that movie we’re still waiting because the patrol aircraft come and take picture and we just thought that we survive.
So there was a day between the time the helicopter saw you and when the ship arrived?
Yes. The problem is…you know I have work permission? Do you know why?
Because they were looking for us for two days. And this is so bad for army. Little, little boat just went missing in the middle of the ocean. That’s the reason they just brought us to the Darwin and you know, last policy of the Labour was, in 2012, August – no one got permission of––
But they gave us the advantage.
Because you went missing for two days?
Yes. Everyone on the boat got it.
I just heard from one of my friends in Sydney, that this is very bad for Navy. Because if something happens to us, there were too many pack of sharks around us. Sharks are so sensitive. They know something’s going on.
People were crying, people were scream. Too many pack of sharks. That’s the reason they can’t find some people. For example one boat sink and ten person is missing. They have been eaten in the ocean. That is my fear, it’s shark.
“I used to be crazy.”
And then detention – how was that?
Detention is terrible. It’s jail.
I felt the same – in Darwin, the only thing was different is that I feel that I’m safe. But it was detention. Barbed wire. Serco. Serco doesn’t have gun, handcuff, something like this. But they have gas.
Like a spray – pepper spray or something.
Yeah. I was in detention for fifty-five days. In these fifty, I just thought that I’m going to be crazy.
And then out here to Melbourne?
Yeah. I’m the only person who came to Melbourne. Others to different city.
Did you choose it?
Yes, because my friends lives in Geelong.
Have things changed for you here? Do you feel it’s a better life?
I feel comfortable in this country. I refer to doctor, he said, ‘You all nature guy. You look like a battery and battery needs to be charged. You have to go to nature, mountain, sea, jungle.’ I used to go to mountain, every weekend. Used to go to sea. In this country – this is the source of pure nature. I feel sharp in here.
I’m okay. People change.
But I believe that people can change. If you want to change. Depends. Depends on your personality. Depends on the way you have grown up.
“It’s anger, you know. There is a bear inside me. Bear goes to sleep.”
So this feels like home now?
No. Because I pushed to this journey. People have here freedom, you know. They have everything. But in my country we are so happier than here.
This is very nice country – we have four season. When in summer we can feel the sun. In here we can’t feel the sun. Even the spring.
Have you had a summer here yet?
Oh, it’ll come. You’ll feel the sun, all right.
Let me tell you, I hate summer.
When I got here it was June or July? It was cold. And our situation is so bad. They just give us the house, empty house. Without bed, without blanket, anything. I asked my parents to send my shipment here and the person at the airport was shocked. [He was like] ‘How did you manage to bring the shipment here?’
I said, ‘This is easy-peasy for me.’ They send my computers, guitars, everything.
They even wanted to sell my house. I said, ‘Don’t sell that. Maybe I’m coming back again.’
Do you own the house?
This is the house you bought after you changed?
But there is still anger inside me.
Why are you angry?
It’s anger, you know. There is a bear inside me. Bear goes to sleep.
Do you have good ways of getting the anger out? Like boxing?
I have to go to boxing again. Yeah, this is very good.
You know, Mike Tyson, exactly like me. The ring is the best place, you release your anger. And nobody catch you because you just hit someone – this is sport. I can’t afford it right now, I’m waiting my salary.
The leisure centre here is free. For asylum seekers. Have you tried it?
I’m waiting for Katarina. She can give me piece of paper then I can go and enrol in freely.
So what’s next for you? What do you want to do?
I have a big plan. First of all I have to take part in court. Because the person give us the visa is judge. If it goes well I’m going to apply again for airline. Because I used to work fifteen years. I even wrote some procedure in airline. I used to be a smart guy.
What do you mean, ‘used to’? You don’t lose it.
Yeah, I’m not smart anymore. Short memory damaged – by that boat. They said that whenever you released from detention – short memory will comes again.
I have a great memory. I can memorise too many telephone number.
Can you still do that?
No, I can’t do it. I have to refer to my mind. Even for English, I have to refer to my mind. Because I have to use from long memories…this is process, process of second language.
My story’s crazy. I used to be crazy. But believe me, you will meet crazy person that you don’t understand that person’s crazy because they don’t show you. It’s hidden inside the person.
But I consider myself an honest person. I never lie. Even white lie.
“He called my mother, because my mum knows I can never cook. She knows that I can’t even make an egg also. She said, ‘Hey, I heard something about you.’”
“There is some reality. Not reality – but the side of reality that is really bitter. ”