An Open Letter to President Obama: Please Call for Universal Ratification and Implementation of the Refugee Convention

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Mr President, please call for universal ratification and implementation of the Refugee Convention

Dear Mr President

I am Amir Hossein Javan and Co-Convenor of People Just Like Us a grassroots organization fighting for refugee rights in Australia. We have been informed that the UN General Assembly will host a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach. The reason I personally decided to write to you is I am one of those refugees who fled and left his motherland unwillingly because I did not have any choice and it was not safe for me.

I ran away in April 2000 just because of my political views and activities, and left my mother and father although I knew that they needed me. Like a huge number of asylum seekers, I was unable to speak a word of English and I was by myself in Malaysia, the first country I could travel to. Through connections I managed to find a person who told me how I could go to Australia to seek asylum because it was the only way to be a bit safer. So he organised the journey and I went to Indonesia, where I hid myself for a month and then my journey began with a fishing boat to Australia.  It was not because I enjoyed travelling through the sea but only because I had no other choice.  It took seven days and nights in the middle of the Indian Ocean, fighting with huge waves, suffering physically and mentally and continuing non-stop because there was no safe way to return to my home. There were forty-three innocent women and children in the boat who were hungry, thirsty, crying and praying to find a safe place to settle down. It was beyond imagination. After we arrived in Australia, we were transferred directly to an immigration detention centre in a remote area under surveillance of the Australian military. Our first meeting with the head of Department of Immigration was unforgettable because he clearly told us: On behalf of all Australian people, I tell you that, "You are not welcome in Australia". These were the first words I heard.


I was locked up initially in isolation camp for ten months with no access to any media, phone or even a letter. Then I had an interview with a member of The Department of Immigration, who ignored my claims, but commenced legal proceedings against me, without my documents, so I had no choice but to appeal the matter in The Federal Court. It took two years to appeal this through a couple of courts. I finally managed to win at the full bench of The Federal Court. I won my case but the Australian Government again appealed the decision to The High Court, which took another fourteen months to appeal and to wait for a hearing. Eventually, after four and half years of being locked up, I won the matter in The High Court and received a Temporary Protection Visa. That was four and half years in the prime of my life wasted, in the detention centre, fighting in court after court against the minister for immigration to prove that my claim was eligible and genuine.

After I was released, huge numbers of Australians apologised to me and said, ‘It was done under our name but it was not what we do’. I have received a lot of assistance with kindness and love. I managed to study and get my qualification and I have been a Licenced Real Estate agent for 6.5 years. I have met many beautiful people in the community and I cannot believe what happened to me in the past.

However being locked up in isolation and battling for years has left me with trauma, anxiety and stress. Since then I have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The daily images of asylum seekers in Europe and the Middle East haunt me and my heart is with all the men and the families who left their homes and have no place to live safely. We all know that no one can choose where he or she is born. Yet, people who have had to run away from warzones and homes that they love, are left to suffer daily without any hope. They have a human right to safety, as has already been decided in our international conventions and they have so much to offer the world if only given a chance.

History shows us what happened to the Jewish people in Europe during the Second World War, to the Vietnamese people in the Vietnam War, to the Yugoslavian people in the Balkan war, to the Afghan and Iraqi people in war and nowadays to the Syrian people in this war with ISIS.

How many times has mistreatment of people seeking refuge happened in the past? Why do we still mistreat refugees and try to close the door on them? Would it not be better for all to have open arms and show love and peace to them? What do we achieve by locking them up and treating them like a bunch of invaders? In whose interests is it?

It is the nature of all humans to want to escape from danger. Hence, innocent civilians who cannot defend themselves and would like to protect their wives, kids, families have to flee and have the right to ask for asylum. As you well know, there are sixty-five million displaced persons today. This number is greater than ever before. It is in the interests of everyone to find better pathways to resettle them. We already have the International Refugee Convention.

I therefore ask that you urge countries attending the upcoming conference, including Australia, to ensure, as a bottom line, that their domestic migration law complies with the Refugee Convention and other human rights conventions already established.

Mr President, I sincerely ask you to intervene with your influence, your power and show your fervent compassion on this issue.

Please urge and advise all leaders of countries, including Australia, to also be more compassionate and accommodating in this matter and to abide by the Refugee Convention by actively implementing it and by enshrining it in their domestic migration law.

Furthermore, I hope you will urge countries like Australia, with stronger economies, to accept more asylum seekers.

Specifically, I entreat you, as a matter of urgency, to facilitate the immediate release and settlement of the people who have been locked up in detention on the remote islands in The Pacific, under conditions that breach so many international conventions. Your assistance in this humane matter would be greatly appreciated.

Kind regards,

Amir Hossein Javan
Co-Convenor
People Just Like Us

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