This is my friend Esmail.
He has the dubious privilege of being born on the wrong side of a line on a map. A privilege that has bestowed upon him a life full of pain, fear, and uncertainty. Esmail’s father died when he was nine, travelling to Pakistan’s to try an find work, and his mother when he was twelve, from an undiagnosed wasting disease. He then lived with an abusive uncle as a virtual slave since that time.
As a teenager he managed to escape the violence and travel unaccompanied to Europe, and after being transferred from camp to camp for a number of years he now resides in a centre near Salzburg.
We met through the church here and the more of his story that slowly came out of this mild mannered and reserved young man, the more my heart broke for him and the other millions of displaced people all over the world.
Now that he is 18 the Austrian government has decided that it is safe for him, a Christian, to return home. Today (Friday 2/11/18) his protection visa expires, and he may be detained by the police at any time and sent to a detention centre (prison) to await transportation back to Afghanistan.
It only takes a quick google search to determine how people who turn their back on the Muslim Faith are treated in that country. And for those who may believe that his walking away from Islam is only faked in an attempt to gain a visa (while I’m not denying that does happen) it is not the case here. We went together to the Islamic Council in Vienna and while he was clearly terrified of the repercussions, Esmail filled in the paperwork to leave the religion of his youth and home country. The person in the office was concerned and asked if he was certain. A copy of the document would be sent to the head of the church in Afghanistan “for record keeping”. He has already faced threats and violence here from individuals he had previously considered friends because of his decision.
Regardless of your belief, surely we can all agree that no one should be dragged through the streets behind a vehicle, flogged, beaten, then stoned to death because of theirs.
Together we have driven the five hours to Vienna and visited over a dozen different consulates and embassies appealing for asylum. Surprisingly the most helpful consulate officials were in the Chiliean and United States embassies. We didn’t even get past the door in my own national Australian consulate as they politely refused entry. We have had numerous meetings and discussions with various consulate staff and, while sympathetic, it always seems to come down to the same thing. The United Nations Human Rights Charter clearly places the onus of protecting refugees on the country they are currently located in. Other nations are powerless (or have no responsibility) to do anything, it must come from the Austrian Government.
They have made their decision and unless we can afford to take the matter to a higher European Court we have no right to appeal. The court here does not consider Esmail’s change of belief to be real. And honestly it’s understandable, they must have many many people using this as an argument to stay.
However I can tell you it’s real. Having spent a lot of my childhood living as a Christian in the moderate Islamic nation Egypt, I can tell you the courage it takes for someone to stand against something they have had drilled into them their entire life. Esmail does not want to hide, ‘to keep all his options open’ if you will. He knows the consequences he will face at home, and would make the decision again, based on deep convictions, regardless of the outcome of his refugee application.
I know that many nations have refugee community and individual sponsorship programs. There are people here, including myself, who know Esmail and are willing to enter into a sponsorship agreement. I know Australia has such a program, and I am more than willing to accept responsibility for his wellbeing if he is granted refugee status in Australia.
The Austrian government has made it clear that they don’t really care what happens to this young man, as long as he is not their problem. If another nation commences their refugee process with him it may be enough to convince the courts here to put a hold on the deportation order. We understand that there is a huge backlog of displaced people applying for refugee status all over the globe, and have no desire to jump the queue. However commencing his application may just buy the time he needs to avoid being sent home immediately. Please, we are desperate, Esmail faces almost certain death if he is sent to his home. If you could sign this petition, and if possible email your mp or the immigration minister directly on firstname.lastname@example.org