Hamid Pasboss paid $US15,000 to leave Iran four years ago. He gave the money to a “dealer”, who arranged a flight to Dubai, and then Indonesia. He doesn’t remember where he landed — but it’s likely he flew into Jakarta, and then travelled to West Java, where he waited until it was time to board a boat.
Hundreds of people, many from landlocked countries ravaged by decades of war, used to brave the stretch of ocean between Indonesia and Australia, hoping for asylum here. Almost none take the chance now, since the Australian Government decided even legitimate refugees would be sent to Papua New Guinea, and began turning back boats attempting the make the crossing.
“The ocean is very, very horrible,” he says.
Pasboss spent time in immigration detention, before learning English and finding work with the hotel chain Accor, through an employment program recognised with an award from the Migration Council last month. He is happy to have found full-time work through the program, but would not encourage others to make the trip from Iran, even if Australia’s immigration policies had remained unchanged.
Pasboss says he “loves” his job but that life isn’t as easy as some people in Iran think it is.
“The first thing I do [each day] is vacuum the restaurant, then I clean the toilet and mop the floor,” he says. “Now I am very happy — I work with my muscles. Now I’m so happy to pay tax.”
He sold scarves in Iran, and worked on construction sites. His younger sister and mother still live there, though he doesn’t speak to them often, or to the friends he left behind. He would rather improve his English, and avoid difficult questions. Many in Iran assume Australia is all “nightclubs and girls,” a destination where wealth awaits and life is easy.
“I say to them, it’s very hard to make money in Australia,” he said. “[But] they’re not like children, who don’t understand their own lives.”
The misconceptions Pasboss describes in Iran could be easily corrected. But he’s cautious about saying anything about the country to people back home, to ensure Iranians who wish to flee are making their own decisions. “If they come here and have trouble, they will blame me.”
The country wasn’t at war when Pasboss left — it’s last major armed conflict was with Iraq in the 1980s. But persecution of minority groups is widespread, there few economic opportunities, and little personal freedom for many residents of the totalitarian Islamic state which remains the subject of UN sanctions.
People are still fleeing today, including 22-year-old Reza Barati, who was killed during protests at an Australian-run immigration facility on Manus Island. Amnesty International recently released a report that said Iran was largely to blame for a sharp increase in executions around the world last year. One of the people it killed was Kurdish political prisoner Habibollah Golparipour. Amnesty said he was sentenced to die for the crime of moharebeh (waging war against God), after a trial that lasted five minutes. This is just one of a thousand tragedies.
The immigration department would not comment on Pasboss’ case for privacy reasons. Refugee status is usually granted when people’s safety is at risk in their home country.
“Everywhere you go water is water, and sky is sky,” he says. “It’s a good country to visit, but unfortunately the government makes it very difficult [for the people who live there].”
Pasboss’ boat was intercepted somewhere near Christmas Island, not far from Indonesia, and most of his time in immigration detention was spent at the Villawood facility, in Western Sydney. Once he got out, and began to study English, he found simple things about Australian life surprising.
“I saw a man carrying a baby … In my country it is very different,” he says. “You have freedom of everything here, especially speech. You can find every colour, every nationality [in Australia].”
Accor’s program came about through a partnership with AMES Victoria and Salvation Army Job Network Sydney, according to a spokesperson for the hotel chain. The company designed and developed a tailor made “Job Ready” Program for migrants living in Melbourne and Sydney, which involved ten training workshops spread over five days. The aim was to provide “extensive professional and life skills” to support the participants securing employment.
“In total 96 participants completed the workshops in 2013 with over 70 candidates successfully employed across a range of hotel operations,” the spokesperson said.
Accor was recently presented with the Business Inclusion award by the Migration Council Australia at the Australian Migration & Settlement Awards 2014. The business inclusion category recognises excellence in community-orientated programs that aim to improve the inclusion of migrants within the Australian workforce.
“Accor is to be congratulated on its visionary employment goals, which provide opportunities for refugees across the country,” said the Transport and Tourism Forum CEO Ken Morrison. “This outstanding program is helping refugees integrate into society, providing opportunities they might not otherwise have had. After often traumatic experiences, this initiative helps to extend a warm welcome to those who are choosing to call Australia home.”
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