‘Because if they don't get that visa, they're going to end up in this kind of meat grinder of a system that we have, where you see people, for six or seven years, kind of going through appeal after appeal, and how negatively that impacts on their mental health.
‘You know that's what's going to happen to this person if you say no.’
The immigration official who interviewed Arman said no, rejecting his claim for protection by citing Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) guidance that there were areas of Afghanistan to which it was safe for him to return.
‘It was Mazar-i-Sharif, just the other side of Afghanistan,’ Arman says, still incredulous, years later. ‘I don't know anyone [there]. I could, I could go there, but the problem is, we have the same problem... it's exactly the same situation in every city, and even in Kabul... Hazara people [are] struggling to live there… Even if they have any wedding, they kill.’
The outcome seared Arman even deeper because he’d seen so many of his friends’ cases go the other way. ‘Most of them, they went okay. We are from the same tribe, just not the same area, so it’s the same situation for everyone. How come this one person is right and this one person is wrong?’
The arbitrariness of it confounds him. He tries to process it through his logical mind.
‘I did give them all the information, all of the details, but you know… it really depends who’s sitting on the chair, people have different opinions, people have different… perspectives of judging, so, I mean, it’s really hard… everyone cannot understand what is actually going on. It really depends.’
Time isn’t making it any easier to accept that his outcome was so unusual; instead, despair grows. ‘I mean, yeah... I’m finished,’ he says. ‘Sometimes I just get lost and I don’t know what I am doing – I mean, not sometimes, all the time.’
All of his efforts to contribute in Australia, he thinks, should count for something. But no one wants to hear about that – not in the first interview or at any other stage in this ‘meat grinder’ of an appeals process. RACS Senior Supervising Solicitor Alison Ryan puts us in the shoes of many of her clients like Arman: ‘I've gone to university, I've learnt English because I was told that's an important thing to do in Australia – which it is. I have an Australian girlfriend. I've been working part-time and I'm doing all this community service…
‘They bring me a CV,’ Ryan says, and ‘I will tell them not to submit any of that information.
‘That may be construed by the department that you want to be in Australia because you're a good person. And that is not what we're looking at. The only test that is applied to these people is, will you face serious harm if you're forced to return to your country?’
Everything is irrelevant, she explains, except ‘why he, after having not been in that country for about seven or eight years and leaving as a young child, why he would be persecuted.
‘In cases from Afghanistan, we've seen a number of young Hazara men in Australia who have done very well, who have learned English, who have started businesses, who have gone to university and have got jobs in major corporations – I've seen where that has been used against them. When the Department of Home Affairs is looking at this concept of, “Okay, if you go back to your home area, we accept that you will be killed. You're going to be killed as a Hazara and a Shia. That's a given. However, you have proved that in Australia that you've been very resourceful, that you've been able to get jobs, you've been able to move between cities, you've been able to to make a good go of it for yourself here. Therefore, I think that there's no problem for you to move to this other place in Afghanistan where you've never been. And although unemployment's high and there's lots of problems in that area, you're not going to be persecuted. And we don't think it's unreasonable for you to go there.”
‘That's a problem,’ Ryan says. ‘So [when someone tries to give] me documents that show success in Australia, I will always tell them that that is not relevant to your case and not to include them.’
Arman also can’t include the news, the targeted killings, the Afghanistan footage from social media that keeps him up at night. It’s irrelevant, because, for a brief period years ago, some parts of the country were considered safe, and that is the time when his case was considered. Lawyer Sarah Dale says that if Arman were assessed today, the decision would be different because the DFAT country information has changed. It now acknowledges the attacks on Shia people and that Kabul is not this safe place that it was in, say, 2016.
Dale explains the issue with cases like Arman’s: