Posted by Anura Samara, 31 January 2017
The journey of a refugee from escape to safety.
With all of the current hysteria around refugees, it’s interesting to finally read a first-hand account by one. Although I suspect that Kooshyar Karimi’s story and journey doesn’t mirror those who attempt to seek asylum by boat.
This is the story of a man from Iran’s Jewish minorities who, despite this disadvantage, becomes a doctor, translator and writer. Despite this apparent privilege, he remains under suspicion by the intelligence agencies eventually being tortured by them and then forced to spy on their behalf.
With a young family, he makes the decision to flee to Turkey. Even this decision isn’t so straightforward – it means leaving his parents behind, possibly never to see them again. It also means conflict with his wife – she’s not Jewish and doesn’t seem to see the need to leave their apparently comfortable life.
Turkey isn’t exactly a safe haven. With minimal savings, the first objective is to find somewhere safe to stay. There’s a language barrier. And then the need to negotiate a corrupt bureaucracy. Even once he’s found somewhere apparently safe for his family, he is forced to move to a country town to start again. And all the while he is waiting for confirmation of their refugee status. Although he’s not living in the grinding poverty of a refugee camp, this section of the story describes well the unpredictability, the dangers and the uncertainty facing people waiting for asylum in countries that refuse to recognise the concept. It puts a lie to the myth that once someone leaves the immediate danger then they are ‘safe’.
The Karimis are finally accepted as refugees by Australia – not without dramas – and finally reach our shores. But despite finally being ‘safe’ there are more hurdles. Although settled in somewhere, there’s the need to find a job – but Kooshyar’s qualifications aren’t recognised so he studies while working to upgrade. Even once he is recognised as a doctor, he has to travel extensively to fill locum roles. Eventually the stress on his marriage takes its toll and he separates, still working away but trying to maintain contact with his family.
The book ends on a happier note when he meets another doctor in his own practice.
So, what’s the lesson here? Life as a refugee is uncertain and risky and never undertaken lightly. The concept of ‘safety’ is more than just a roof and food, but about safety from fear (fear of persecution, fear of spies). And people who seek refuge aren’t simply looking for a better life – they still love their own countries and expecting them to give that up undermines the idea that they have sought asylum.
The happy ending in this case prompts the question “was it all worthwhile?” How much more so then for other’s who are less fortunate?