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Monday, 6 October 2014

Taliban tortures Abbott government deportee

Taliban tortures Abbott government deportee

Taliban tortures Abbott government deportee

The first Hazara asylum seeker refouled by the federal government was taken by the Taliban inside a month.

An Afghan police photograph of Zainullah Naseri after his escape from his Taliban captors.

Zainullah Naseri has been in Afghanistan three
weeks when the Taliban find him. They stop the car in which he is
travelling and find in his pockets his Australian driver’s licence – a
memento of the country that on the night of August 26 made him the first
Hazara to be forcibly deported back to the country he was fleeing.
The six Taliban also find Zainullah’s iPhone, but he pretends it is
not working. They do not believe him. Zainullah is punched and kicked.
“They told me they would kill me if I didn’t open it.”

The Taliban bundle him into a car and after 20 minutes’ driving, take
him to a mud house ringed by high walls. They beat him with wet rods
cut fresh from a tree, demanding he open his phone. Again they threaten
to kill him. Zainullah relents and offers his PIN.

Immediately, they are scrolling through pictures: the Opera House,
the Harbour Bridge, a video of the new year he recorded in 2014.
Speaking in broken Dari, the Taliban tell him, “You from an infidel
country.” They mean Australia. “You infidel. We kill you. Why you come
to Afghanistan? You a spy.”

He tells them the truth: he was deported after his refugee
application was rejected. But they do not believe him. He is laid out on
the ground and again is beaten. “I swear to God, I was deported from
Australia,” he pleads. “I don’t live there anymore.” The six men do not
relent. “They kept bashing me,” Zainullah remembers.

The Taliban tortured him for two days. He begged for mercy and his
life. They gave him five days to arrange a payment of $300,000,
threatening otherwise to decapitate him.

Not able to afford food or accommodation in the three weeks since he
had been back in Afghanistan, he counted down his days, remembering what
he told the Australian government. “I told them 100 times not to deport
me. I would be killed. But they did not believe me.”

Zainullah imagined his own death. “Although I was scared, I did not
care too much if I die after all this,” he tells me. “There was one
thing in my mind: I wanted to see my wife and daughter. I did not see my
daughter because I was in an Australian camp when she was born.” 

Feeling scared

I first met Zainullah four weeks ago in Kabul, two weeks after he was
deported from Australia and a week before he was abducted. I met him in
one of the busiest places in Kabul, Kote Sangi, metres from where
hundreds of Afghan addicts, smoking heroin, huddle under Pul-e-Sukhta
bridge, most of them former refugees who were deported from Iran and
Europe. Laila Haidari, who runs a “mother’s camp” for addicts in Kabul,
told me “about 90 per cent of addicts are deportees”. 

Zainullah looked disoriented and very sad. When I told him that I
came from Sydney – I arrived in Kabul a day after he did – his face
flickered with excitement. This soon died down, however, once he
realised I could not help him go back. He told me that he was staying in
a guesthouse in Kote Sangi, sharing a room with many other travellers,
mostly Pashtuns, who come from other provinces. “I feel scared there.
Who knows, a Talib may be among them, but I don’t have money to pay
for a separate room.”

After the first meeting, I lost contact for a few days – his mobile
phone was switched off. A week later, I got a call from him with a
different number, telling me that he had been captured on the way to his
home town. We met again and I looked on in disbelief as he showed me
the lash marks on his back and a photo and video taken at the police
station where he sought refuge following his escape from his Taliban

Hellish escape

It was thoughts of his daughter that prompted Zainullah to break out.
On the second night in captivity, at 10pm, he heard gunfire in the
valley. He saw that the Taliban had gone out to fight and locked the
gate. He realised it was an opportunity to escape but his feet were
chained together. He groped in the darkness, found a rock, and brought
it down onto the chain every time he heard gunfire. 

At the back of the house, steps led up to a traditional Afghan squat
toilet system, a hole above a chamber below. Having broken his chain, he
ran for the toilet and dropped into the excrement. The human waste is
collected for fertiliser, accessible with a shovel from outside the
house’s wall through a hatchway. Zainullah wriggled out through the
hatch. For eight hours, covered in faeces, he walked through darkness
and early morning. At some point, exhausted, he heard more gunfire – the
whizzing of bullets as they passed his ear.

A video captured by Afghan police shows officers firing on him,
suspecting him to be a suicide bomber. A voice calling “help” is heard
in the darkness. Moments later, three police speaking in Hazaragi are
shown in the video, saying in angry voices, “Who are you?” and “Raise
your hands”. 

You can hear the chain clanking on one of Zainullah’s feet as he
staggers on a gravel surface, his arms raised and his shirt ripped at
the shoulder. He is being escorted by police now, and asks in a
trembling voice, “Where is this?” A soldier answers him: “This is the
police station.” Another shouts: “Here is the police station – shut your

He was taken to the assistant commander of the area, Abdul Gorgee,
where he was interrogated in a closet-sized room. More video shows him
still tangled up with a chain. The assistant commander asked him where
he came from and what happened to him. He explains in the video that he
had been deported from Australia and was captured by the Taliban on the
way to Jaghori, his district. 

“Why you did not stop?” the commander asks.

“I was scared,” he answers. 

“Our soldiers could have killed you,” the commander says, swearing at him. 

“Life is too bitter,” Zainullah answers, putting his head down. “It would have been better if they had killed me.” 

After a short interrogation, the commander ordered his soldier to
break the chain and take him to a hotel where he could shower. 

After two days under the supervision of police in Jaghori, he was
released. Instead of going to his home, to the daughter he had never
seen and the wife for whom he yearned, he fled in fear back to Kabul by a
different route.

‘Not a real risk’

In December 2012, Australia’s Refugee Review Tribunal ruled it was
safe for Zainullah to return to Jaghori. This was the beginning of the
events that almost ended in a Taliban outpost two weeks ago. A week
after Zainullah’s disappearance, an Afghan-Australian named Sayed Habib
Musawi was killed in the same area. But the tribunal had asserted in
Zainullah’s case that “there is a significant population living in
Jaghori. His family are living there … [and] as there is a route from
Kabul to Jaghori that is secure, there is not a real risk the applicant
will suffer significant harm.”

Zainullah is from Ghazni province, the most volatile and dangerous
province in Afghanistan at the moment. Of its 22 districts, 18 are very
insecure, including Jaghori. In recent weeks, Islamic State supporters
have penetrated into Ghazni and in some areas IS flags have been raised.
Since last Thursday, the Afghan government has been engaged in fierce
battle with the Taliban and the IS in Ajristan, a district bordering
Uruzgan province, where Australian troops were based. The insurgents
associated with the IS have decapitated 11 innocent men and women in
that district and driven many people into the mountains. General Qasimi,
a Hazara parliamentarian who survived a recent assassination attempt
near his home in Kabul, told me “at least two or three Hazaras are
killed in Ghazni province every week by the Taliban”.

Mohammad Musa Mahmodi, the executive director of the Afghan
Independent Human Rights Commission, said: “It’s totally unacceptable to
return a refugee to Afghanistan in this critical moment. It contradicts
their [Australian] own law not to deport refugees where they face

Asked about Zainullah’s case and whether any attempt had been made to
assess the ongoing safety of deported asylum seekers, a spokesperson
for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison  said: “People who have
exhausted all outstanding avenues to remain in Australia and have no
lawful basis to remain are expected to depart.”

Depressed and alone

Zainullah’s capture and torture is one thing, but he also grapples
with the fact nobody will believe he was deported from Australia. “You
must have committed a crime in Australia,” Afghans told him when he
returned. “They don’t deport refugees.” He denied the accusation, but
nobody believed him, including his family. 

When he arrived in Kabul on August 27, he went to see a GP – there
are no psychologists – about the depression and anxiety he developed
during the nearly three years spent on a bridging visa and in detention
centres in Australia. It had become worse in the lead-up to his
deportation. He couldn’t sleep for five consecutive days: two in
Villawood, and three more on the way to and in Kabul.

In a letter addressed to Morrison before Zainullah was forcibly
deported, forensic psychologist Kris North wrote that Zainullah had
symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that “will deteriorate
further if he is returned to Afghanistan” given “he will not get proper
psychological help” there.

Zainullah has had a long walk to find protection. As a Hazara, a
long-persecuted minority in Afghanistan, he fled and spent nine years in
Iran as a refugee but was deported back in 2011. After staying in
Afghanistan for another two months, and getting married, he again felt
unsafe. This time, he decided to go to a place where he would not be

It took him six months to get to Australia, including 12 days on a
boat. “We nearly lost our lives,” he says. “I wish I would have died
then, than to suffer like this. It’s very hard.” After six months in
detention on Christmas Island and at the Curtin centre, he was released
into the community on a bridging visa that allowed him to work. He soon
found a job, working as a professional tiler for a year after getting
his licence and buying a car and tools. 

But in August 2012, Zainullah’s refugee application was rejected by
the Immigration Department. Four months later, he was rejected again by
the Refugee Review Tribunal on the grounds that Jaghori was safe. He
made further applications until, in January this year, a one-page letter
came from Morrison’s department: “As you have no further matters before
the department, you are expected to leave as soon as practical.”

For seven months, he attended a monthly appointment where he was
asked to leave the country and each time refused. In August, he thought
he would refuse again. He took his mobile and a wallet and parked his
car under a shopping centre in Auburn without realising he would never
come back. At the interview, his case manager pressured him either to
return voluntarily to Afghanistan or be taken to Villawood. He rejected
both. He pleaded with his case officer not to take him into
detention. “I cried a lot and asked, ‘Please, please don’t take me to
the detention centre. I have been there before. I don’t want to be
deported.’ ”

On the day of his deportation, about 10am, he was transferred to a
solitary room where he was asked repeatedly to return to Afghanistan. “A
person talked so much, it was as if there was a wasp on my mind.” That
night, he was taken to Sydney airport. He and six department escorts
boarded the plane from a different door, away from other passengers’
eyes. “I did not know where I was. I did not sleep for two nights. My
mind was not working. I just knew that my world is going to end.”

The Afghan embassy in Canberra didn’t issue a passport for Zainullah,
disagreeing with his forced removal from Australia. Instead, the
Australian government issued a travel document bearing his name and
photo, but not his signature. The document was carried by his escorts,
who showed it at every checkpoint. He was given a photocopy. 

Walking alongside me, he shakes his head. “I ask why the Australian
government wasted my time for so long. Made me wonder for three years.
Then they dump me here. I have no future now.”

On the dirt roads of Kabul, he looks at the scars of war on the
buildings, the open sewers smelling like rotten meat, and female beggars
in burqas stretching out their hands, asking for money. We reach the
fourth-floor restaurant where we first met, and I asked him about his
future. “I don’t know. I can’t go back to my home town,” he tells me,
rubbing his chin nervously. “I feel like jumping from here, or ending up
living with those addicts under the bridge, if I stay in Kabul.”

article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper
on Oct 4, 2014 as "Taliban tortures Abbott deportee". Subscribe here.

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