Aladdin Sisalem was born to a Palestinian father and Egyptian mother in Kuwait, where he trained to become a mechanic. Sisalem arrived in Australia in 2002 by boat. He was then detained on Manus Island from 2002 to 2004. Sisalem was the last detainee on Manus Island during its first incarnation as a detention centre, spending 10 months in the centre on his own. Since leaving detention Sisalem has gone on to study aerospace engineering at RMIT in Melbourne.
More information on Aladdin Sisalem
- “Doors open for Aladdin Sisalem”, The Age, 2008, an article about Sisalem being able to immediately apply for permanent residency.
- “The last man on Manus Island Papua New Guinea”, Dateline, 2007, Interviews with people who shaped Sisalem’s ability to get released from Manus Island.
- “Don’t do it: plea from ‘survivor'”, The Age, 2012, A brief article about Sisalem and his thoughts on the possible reopening of the detention centre on Manus Island.
Transcript of Interview
8 April 2006
Interview conducted by Ruben Zylberspic
MR ZYLBERSZPIC My name is Ruben Zylberszpic. The date today is the 8th of April 2006. I’m conducting an interview with Aladdin – – –
MR SISALEM Sisalem.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC – – – Sisalem, in Melbourne Victoria, Australia. Could you tell me your name and spell it please?
MR SISALEM Sure. My name is Aladdin Sisalem. My first name can be spelt like A-l-a-d-d-i-n and my surname is S-i-s-a-l-e-m – m for Mary.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What is your birth date?
MR SISALEM 15 January ’79.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And how old are you now?
MR SISALEM Twenty seven, probably.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you tell me the city and country of your birth?
MR SISALEM I was born in Kuwait, in a small city which is part of, a big part of Kuwait called Al Jahr city.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Could you spell Al Jahr?
MR SISALEM Al Jahr can be spelt like A-L (indistinct) from J-A-H-R.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Thank you. Can you begin by telling me who were the other members of your family when you were growing up in Kuwait?
MR SISALEM Just my parents and my brother and sister.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What are their names?
MR SISALEM My father his name Marcel, my mother her name Samia, my brother his name Ahmed and my sister, her name is Walia.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And can you tell me the order of your brother and sisters in age, who is the oldest, who is the youngest?
MR SISALEM Well, I’m the first born and then my sister comes after me, Walia and then Ahmed, he’s the last one.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you live just in one house or one place in Kuwait when you were growing up?
MR SISALEM Actually, we used to change flats most of the time.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How often?
MR SISALEM Not really often just each few years maybe or something like that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Is there one place that you remember more than others? One flat?
MR SISALEM Yes, there’s some places that we didn’t really spend too much time in and then shortly after that I moved on my own, so – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How old were you when you moved on your own?
MR SISALEM About 14.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Why was that?
MR SISALEM Sort of, the (indistinct) for – I has a bit of troubles living in the community, so, I have to live in a remote area or something like that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC In what area?
MR SISALEM Isolated area. Remote, far from the public.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Why? Why did you have to – – –
MR SISALEM Well, I had a bit of trouble with my identity and a (indistinct) to in the public, so I had to give an industry (indistinct) where I was trying it as a mechanic. Isolated areas, not residential area so, I didn’t meet much of the public there.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you keep in touch with your parents when you were living there?
MR SISALEM Yeah, sure I kept in touch with everyone.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How far from the family home was this industrial area?
MR SISALEM Well, according to the countryside it’s not as far as according to here, it’s bigger country size. It would be a very short distance.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did your father have any sort of profession?
MR SISALEM My father lived his life as a music teacher. He was a primary school music teacher and he was my own music teacher when I was in primary school as well.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC In what school?
MR SISALEM Primary School. And ended his career a few years ago for – because of his health condition.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And your mother?
MR SISALEM My mother she’s a nurse, that is her profession as well, but she still working as a nurse.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Was she working as a nurse when you were a child?
MR SISALEM Yeah, before I was born my parents was in their professions already.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And what nationality are your parents?
MR SISALEM Well, my father is, he hold an Egyptian document for (indistinct) in the refugees and my mother she’s Egyptian citizen.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC When did they come to Kuwait?
MR SISALEM 1978, a year before I was born.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were they already married when they come to Kuwait?
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And where did they come from?
MR SISALEM They come from Egypt.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you know why they came to Kuwait from Egypt?
MR SISALEM Well, they were offered career opportunity there, what do you call it, work visa, and yeah. So, they moved to Kuwait.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you describe your parents for me, like what sort of people they are?
MR SISALEM In regard to what, sorry?
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Just their personalities, how you got on with them?
MR SISALEM My father is a very calm person, doesn’t have much reaction. My mother she’s a bit nervous. My father his skin is dark, my mother has skin that’s white. So, I’ve become mixed race, something like that. Yeah, there lots of things to describe about people, so – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What about your brother and sister, tell me about them?
MR SISALEM Well, last time I seen or dealt with my brother and sister was when they still children, still kids, so I don’t really know how they are right now and mostly kids or people and they age when I left them in the same personality. It doesn’t show until they’re past teenagers so – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said that you left home when you were 14 to go, at that stage you become a mechanic. Was that at a formal school or what sort of training did you have for that?
MR SISALEM It’s a public training, public workshops. Yeah. Took me what, seven years to get the skills.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And did you have a religious upbringing at all? A religious upbringing?
MR SISALEM For me?
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Yes. Did you have when you were a child?
MR SISALEM No, no we don’t really have religious upbringing situation in Kuwait.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And prior to – – –
MR SISALEM Of course, I have my beliefs but I wasn’t really religious all my life.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC We’ll talk about your beliefs perhaps maybe later on. What about schooling before you, at the age of 14, when you went to – – –
MR SISALEM Yeah, I was in government schools in Kuwait and yeah, so very good standard of schools but after the Gulf War my problems started, I had difficulty to go back to school, so – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How old were you when the Gulf War started?
MR SISALEM I was 11.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What year was that?
MR SISALEM 1990
MR ZYLBERSZPIC When you said you had troubles, can you tell me about that?
MR SISALEM Well, I wasn’t allowed anymore to remain in Kuwait, I was living illegal for about four years after the war.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Why weren’t you allowed to legally live in Kuwait anymore?
MR SISALEM Well, it’s a bit complicated but the rules and laws was made there after the war according to my nationality. So, my father’s visa was denied to be renewed again so, and he was sacked from his job with the government and lots of things happened. So, my father’s situation reflected on me because he’s my sponsor and then, yeah, I was unable to go back to school again.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said that you were 11 when the Gulf War broke out.
MR SISALEM Yep.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And for that how were you affected in the sense of you said your father had to quit his job, how could he afford to pay for food and living expenses?
MR SISALEM He couldn’t.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How did you survive?
MR SISALEM My mother. My mother’s still allowed to work my mother’s nationality is Egyptian. The laws about the national security in Kuwait doesn’t reflect on her. So, actually my father survived with my mother and I survived on my own.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How was that?
MR SISALEM Well, I start actually working and few skills, few trades before I went for mechanic training.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, did you leave school at the age of 11?
MR SISALEM Yeah, I couldn’t come back to school after Gulf War.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, for that three-year period before you went to mechanic school, what did you do?
MR SISALEM Well, training, it’s not a mechanics school just workshops, that’s the way there to learn it, they don’t have formal apprenticeships there.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What did you do in that three-year period though between 11 and – – –
MR SISALEM I work at few things, restaurants, things like that. But I tell you that it’s not the end of the world if you cannot go back to school. I’ve done grade 11 as well without going back to school by study on my own and just paid for a private school for exams, to sponsor my exams and that’s how.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did your father assist you in your education seeing he wasn’t working?
MR SISALEM No, actually my father couldn’t, like, I wasn’t relying on my parents anymore after the age of 14 exactly. So, yeah, it wasn’t possible for me as well because also you can only condition a quite even, even if things hard politically about me but still can live like anyone else for economical situation.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said that when the Gulf War broke out because of the political situation that life was made difficult for you and you couldn’t go to school, on a day to day basis did you suffer any difficulties or problems as a result?
MR SISALEM This is another situation. This a different situation. My dealing with the public with authorities, people’s attitude to me, it’s a different situation than the legal things. I mean, the main problem about my life there was the people’s attitude.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry?
MR SISALEM The people attitude all – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What people’s attitudes, which people are talking about?
MR SISALEM Kuwait citizens, Kuwaiti citizens.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What was their attitude?
MR SISALEM Anyone lost a member of her family in the war, they stay angry for long time and they were just angry forever for that, they would blame anyone, anyone they can blame. And I’m clearly accused of siding with the enemies of Kuwait, the Gulf War so – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How old were you at this point when you were accused?
MR SISALEM Eleven, but it wasn’t because of me, it was because of the international politics.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you understand that situation? How did you react to being accused at the age of 11?
MR SISALEM It took me about – I didn’t know. I didn’t understand when my mother used to ask me don’t say that you’re Palestinian. I didn’t understand all the things took me about five, six years to get the picture of what’s going on but I had to suffer this five, six years as well.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You were telling me about just on a day-to- day basis people would accuse you. What other things do you remember that occurred to you in that period as a result of the Gulf War that you weren’t able to lead a normal – – –
MR SISALEM It’s quite complicated to explain this way but it just simple as that, after the Gulf War life turned 180 degree. Before the Gulf War life was fairly normal, we used to go and spend our holidays in our beach house in Egypt. We used to travel, my father used to travel a lot. Our life was normal, school coming back, coming back home, my friends – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where was this?
MR SISALEM In Kuwait.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where was the holiday house in Egypt?
MR SISALEM Alexandria. So, yeah, well life was quite normal, quite fine and my father was (indistinct) and the situation was fine of course because of the condition of Kuwait and how the government they looked after him more than the citizens themselves. And just in one night, and seven hours everything changes 180 degree.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you remember that night?
MR SISALEM Yeah, of course I remember that night. I was sleeping there and I woke up in the morning and find the armies and everybody in the streets, and everything changed, there’s no school, there not anything to go to. There’s fighting with explosions and things, there’s aeroplanes, they was really, flying very low, if we even play with a toy that can be destroyed. It’s a bit complicated to explain the condition in war zone and then the political face, the negative politics of the world start to show itself in my life.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC In that first night as you said – – –
MR SISALEM No, actually two weeks after, when we were trying to leave Kuwait and we through the border of Saudi Arabia because Kuwait only surrendered by Saudi Arabia and Iraq. So, it was, we were refused to enter Saudi Arabia or to pass through Saudi Arabia because we don’t have Egyptian visa in our Egyptian document, so we had to go to the Egyptian Embassy. We had to travel to Iraq and go to Egyptian Embassy there because the Egyptian Embassy in Kuwait was already closed.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC When you say we who are you talking about?
MR SISALEM I was 11 years old, 11 years old kid won’t go around without his parents. So, when I say “we”, I mean me and my parents.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What about your brother and sister?
MR SISALEM My brother was still in my mum’s lap, my sister was too little to see her in the car. So, I mean “we”, all of us, yeah, all of our family.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What was your intended destination when you were leaving Kuwait?
MR SISALEM Well, I’m not sure what was my father thinking at that time, but I’m sure about he was just thinking to leave Kuwait because that’s what we have to do. Leave the war zone.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Before you go on about that part of your journey can you describe that two week period, if you remember it of the war?
MR SISALEM No, not really, everything was still quiet, everything was still quiet – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said a minute ago that – – –
MR SISALEM It just – everything stopped. There’s no shops, just murderers on the streets. There’s nothing to use, everything stopped. Immediately I guess the TV was working at least it was there, but it was there somehow, I don’t know yeah, just because of the services system at control (indistinct) in Kuwait (indistinct) usually. So, but yeah there wasn’t school, there wasn’t anything to so – and we were just pack from our holidays in Egypt two days before, it was a story as well as sometimes when you force your luck the luck turn on you. I tried to go back from our holidays in Egypt we had to take the ferry from Egypt to Jordan before we drive back through Jordan so we all get to Kuwait. At this time we couldn’t find any booking on the ferry and so my father has to pay extra money for our tickets to other family to take the place on the other ferry and on it’s way to Egypt they had to take us the ferry sinked. It’s called Salam Express, sinks in 1990. So, and then we had to pay more money to get, it was really, my parents were really insisting going to Kuwait early I don’t know why. So, yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, are you saying that you were meant to be on that ferry?
MR SISALEM Yeah, on the way back to Jordan but it was on it’s way to Swiss – or Egypt. So, we lost our place in the ferry twice the whole ferry sinked actually and then yeah. But my father insisted more and brought a lot of tickets on (Indistinct) ferry. So, we went back and now when Saudi Arabia and we’re driving, this one I remember because I like this car, a guy (indistinct) this car just crossed a red light and hit us in the traffic when we – twisted the whole – our car, the chassis, twisted it and he afford – for us to stay in Saudi Arabia on his cost until the car is fixed but my parents insisted again to continue to Kuwait and fixing the car there, so they charge him for the cost of the fix. And on our way back as the whole cars twisted as well, (indistinct) the chassis twisted the, we kept having flat tyres all the way and blaming the serviceman that fixed it the time before that. So, it was a very long trip. It took about extra two days or something in Saudi Arabia to get to Kuwait and we got there on Tuesday, where we spent – we stayed there, on Thursday morning woke up to find a different country. So, yeah it was a bit of story the first time.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC what else do you remember about those first few days of the war breaking out, you said the low flying planes and bombs dropping, did you go outside?
MR SISALEM No, actually the first couple of weeks it was quiet, as I said but after that – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, did your parents speak to you about leaving?
MR SISALEM Well, we were leaving anyway so, they don’t have to take my opinion about that. How about if I ask him, no let me stay. So. Yeah, we left everything in the car.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What did you take?
MR SISALEM Just our clothes and something like that and it was relaxing travelling still the situations cold. Yeah, everybody is allowed to leave, so. But unfortunately we couldn’t pass the border in Saudi Arabia, they didn’t allowed us unless we have Egyptian visa. So, that’s to make sure that we’ll not remain in Saudi Arabia, that’s a political issue, not remain in Saudi Arabia as refugees and we have the choice to go to some other country because we couldn’t see the situation then. We couldn’t see that we had already become a (indistinct) since the war started but must be people there sitting doing their job very well. So, we went to the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad to get that visa. For the first time in my father’s life he was denied a visa to Egypt, we’re not sure why and there’s nothing do else so we had to go back to our flat in Kuwait and we stayed there with the war.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC For how long?
MR SISALEM Seven months that was the war period.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What do you remember about the seven months?
MR SISALEM It was like a film from a World War Two you know, hard to find water, hard to find something to eat. I don’t know we can change, yeah it’s a very (indistinct), bodies in the streets, green, purple bodies.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Say that again?
MR SISALEM Green, purple bodies. Bodies were left there for a long period in the street and yeah. But people stayed in the basement when the fight started and yeah so we (indistinct).
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What did you do in that period?
MR SISALEM Well, I was just a kid you know, I don’t understand when the missile land next, 1,500 metres next to me I says there’s a missile, look at that. I just a kid you know, I used to scared when the tanks where firing shots starts everywhere, get scared when my dog was shot, my head I’m holding him.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Say that again?
MR SISALEM The Iraqi soldiers used to take any creature they find. So, my father used to have a couple of cars and – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC A couple of?
MR SISALEM Cars and took the wheels off one of them to make sure nobody would take it. So, in the middle of the day I was going down walking my dog which (indistinct), and I found the soldiers putting some wheels on that car and the dog start barking at them and immediately the soldier just took off his pistol and shot the dog. I don’t know what’s happened after that I just heard the noise and I was running I didn’t know how I got to the upstairs to the flat and I didn’t go down for three days. I went down walking around the area to find the dog, but yeah, for about kilometre or something away dead, something like that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What was the dog’s name?
MR SISALEM Hanns. Yeah, he was Italian dog, he used to have Italian passport. Yeah seriously.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What do you mean Italian passport?
MR SISALEM I have no idea, except my father still have his passport, he was my father’s dog, travelled with him everywhere. Used to travel with him to Spain, Italy whatever. Even before I was born. So, my father didn’t want to replace the dog so he kept it with me. Yeah, he was a very nice dog. Yeah, used to have a, anyways it was amazing situation. I felt like I was grew up after the world like, I already teenager not a child.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC In what way?
MR SISALEM The years passed very fast, I feel like I knew a lots of thing, I saw lots of thing and felt like yeah, felt like I knew how to rely on myself and everything. I feel like I was trying, I mean, trying to (indistinct).
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Was that difficult?
MR SISALEM Yes, it was difficult. I was scared too much until I didn’t have anything to be scared of at all.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What do you mean?
MR SISALEM I standing underneath the mattress every night praying hearing the missiles just flying around and the bullets, anti-aircrafts flying and the bombs and the things. Every time you here this something falling down you think it’s coming straight to you. Yes, so I was – yeah, it’s like torturing someone without killing them, give torture than give a scream now and then torture I mean, yeah it was hard on everyone there. Any war is hard.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC ” What happened?”
MR SISALEM So, yeah – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC ” What happened after that 7 months?”
MR SISALEM Yeah, Kuwait was liberated and went back. There are so many different people as well. Quite changed at all, it wasn’t Kuwait anymore like the one before the Gulf War. Different people, different kind of situations, different system, different, everything became different.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you describe some of those differences?
MR SISALEM The people, the, I don’t know the colours, the words, the language, I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just different. The people are different. The language, the accents, the dialects, the colours, everything, the shape of things, everything changed hundreds, very strange, it’s like jumping. Just everything changed. Unusual, like even used to eat this for this, now they eat different things for it. I don’t know how to explain, just everything changed. Different, new people. Just.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How did you react to these changes?
MR SISALEM I felt like I am in a new place, new country, felt like saying I want to go back to Kuwait. I used to say that I guess. But it wasn’t Kuwait anymore. Kuwait is gone. Yeah Kuwait is gone already after the war. It didn’t come back and it wasn’t liberated any more.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said earlier that as a result of the war you were treated differently because of your Palestinian – – –
MR SISALEM Yeah. That’s one of the things like, the police once told me I was something awful. The thing is become a crime there being Palestinian, but not as big as Iraqi but I don’t think any Iraqi was had the courage to stay in Kuwait after that. Especially they have nowhere to go. So used to be 500,000 Palestinians live in Kuwait. Most of them had documentation so refugee documentation by other countries like Syria, Lebanon, Jordania. Other countries they were deported or but these ones that had Egyptian documentation, Egypt didn’t want to accept them any more. So some of them had to stay in the deportation jail for years maybe there are some are still there until now. Some of them had to find someone Kuwait person or something to if they lucky to protect them and that’s what’s happened with my father.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What do you mean?
MR SISALEM This Kuwait person who has a private school Primary private school, used my father and other few families like us, my father used to work as teacher there but it is a small white small offer.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So your father resumed – – –
MR SISALEM So after four years, that’s what, after four years of the war that’s how my father was. We were able to get back to legal status again.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC During this period, did you suffer personally suffer persecution?
MR SISALEM Every day was a new story. Everything became very aggressive. Naturally, before I start to get the pictures or to understand this persecution things, all about nationalities and what’s happened and all this, already naturally my defending system inside me start to avoid me telling about my real nationality, like I made friends for years. They don’t know my real nationality, they don’t know my real name. So naturally I start to feel that it’s about my nationality because everything is fine until I have to prove my nationality. So, and who doesn’t hate you, be afraid to be with you. That’s the situation. You can’t make friends, you just have to go around with them. Make it disguise policeman or something. If I was Palestinian, maybe he will harm them as well. So people get afraid as well.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you suffer any harm?
MR SISALEM Yes, I was put in jails many time. Was taken to the national security office when I am a child like this asking about guns and people was killed and all these things. I had all this credit, I don’t know what to call. Just very, very simple mentalities was put in the power positions, positions of power, you know. And everywhere this anger with everybody, just want revenge and find anything to get revenge on.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How long when you went to jail, how long did they keep you in jail for?
MR SISALEM Sometimes for 20 days, sometimes for twp days, sometimes for one week. Things like that but mainly I remember it was very hard to (indistinct) torture (indistinct) tortures.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC They, sorry?
MR SISALEM About 1998 if I can remember after all this subjects on studying, it was 21 days, it was very hard days and I want to forget it all my life.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What happened?
MR SISALEM Well, I guess that commander of the police station was having a free time and he decided to use this time with me. So they saw me on the street this policeman and because they were sitting on that car. They come and ask me about if I own this car. I said, no I don’t know this car. So they ask what my documentation and they ask me to come with him to the police station. They took me to the police station and he bought me there in jail and nobody knows about me anything and then this commander called me and start. Some people different way there the way they show their anger, they don’t need to make a reason for it. It’s a bit complicated. Have to try it, I mean anyone to understand have to try it.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you remember what happened to you in that 21 days?
MR SISALEM Yeah, I remember.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you tell me anything about that?
MR SISALEM Yes, it was winter I was put in, it was very cold, I got the flu, I was beating almost everyday. Beating everyday I was taken, three policemen and start beating me every day. It’s like a meal time. Your meal time is here.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What did they beat you with?
MR SISALEM Their hands, legs. It’s just a, you know, people have a free time what are they going to do with it.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What injuries did you suffer?
MR SISALEM I don’t know. I don’t remember. Yes, you know, you know, people lost somebody in the war. They are still angry especially when you lost somebody a lot you get crazy, you don’t know what to do. That’s what has happened to Kuwait people, not all of them, some of them stay the same, a very simple people before the war. They used to be, nobody would close their door on them. The country was like a small village of, just a small village and every house connected to the other, even if you are from overseas, even if from (indistinct) it was very similar so. But you know when you brother or cousin actually your brothers come and do this to you, what you going to trust anymore? And if you have too much anger and sometimes simple mentality, you’re going to take revenge even if it is a small kid. So,
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said this was this 21 day period in jail, it was in 1998.
MR SISALEM Yeah. 1998.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So how old were you at that point.
MR SISALEM I’m sorry, my memory is not that good so, it could be the one in 1996, I’m sorry, I don’t, I don’t think about these things anymore. Especially being already two years in university and I have my future to think about so, I don’t really want to record.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So after that, you said that you were in mechanic school from the age of 14 until what age – – –
MR SISALEM Well, I started working on my own when I was 18, so from 14 to 18.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And then after 18, what happened next?
MR SISALEM I started working (indistinct), I rent a small shop through somebody. You know I was working partner of mine, so, Egyptian guy. Just was working there.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And what happened next?
MR SISALEM Well, it’s not about next, it’s what happened before. It’s what happened before that I since I realise that the problem, and since I said, I want to go back to Kuwait, or since I felt I come into a stranger country, all that I was trying to do is to keep patient until my father find a solution and the Egyptian Embassy was, you keep trying, no way. So, when I start to feel he was giving up and he is the kind of person that he would sit and wait for the solution to come to him. He believed in some story that the solution will come after a while. Some guy who lived sick for 150 years and then his health come back to him. He believed in that, so. So I kept trying by myself and I was 14 going to the embassies and applying for visas. I was denied, while denied I started to look for it so my father was also dealing with United Nation High Commission for Refugees as well and they almost saved us to be honest, to be fair, and 1993 we almost, actually to Australia for the luck. This family, some families was taken to Australia and we supposed to (indistinct) for families and our situation must be here somehow. My father tried to get me in touch with them but I refused. I was taken and we supposed to be in the same group but the United Nations refused my mother because she is not a refugee, she is an Egyptian citizen. My father’s mentality is very simple as well. He is not a politician at all he doesn’t think that he could be gone there and then get her somehow after that. He doesn’t know, he thinks that, I don’t know what you learn from his travelling but he couldn’t leave my mother. She stayed with him in the war you know, she had the chance to go back to her home but she put her life at risk for him for us and so he couldn’t leave. He didn’t leave. He didn’t take the chance. He thought his other chances will come. So, what, I don’t know how did he expect that because of his easy life in Kuwait before that and before Kuwait, Lybia, he was looked after very well after he left his place of birth. So, yeah, he thought everything will come back all right with Kuwait and everything will be all right after that. But it didn’t and it kept on going worse and worse. So, since that I was trying to find my way out of Kuwait somehow, some kind of feet, anywhere, apply to any place, any kind of visa, dealt with the United Nations, dealt with everyone. I had to, because of the – to survive I had to learn about it too much. I had to learn about it. I learn about it anyway because anything I face is telling me about it, then the laws the rules, their bans, everything they’re talking about, I learnt so I’d find my way out of this, but I found out in the end it just is not about rules, it is about politics. It’s all about politics. Simply as established person, it becomes established after Egypt denied us return to Egypt any more. We’re established before that because what Egypt gave my father is a temporary protection. Doesn’t put responsibility on Egypt to protect us, that’s how the details and things in politics works and United Nations support that unfortunately or Egypt is signatory for British convention whatever, somehow. So my problem become actually since 1967. The problems that my father didn’t solve because he thought everything is all right now, everything will stay all right. But a temporary status is the worst can happen to someone, it’s worse than disability because it doesn’t – disability will keep you as a human, temporary status will take your humanity from you. You don’t serve protection by any government or any authority, and all what we have here is authorities and laws and governments for their rules and they don’t, they cannot give you anything.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So what – what, after you tried, you said to go to several countries, what was the next thing that occurred?
MR SISALEM Well every time, it was it was on the schedule every month, because it takes us also 15 days to get the answer. Because it has to go to the National Security office in Kuwait and Egypt, that’s standard. Anything I do in Kuwait has to go to national security, a driving lesson, anything, even if I am legal. And other countries were in the (indistinct) even I remember applied for Bangladesh, Bangladesh refused me. Well, any country would refuse me because I don’t have the right to return to Kuwait if I left and I don’t have country, other countries would be deported too if I stayed over a period of expired, over my visa there. So naturally no country will accept, accept me. And with the refugees issue, my life and the head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and frankly I was told from Geneva, the smart officer, when he thought that I’m over already he told me that. Kuwait is really good founded country for United Nations. United Nation would never say Kuwait that is a country of persecution. As a very symbol. I said why didn’t you tell me this long time ago. He said Oh – I said all you guys (indistinct) are very smart so I don’t, I can’t figure it out by myself. You should have told me. Anyway, until this one day in 2000 my next door neighbour, we don’t have a good relationship with each other because of the work challenge, so they could me to introduce me to his friend, an Egyptian guy who – and he ask me if I want to go to Indonesia, with people that know my real identity and Kuwait knows very well that I am doing my best as spending all that I could to find my way out of Kuwait and I said, how? I said, my friend here can provide – get you out – visa to Indonesia in 30 days so (indistinct) visa. I said, how? He said just his girlfriend in Indonesia is working in the Indonesian embassy, give her this amount of cash under the table and give her your passport and come back later and you will be all right. So, put my, my work clothes, everything and just drove up there, went ask about her, she come out. I said, this guy – she said, ok, he just called me about you and gave her the money and the passport. She asked me to come back later, I went and had a cup of cappuccino, I remember, and came back and she gave me the passport and asked me to leave. So I left and the way out to the car and I open the passport, I find the first visa I had in my life. In Kuwiat I drove to straight to airline office, I booked the first one way ticket to Jakarta, I don’t even know where Jakarta is on the map, I don’t know where is Indonesia. I don’t know nothing. I booked it and found it at 11 o’clock at night, so I said, alright, he said, one way. I said, one way.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You mean you booked the ticket and left that night?
MR SISALEM That night. I didn’t know, so I went back and get my clothes, my laundry from my brother to take to the laundry shop to finish it, pick it up in the afternoon. Called my friend, I tell him.. Went to see him in the afternoon. I went to my parents flat and slept there and after I told my father, I am going to Indonesia. He was reading his newspaper, he said all right. He thought I’m joking. He found out when I called him two days after. My sister took it seriously, she was crying, my mother was at work. So, yeah, and – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you have the opportunity to see your mother before you left?
MR SISALEM No, I saw her actually a few days before that, but I didn’t have the opportunity, anyway I drove to the airport. My friend followed me there, I gave him the car keys and shop keys and everything to take care of everything and I was waiting for my plane. The national security guards kept me for half an hour. Delayed the plane for me for twenty minutes but they have to stop the plane for me. They search me everything, they ask me questions. I said, guys, I’m leaving. I was thinking that’s all that you need, and I left.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What did you take with you?
MR SISALEM Just a bag of clothes and pocket money.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC When you say pocket money. Did you have any savings at all?
MR ZYLBERSZPIC No actually I didn’t have any savings but I am not good at saving. But pocket money in Kuwait is, in Kuwait the income is high but the cost of living is high as well. Yes, but according to Indonesia, pocket money is a month’s wage for (indistinct), what you spend in Kuwait in one day, you spend in Indonesia in one month in a five star hotel so, that’s the situation. But it was not about that actually, even the pocket money didn’t remain because one week, first week I arrived there, and a nice Indonesian guy I met in the hotel, I went around with him to see the place and he took everything, he stole everything and disappeared.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What did he steal?
MR SISALEM The passport and the money. So my hard time in Indonesia started and all of that story in Jakarta.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What happened, how did you survive?
MR SISALEM Oh it is a very long story. Well I don’t know, I went homeless in the streets, well after my time in the hotel finished. I went first of all to, I was walking in the streets. I went to Egyptian embassy to, after the police because the police ask me, first of all for the first time in my life see the corruption in the police just ask you for money to help you. I mean you get angry they will threat you that they will gaol you because you don’t have any identification of you. So, it was amazing experience just straightforward like that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How did you cope with the language in Jakarta?
MR SISALEM I didn’t cope with the language at all, I just, it was hard, but many people they speak English so.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What language – before we go on, what language did you speak at home in Kuwait with your parents?
MR SISALEM Well, Kuwait is a very multicultural place. It is a three and a half million when I left, was foreigners and only one million citizens. So, this three and a half million is from anywhere in the world. Everywhere in the world, you pass them, you deal with them every day, different names, different language, different accent is no doubt and that’s what I grew up with. For the English it was the American troops after the operation of Kuwait after the war, who remained there until now. I used to deal with them a lot, used to companion them and talk to them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Is this where you learnt English?
MR SISALEM That’s what I start to hear the English to hear the, how people speak English different in school. How do you actually speak it, not use it or not write it.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What about at home what language did you speak to your parents?
MR SISALEM I speak Egyptian dialect. I still so.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, you will now tell me about in Jakarta?
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said you lived on the streets after that first week?
MR SISALEM I lived on the streets for month, for year.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where did you sleep?
MR SISALEM Well, it’s not really in Indonesia, in Jakarta to be homeless you know, not everything. I mean, (indistinct words) and every country find some homeless people or something like that, in Jakarta still many people there. Very bad situation but it wasn’t about that because the life took me different directions and meet different kind of people and had different situations. Yeah, sometimes slept on the street for 10 days and for example, I sleep once at somebody’s house I don’t know who is it, there, sometimes of church (indistinct words) or sometimes five star hotel after that. It just how the life takes you and the people you meet and the people company and experience and, yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How did you feed yourself, how did you – – –
MR SISALEM That’s what I’m saying, is same thing. Sometimes day two days without eating, sometimes eat in a five star hotel. Sometimes you just keep eating the same thing, cooked banana or something for 10 days or the same thing or yeah. Whatever, it’s not the issue. The issue is, I accepted the situation because of the United Nation, that keeps on ask me to wait, to wait, to make a decision about my application and my interviews with them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were you in touch with United Nations in this time in Jakarta?
MR SISALEM Well, it started like that when I give up with the police helping me on that thief, I went to the Egyptian Embassy to get another passport. I applied and all this but for first month before I went to United Nation or for the first week, however things goes I didn’t get it anyways. No response from the Egyptian Embassy until I left Jakarta but before that one week after, I was walking the street home when I saw this sign on one door for the Palestinian Embassy. They already built, they already had a country, let’s check it out. I went inside and told them about my situation. So, they told me they can’t help me with anything because my documentation is Egyptian documentation. I said but according to this documentation I am a Palestinian citizen. They said, well, they said what can we do for you? I say give me Palestinian document. They say don’t have Palestinian documents. I said so what can I do? They said just keep trying with the Egyptian Embassy to get another documentation through them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What documentation did you have because you said your passport was stolen?
MR SISALEM I didn’t have documentation, at the time after it was stolen, so I was trying to get a new documentation with the Egyptian Embassy and when I was checking that sign I find on the door, find the actual embassy on it. So, they told they can’t help me, I have to go back to Egyptian Embassy. So, I went back to Egyptian Embassy asking for help, getting something to do immediately about my situation until the decision that my passport comes. Said they can’t do anything, your citizenship is first thing, and you have to go first thing in the embassy. And they kept passing me to each other for a month until I gave up. Of course I met the, I was denied to meet the Egyptian Ambassador but I met the Palestinian one and when I asked him to do something, you have to do something, he said we can’t do anything for you. I said, you have to give me Palestinian documentation. They said we don’t have to assess it, what’s your documentation say, says Jordanian, said thank you. And they sent me out from embassy. They call it the embassy, I don’t know what they do in there.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you remember this gentlemen’s name?
MR SISALEM I don’t care what was his name. He’s just, I mean, the one who employed him is the one who destroyed my life. Why would they care about what you going to do. I mean, it’s another story with the Palestinian situation and the way how I was connected to them, even I don’t know where they are from anyways. It’s the politics anyways. So, yeah after that I went United Nation High Commission for Refugees, told them about my situation. They said all that we can do for you is (indistinct) for your application.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry?
MR SISALEM Just to get your file application, and we make a new application. And I said but I already have a file with you guys, with my father as well. They said we don’t have anything for you. Anyways, it was just useless to argue with them. So, they book me for an interview a month after. I went for first interview, first interview had to book me for another interview, second interview month after. Next month between every other it’s not because of shortage of time or anything it’s because of high politics there, Egyptian (indistinct) office and Jakarta just like the government in Jakarta so. I went to second interview, the officer was interview me she had a very good feeling for me, she understand that I’m not a common vagrant. She understand that I’m not wasting her time, she understand that I’m just trying to find solution, not to find a offer. So, she told me that she’s ready for a decision but first of all she need to see at least a copy of my Egyptian documentation. Not a big deal, I called my father, he has a copy there for a previous one, the one that expired before that one. And there’s some nice things about the Egyptian Embassy in Kuwait, you keep issuing me – or the Egyptian Embassy anyway, they keep renewing to this passport but they would never accept your visa. Very nice politics. Anyways, he faxed me, emailed me a copy, sorry, he fax it to me comes to my email, print it out went to give it to her at the time, she said you have a week. Yeah, as I remember it was Monday I was supposed to go to, so I went to her, ask for her, and they told me Ensani, that was her name.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What was her name again?
MR SISALEM Engani, Ensani something like that. Ensani De something, she must from Belgium or whatever. Ensani had been relocated to different office. Where which office? In New York. I said, how come, she has appointment with her to see her today, to see show here this. She’s not here anymore so what’s going on? I start to get nervous and all these things. So, what about this one, I said all right, that person (indistinct) took it from me, said put it in your file. I said okay, thank you said what should I do? They said wait for us to call you but I don’t have contact information. I said yeah, I’ll be here anytime, I’ll sleep with the phone there and I can’t sleep anyways. I check, and there’s nothing happening I said what’s going on, what’s happened about my file? He said we’re going to have to book you for interview. I said but I’m all ready for my interviews. He said nothing, we have to look your file, we – the person who was holding it has left. I said, nobody can carry on her work? No they no can’t. Anyways, they booked me for interview month after, interview with the new guy, he didn’t know, he didn’t ask me much actually he was just going on what Ensani wrote down and booked me for another interview month after. I’d already had about few, four, five, six months – can’t count, I’m counting now but. Anyways, and then asked me for, and asked me to wait for the decision.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC For what sorry?
MR SISALEM The decision about my application.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Aladdin, we are just going to take a break now and just change tapes.
MR SISALEM Yeah, sure.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Interview with Aladdin Sisalem, this is tape two. Aladdin you were telling me about trying to get new paperwork while you were in Jakarta. Did you succeed in getting your documentation after it was stolen?
MR SISALEM No, actually, I didn’t have an answer from the Egyptian Embassy.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, what happened?
MR SISALEM What happened is, of course, six month before I lost hope with Egyptian Embassy that’s how I get an answer, naturally.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Six months sorry you?
MR SISALEM Before I left, I already lost hope with Egyptian Embassy because I don’t think an answer for lost documentation can come after, can take six months to come. So, because I spent a year in Jakarta and six month after I’d lost all the United Nation so, I decided to leave.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC To where?
MR SISALEM Well, I had an option to accompany these asylum seekers on the boat.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Who?
MR SISALEM Asylum seekers, Iraqi asylum seekers on the boat, a smuggler offered me a free place on the boat.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you know why he offered you a free place?
MR SISALEM Sort of.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Would you like to tell me?
MR SISALEM Yeah. He offered me the things a few months before, he already sent a few boats and every time I refuse his offer. That make him think that I’m actually a spy for the Australian authorities so he was trying to get rid of me as – by the way I went to him, made him think by refusing to go to Australia when he offered first time.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you tell me his name?
MR SISALEM [A portion of this interview has been removed for legal reasons] His real name, I don’t know, the real smuggler. I sort of know the real smuggler but I experience for, with them now, but that’s another story.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, do you know where he was offering to take you with the Iraqi asylum seekers?
MR SISALEM Well, I can (indistinct) stayed with them for month and places to keep them, camps or the way that they locate them and from where did they move from what they do. I never thought, I watched the situation and I see lots of things. [A portion of this interview has been removed for legal reasons]
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you say the – – –
MR SISALEM Actually the boat come, take off from a naval base.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you know where you were going?
MR SISALEM Well – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you know at that time where you were going?
MR SISALEM No, you don’t know where you going they didn’t tell you.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC They didn’t tell you your final destination, where they were smuggling you?
MR SISALEM No, of course they don’t and they change your residential place every time and every time a fake news or a fake journey to the boat where I should say journey to other place to stay for another period and it just – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How many people with you?
MR SISALEM Well, at that time it was three, (indistinct) group of the smugglers, a few smugglers and I can’t remember it’s just many people, say 100, something like that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What nationalities, do you know?
MR SISALEM Iraqis most of them I believe. Yes, lots of people. It started when I was in United Nation office once everybody there complaining I think. I was complaining once so this Iraqi guy come to me ask me, why you actually you look serious complaining there, what’s going on. I said you know what’s going on. He said no, I know that you don’t have a smuggler or something to smuggle you. I said where? He said to Australia. I don’t know actually know that Australia next to Indonesia, I didn’t know where Australia is. They give me the number of the person to call and I called him and he asked me to go to this place just down, I went there and I met him, he worked for the smuggler. And he asked me to stay with the asylum seekers where they staying, that place.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How long did you stay with the asylum seekers?
MR SISALEM Yeah, it was a month they always move them from place to other and I was quiet and I was just watching what’s going on. So, they thought I’m a spy or something and they offered me a free place. I said I don’t have money actually to – he said, no your place is free.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you know why they didn’t charge to smuggle them?
MR SISALEM Yeah, because they want to get rid of me. So, and they told me this frankly in the end. That guy said, the guy working for the smuggler, working for the guy who works for the smuggler or the smuggler. It’s like 10 people work for each other, they told how we offer that, we think that you working for the (indistinct).
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, where did you leave Jakarata from?
MR SISALEM Well, the day I decided to leave Indonesia I knew that I was refusing to go to Australia because of the way that, how Australian Government treat asylum seekers, put in detention for two years or something.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you know about this?
MR SISALEM Yeah, when I got involved with the refugees I start to get involved in the situation, and know more about it and what they’re saying and what they heard and start to get, to pay attention to this kind of news and started to find out about Australia, what is Australia and all these things. So – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you know much about Australia before this point?
MR SISALEM No, actually I didn’t even know, I never actually knew about Australia very well. It wasn’t that geographically knowledged about you know, even the location or Australia located. Thought Australia in Europe or something like that, when I heard about it. Yeah, southern regions I never knew about that at all I used to hear other things. Yeah, so yeah the guys there in this asylum seekers talking about he has spending two years in detention then gets (indistinct) cut into (indistinct) life again. I don’t think I deserved to spend two years in jail, it’s not my fault we didn’t do anything. I didn’t even have a country to live, didn’t even live (indistinct). So, I thought maybe there was alternate solutions. I went to Mayor, political Mayor, was the countries (indistinct) for refugees convention. (Indistinct) nearest was to Indonesia and there’s New Guinea just next to Indonesia. Small countries for the convention can deal with me as a refugee and give me a re-settlement and nobody have intention of it. Maybe because it’s poor but I don’t care, I just need a shower and residential somewhere, a right to stay in some country. So, I made my plan how to cross the border and all these things, took the ship.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What ship was that?
MR SISALEM It’s a ship that, ship takes you from Jakarta to other islands in Indonesia. It’s a very big place, it’s like Australia but divided into small islands, different island and stuff, and it’s last destination, it’s the end of Indonesia which is Irian Jaya, east of Indonesia.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you do this legally or – – -?
MR SISALEM No, you cannot do anything legally when you’re illegal. And this, the national politics (indistinct) you cannot close it, nobody seeked asylum from other country legally and succeeded unless the United Nation decide to give you mercy, show you mercy, they use the right and command you to that re-settlement country and the re-settlement country have a number of people to take every year, if they didn’t take you they there is other eight. If they didn’t take you there was other eight emergency re-settlement countries, whatever. Anyways, I’m illegal, my situation.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, how long did the journey from Jakarta – – –
MR SISALEM The ship take seven days to arrive Jaipur.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC To where?
MR SISALEM Jaipur is the main town in Irian Jaya which is in the north and it’s very close to the border and for other side is another town called Vanu in New Guinea, very close to border, takes like one hour in the boat on the sea, small boat to get you there as far as (indistinct) of find some, it’s not (indistinct) because people, different other sides are just the same people, it’s the same village same kind of people. So, I already, for my time spent in Jakarta, already speak Javanese accent, not even just the language, the accent. So, travelling undercover I’m just a guy, a mixed race guy have, New Guinea have no Netherland and that’s useful there, because it was, the country was colonised by Netherlands specially the Irian Jaya and there is lots of mixed race there. So, I got there and I already got contact that can, somebody from the fishing people, fishers then and take me there but before everything work all right something happened in the town. They have a problem in Irian Jaya trying to get independence from Indonesia because the corruption and how Indonesian Government using the goods of West Papua and give the local people nothing. They have very big leader of them, the biggest leader called Tse Ilwai was murdered in the centre where I am. The same area just few days after I arrived and the demonstration went everywhere, people start burning shops, just some (indistinct) war start there and police and forces everywhere and you cannot show face. So, and I tried to keep on with my plan, everybody’s just suspicious who’s killed that guy. I’m a stranger I’m trying to leave the place this way, I start to see the yes, just see that I’m in danger, people could think that I’m involved. Especially, the government trying to get them to help me. So, yeah, have another guy helped me with the ticket to fly to Merauke.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC To where?
MR SISALEM Merauke, it’s a town in the South, the second big town in the South.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Is this the South of West Papua?
MR SISALEM West Papua. I was still in West Papua trying to get to New Guinea. Merauke is the second biggest town there and the second closest to the border of New Guinea but on the other side from Merauke there isn’t second closer but Bedharau(?) Island which take at least three days and anywhere it’s impossible because the Immigration there is (indistinct) very strongly, because it’s the closest town from Indonesia to Australia as well. So, that’s why it’s quite impossible to get from there. I ran out of money and my situations hard, I have to go in other direction, sometimes you have to go to the other to continue the same direction. So, I met this guy who come up with idea to find this canned food in the West of New Guinea and I know that can of food is available when sent it to Suvi and Java and make some money and I even can send it to Middle East.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What sort of food was this?
MR SISALEM Saga Wood. Aga wood.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Wood?
MR SISALEM Yeah, some kind of food like instant food or like the sandlewood or something like that. It’s called aga wood, so it be available for price of gold, something like that. Well, anyways that place is next to the gold mine in West Papua free boat. One day in the bush I took the ship there on East Coast get there I don’t know (indistinct), two days in the bush was searching and I don’t know what’s happened to me, my body was very weak until I couldn’t move it anymore but I could feel the ants moving out in my nose, can’t lift my hand to stop it and the guy left me there.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where was this?
MR SISALEM West Papua, West Papua.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where were you going?
MR SISALEM I already there.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where were you heading when he left you?
MR SISALEM I don’t – he head back.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC No, where were you going?
MR SISALEM We were already in the same area of the bush, of the forest looking for that wood. So, I got sick and he left me there but this woman found me and took me back to that town, the Costa De la Rican (indistinct) the ship from Argats, it’s a town on this sea.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Could you say that again?
MR SISALEM Argats, Argats, it’s a town on the sea, on top of the sea. So, I take actually a ship from there, where from the place you take a river for one day before you get to that town and then can get the ferry from the personnel, back to Meruake she took me and keep me in her house for a while until I could stand on my legs again.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you know what sickness you had?
MR SISALEM I don’t know. I don’t know what was that. I don’t know how I even recovered. Yeah, but it was a bit hard, was something make you very weak, high temperature some kind of sickness there, lots of things in the forest. And yeah, she said because I didn’t do the traditional welcome to the forest that’s why I got sick which is you have to go in there, put your face in the mud, then know what to say and things like that, so. I didn’t do this stuff so I got sick. Anyways, she helped me to stand on my legs in her house. I heard about this place close to the border from the mountains, down the mountains in the middle of West Papua very close to the border of New Guinea. It’s (indistinct) called Asiki. She still think that I’m a local guy, she said maybe you can get a job there. So, I took the truck, organized a contact there and took the truck on the road, takes few days. Very hard road, very dangerous, I don’t know how they drive it and I get there, the first check point is a militaries. Not the police it’s the army. It’s actually a war zone between the West Papua fighters and (Indistinct) fighters and New Guinea and there’s Indonesian militaries. I get there, went to the contact I got, I asked them to help me to get to Java, went for interview with Korean Manager. It’s a Korean company, and that and then people start coming, talk to me or heard of me from that contact I come. Invite me to their small houses and I go with them and stay with them, times to get a job or something but my real plan is to cross the border other side. I carry this compass, maps and push equipment and that was too suspicious but what made it (indistinct) suspicious is the name that I picked up for myself, that identity that I talk. It’s a real guy, his father is actually one of the big members of the OPM of the West Papua fighters and my mother from Netherland and the same village and I’m that guy and I look like him.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What name is that?
MR SISALEM John Sentani.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you say that again?
MR SISALEM John Sentani. Anyways, the military, this guy from OPM come running to me, telling me military is coming for you. They heard of you, and they know that you’re coming to join the OPM.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Why did you choose this person’s name?
MR SISALEM I met this girl in Jaibura and she told me I look like this guy exactly so, naturally that’s good we found a name already before I make one up. That’s have to because if they heard that I’m from overseas, from anywhere else it’s impossible that anyone will help me, it’s impossible anyone will give me a push to go to where I want to go. I will get attention of the local authorities, so the only ways to do it is to keep myself under cover, don’t get attention from anyone. So, ask me, that guy escort me to the secret camp or secret village in the forest. Went to there first time on the way, took a day and sound of – heard this guys screaming and gun shots start on my back. He kept running and I kept running trying to follow the sound of his feet, trying to follow him otherwise I get some other direction, I thought he knows where he’s running to, so I have to follow him in the bush. Anyways, when we passed it, we get there, I said, what was that, he said, militaries, just (indistinct) bush for us and for them and they felt us and start shooting. So, I get there, first day was okay, I think. This guy come to me with a knife and accused me of being a spy for the Indonesian militaries. I said, what’s going on, turned around and said it’s leader of them from the village, they call it camp, it’s actually just like village hiding in the – yeah, I was taken this time, and a spy guy from Ambon was there, claiming that he’s going to join the OPM. I haven’t actually said I’m joining anyone. And he was actual spy and held that the matter is to get that guy and he is from Ambon, and they look really well from people from Ambon Islands in Indonesia. So, they thought also the same thing. So, the took my clothes, naked, made for me small cage, don’t know they made it already or it was there, and put me there for 11 days. Feed me a piece of sago every day, sago is something like a bread, for 11 days, I have people believe me, have people doesn’t believe me but anyways they have people believe me doesn’t do anything. But this old man come on the day 11 early morning before the sun come out and smuggled me out, put me in his canoe on the (indistinct), covered me with the vegetables and stuff and canoed for a while. I don’t know sun was already out and put me end of the week the first – he says you’re away now back, I said, I know a way back, I know this point, I know it from the maps, I have 15 kilometres borderline and I can reach New Guinea. He said why you going there? I go for life. Can’t go there militaries will kill me too, got to get lost as well this bush. So, I followed the East to the sun. I thought the way would take about two days maximum because of the swamps and all this confusion first but took me six days before I made it to the Fly River, it was just a sign of that I’m in New Guinea already.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How did you eat while you were?
MR SISALEM Well, I didn’t have food actually, I had a bit of hard time because six days was (indistinct) trouble. The 5th day I had a snake, I actually found on the third day, but I couldn’t cook it because it was raining 24 hours and couldn’t light the fire, don’t have something to light the fire for, trying to catch something, stuff like the movies doesn’t have it. So, I ate it half raw, half burned, it was good. So, I get to Fly River on the six day, spent the night there, next day it was raining and I find this fisherman in the canoe, old guy, so I tell him I’m (indistinct), I’m tourist I’m lost, I need to find the police.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What language did you speak to him?
MR SISALEM English. I’m in New Guinea already. The – it could be the first or the second (indistinct), I don’t know anyways, they know some English because the Fijian’s themself, the main language they speak, common language they have, Fijian it’s actually broken English. Somehow, they can understand you, that’s how I could, I learn Fijian first. So, it took me in the canoe, we canoed for half a day before we got to some (indistinct) there, that side and there we find the police and I told them about everything, my real name, everything, I’m coming to seek asylum and all this. So they took me on the river, Fly River for a half a day on speedboat to the nearest town Merauke – Kiunga. Kiunga’s sponsored by the (Indistinct) Gold Mine because just next to the gold mine so the guys there have a bit easy time. Yeah, started the story, told the police commander about my situation, called me the only Immigration officer there, told them, (indistinct) sent my situation to the department there in the capital Port Moresby and 10 days later the police commander come to me and tell me I got this fax from the department, not supposed to show it to you but I see you like me and I can’t do this to you. The fax asking him to take me to the forest back and ask me to walk through the forest, Indonesia side or if didn’t get lost again, I didn’t (indistinct words) that missed me and were waiting for me back. If all this, at least the militaries are waiting for, it’s not the worst problem, it’s not the OPM. I’m not going to make it anyway. So, I didn’t told them all those things but he knows it already because the West Papuans in Kiunga OPM was already looking for me as well. So, anyways the guy who told me this I said to him okay, just put me in touch with the (indistinct), he said we don’t have a office for them here after (indistinct). The office, the only office for them is in Canberra. Okay, so he get me the phone I called Canberra, told them my situation they said we can’t do anything this signatory, it’s a country that’s signatory for convention we can’t deal with you directly.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, can you just clarify what you were trying to do by ringing Canberra, what were you seeking at this point?
MR SISALEM The (indistinct) office, they don’t have in New Guinea that time. So, the only one, the closest was in Canberra or the one wherever. Yeah, so I called them, told them about my situation said we have to keep applying with them because we can’t deal directly with you because there are signatory for, they have to process your case and then we assist. But we can’t deal directly, we can just do it ourself because they are signatory for visa (indistinct). I said to the police commander did you hear that? He said yes. I said okay. I said, I will send what I had again to the department and see what’s going on. So, he send it and I spend three months having a different kind of life.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What do you mean by a different kind of life?
MR SISALEM (Indistinct), I (indistinct) myself. It was nice one, it was like prison for all the suffering I had in Indonesia, it was a very good time. But nothing come and the West Papuan OPM peoples, their hands start getting closer to me. Can’t work anymore with the securities, two policemens around me, body guards and all these things and I have no time, I called my parents from there first week, after 11 days after I what do they call, felt better because I was in fairly terrible condition when I got there, after this journey. Six days especially, yeah so, I was looked after very well in Kiunga, I was looked after very well. So, first news when I called my parents and my father having a stroke, and he’s dying. My mother told me, he felt guilty he thought he lost me because I told him about my plan for a (indistinct) to West Papua so, he feel guilty all his life because he finish – didn’t solve his situation before what happened in the Gulf War. Anyways, it’s a very long story, so – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Yes, how old is your father at this point?
MR SISALEM Fifty-one maybe. Yeah about 51, born in ’48, 2001, 2002 that will be. Anyways, I won’t go into the mess now. Yeah, so I thought I was going to have to (indistinct) situation further, because I didn’t just go for myself, I promised him that I would get them help, come back for them. So, I saw my father’s situation again, I want to get him his life back again and also save my sister and my brother from facing what they faced. So, I decided to fly to Port Moresby, go to the department and see what’s going on. And I did that and I went there and talked to the guy. I was a bit surprised and the only thing he said after I showed him, that he cannot tell me something, that I don’t believe in. I told him already all what I know, I told him what I’m expecting from him but he give me something I didn’t expect, he said, he gave me a letter from United Nation Convention of Refugees says that you are asylum seeker I’ll open for your protection for application. I said okay. So I went searching around to get in touch with the United Nation, someone in person because talking on the phone will not get you anywhere. (Indistinct) the UNDB office can be (indistinct) a challenge in Port Moresby so I went to the UNDB office. They are all one group, they are all one mafia in my belief, and my experience, I said it to them, I can say it to anyone they all just people working to – using people’s problems to make money out of that. They all just disgusting, just nasty stuff. Anyway, so I told them, I told them, I need that letter by after tomorrow and that is the deadline the officer gave me, otherwise my situation will go harder and you don’t know what is going to happen after that and I was going to talk about what’s going to happen, something happen to me if I put in jail again. This time we’re closer to Australia, there’s the media there. Somebody going to (indistinct) but I didn’t know the situation in New Guinea, I didn’t know it’s actually a jungle. I saw it is a jungle but I thought it just a small town but the Port Moresby it worse. People got shot at nine o’clock in the morning, middle of the market by the police. Five o’clock you can’t walk in the streets anymore. Anyway so I said, we can’t get you this letter. I said all right, that’s my number in the hotel, I have after tomorrow, a letter is not here, I don’t know what the situation go to, because I have experience with you guys and I know all about this and that. I already read about (indistinct) history and what he was working before that and what you guys doing on the Internet. I not afraid, I saw the death already so. I saw the death already so I’m already sure that I’m (indistinct) these guys are actually the ones who are sending the asylum seekers, forcing them to smuggle, to smuggle themselves to different countries. I saw him myself in Jarkarta when he telling the asylum seeker, ok, you don’t like that, then I (indistinct) for the office there, you don’t like that you have to sea, you have the ocean behind you. What that supposed to mean? Anyway so I said (indistinct) to the OPM, what you call it, IOM all this, just a small office for (indistinct) kind of mafia. Trading people life. So I went to the hotel back, I (indistinct) these guys are not going to get me anything, I am in trouble. So, just the night before this guy come to me and he had two big guys with him (indistinct) I say yes, I am from the UNDB, so a bunch of – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC From what sorry?
MR SISALEM UNDB office, I got you this letter from your (indistinct). I thought ok. That’s worse hey. Ok thanks. So I went to get it to the guy the day after, so I gave it to him. I went out, he said, ok I will and get in touch with you. I went to the hotel and these two guys followed me, I met them in the hotel and they said, we are CID. I don’t know what’s that mean, some kind of police. I knew after that. We need you to interview you in our office. I said now? He said yes. Okay. They took me to interview me and they start getting angry. They say you have to tell who the fuck you are. Sorry. Very loud language and very angry and all this, it’s like, you know, I don’t know. I said, you guys have nothing to do with me, I am an asylum seeker.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What, who were these people?
MR SISALEM Police, secret police.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What nationality?
MR SISALEM New Guinea. New Guinea secret police. They took me to the, the main police department office in Port Moresby and then they took me to the jail, police station jail, put me there and they charge me with illegal entry. So took me a couple of terrible weeks in the jail before I was taken to the court, I was beaten, there was all this, the situation in the jail there and then took me to the public jail. It is a jungle. People get murdered there. People get their head smashed on the floor, their handcuffs in their hands, guns – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC ” Did you see any of this sort of thing?”
MR SISALEM In front of me, I had the guy’s blood on my clothes. I can still remember the guy’s blood just covering the floor. Three policemen just keep beating onto him, he couldn’t, he was just already dead, I mean he’s already, I don’t know what’s happened to him. Anyways, what’s happened to me according to that was nothing in that jail. Took me to the judge. Was a very funny situation as well. The judge, I said, “Your Honour I am an asylum seeker”. New Guineas a signatory for refugees because this persecution. She says “Shhh, sit down”. I looked at the judge she is putting her head on the paper, reading. Then I sat down and the final hearing she said, “We can’t deal with you as an asylum seeker, any illegal immigrant from China or from anywhere can come so I’ll check (indistinct) stay in the country. I want to say, “Who want to stay in your country after I what I saw”. So she charged me with a month jail or 200 kenos fine. I said, thanks I still have about 200 dollars kenos or a bit more, in my pocket, I pay the fine, I left the jail. I left the jail but terrible most terrible situation is the streets in Port Moresby. There is no order there. I had a bit of hard time as well had to go to experience different kinds of things.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What sort of things, sorry?
MR SISALEM Just the criminal life there. Very hard, very strong. A policemen with a machine gun cannot walk in the streets after six o’clock or something and it’s just, all the nights just gun shots, police chasing rascals and rascals chasing police. All those sort of things and fights and yeah, so just no order there. Police themselves are the thieves. From my experience I saw lots, met lots of people, saw lots of things. My situation Indonesia, and New Guinea start. Anyway a week after or just straight after I was out of the jail, I went to the interview office, I told them about the situation, said we can’t do anything, have to call the (indistinct). Actually no, sorry, from my understanding, before I left the jail a minute, this policeman come to me and said, are you this person? I said, yeah. He said you have a phone call. I said, I have a phone call? From who? He said from Canberra. From Canberra. I said, damn it, maybe that guy I met in that place, maybe he still remember me, he’s a nice guy. So I went to say hello, who is this, he said, “Roberto Minuim from (indistinct) in Canberra.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Could you say that name again?
MR SISALEM ” Yes, I’ll say it. Roberto Minuim. [A portion of this interview has been removed for legal reasons] He said, what’s happened with you? I said they charged me with illegal entry and found me guilty. He said, ok, you keep trying with them, ask an asylum from them and then you come next month. I’m trying to copy his accent, it’s very hard to copy the French accent. Anyway, I will come next month, if nothing happen with you, if they didn’t assist you, I will assist you to re-settle in another country and haven’t even get my decision yet that recognised as a refugee. Anyways he’s nice guy I don’t know, ok that’s good. So I wait for him for a week or something, for a month he didn’t come. I went to all this in the street you know, I tried, I went to apply again and they just like, “”Get out””. He didn’t come, I went to ask about him (indistinct) and they said Mr Minuim is delayed and will come the month after, next month. All right another month, go and ask about, they say the month after. And I am still keeping going to the Immigration Department as well trying with them. Few months later the Immigration make me, made me file application for a protection, I’m still – well Minuim didn’t show up at all and there was from my connection with the life that I had, that I heard that this guy is in that hotel. He’s called Gaberdan, Michel Gaberdan. He is a big head, he is the one that assisted lots in Cuba and all this, he worked for (indistinct) he done for them a very good business. So I went to catch him in that hotel. He was in the hotel there and I went to catch him. I said, Sir, I will only just take five minutes from you, this is the situation like this and that. And he looked at me like this, he said, so why did you leave Kuwait? I said, I left Kuwait just like a hundred other Palestinians left Kuwait after the war. He said all right, okay. He said okay, I will – the only thing I can do is to talk to, I am going to Geneva and I am going to talk to them. I will let you know. So they will (indistinct) in Canberra. He’s a big old man and he gave another word, so what am I going to say about it. All right sir, that’s good, I get hope, survive more, give me strength to survive the situation in Port Moresby streets and the dangers we have there. But also when you don’t come anything and finally before the Xmas of 2002, that is seven months already in Port Moresby, three months in Kengua and ten months in New Guinea. So I gave up, I said this guys is only just talking. I was always with that contact also with that guy in the UNDB, new manager, he’s a very nice guy. Send him New York, I guess an office in New York. He was very honest. I mean, if I will – if the situation got serious with this guy, he would be a very good witness for me. I saw everything in his eyes. So I went to the Immigration office, I said to her, I got nervous with her, I said, what’s going on? Like you guys only make decision, you guys don’t understand, I don’t have (indistinct) I try finding a place to live, find a country to accept, if you don’t have accept me, that’s alright, if you don’t accept me, I still have the right to apply in other countries across the ocean, I’ll cross sea. She said, why would we accept you. I said, I don’t understand. She said New Guinea does not accept refugees from a terrorist countries. I said, that’s what it’s all about? She said, yeah. I said all right. I open the map, I made my plans, straight to Australia, that’s the next. My plan was to Solomon Islands but they have now civil in the border. I don’t know about myself in the same situation with myself in West Papua. I didn’t know about West Papua, so if I know this time, I will deserve it so now the choice is Australia. I said, damn it, two years in jail is better than losing my whole life. What are you going to do? I have to give up things. So, yeah, just the same week I went to stay in the domestic airport for three days until I find a plane, just like to book, it’s not about booking there and all this, it is about waiting in the airport until you find a plane actually. I found one, got on it to Darro island. ”
MR ZYLBERSZPIC To?
MR SISALEM Darro Island in the south which is the closest island and the closest point of New Guinea to Australia from the Torres Straight Islands. It’s a few kilometres from (indistinct) Islands but it’s a heart of crimes, it’s the heart of drug smugglers to Australia, it’s the heart of criminals, it’s the heart of danger. You cannot spend the night there if you don’t know anyone. So I got there, went to the airport or the beach whatever, fishermen, brought them their favourite present which is a couple of cartons of beer, I got along with them. We went fishing together and then I ask, I want to know, do you know (indistinct) island? They said, yeah. I want you to drive me there. They said, it’s a small place, you won’t have a good time there. I said, no worry, once you drove me there, I said I can – but the custom can (indistinct). But the custom anyways, people there are actually the same village, because lets say it’s a Darro Island, it’s a kind of village, a kind of people, half of this village in Australia, half of it New Guinea. Same local language, village language, we’re talking, each village has a language, each place has a language, each province has a language, like they have 846 language in New Guinea in use. So I went, he said okay, I will take you there, a few extra bucks and they took me there. The next day, takes about five hours, four hours to get there and – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Why did you want to go to (indistinct) Island?
MR SISALEM Just the closest island. It was Australian territory to New Guinea. Closest one according to the maps I saw. So, but in the state of (indistinct) me the islands it’s a shape of banana. It is very thin and long and it’s a swamp, the sea already swamped it but some constructions they made up underneath the town, they made constructions to have it on top of the sea. (Indistinct) strong already, it’s muddy, muddy island. So it’s very long, many kilometres long and thin and the town on that edge and the guy drove me to the other edge so because he afraid of the customs and he took off. They drove me, first thing I felt after jumping from the boat is the mud, I sink straight in the mud. It’s already about evening, the sun is going down and the light is going, but I can still see some flashlight from the town there. Looks far to me but I am not focusing, maybe it is just closer and I don’t know, maybe it is a small light. So I keep walking in the mud, the mud becomes softer and it’s easy to sink and is hard to swim because it’s the mud and it’s tight. It’s not even water to swim in. The mud is tight and I have to walk with my whole of my body and it’s getting longer and longer. It’s getting dark and I getting very tired and to stop for a second, the rest will take, you feel yourself sinking so you have to keep going. I kept going for, I don’t know, forever, I kept going forever. Yeah, I met a few creatures. I kept going, kept going until I made it but by the time I waded to the beach, salt beach where the town is, I lost consciousness and I wake up to find about 100 people around me looking at me. People, just the town people, there are a few people. They were thinking for Christmas, I was their Christmas present. I said – they start talking to me in local language, I look like them and I ask for, I said, I’m a refugee, I need, I want to see the police please. They called the police. The police come and said, who are you? I said, my situation is like that and a few stuff happened with the locals there, I don’t know what’s going on, I was like fully out. People tried to attack, people to tried to protect me and things like that. And then police took me – they wash me from the mud first with the hose, took me in the back of the ute, took me to the police station, small one, (indistinct) and Immigration officer come there and interviewed me. What’s going on? (Indistinct) yeah you are asylum seeker but the war is not here, the war is there. I said, that’s how you get in it, ok. And myself, yes sir, that’s why I come here, because the war is not here. Okay, I can sleep the night here and the next day, two Immigration officers from Thursday Island come with a (indistinct) and took me to Thursday Island. The office there put me on the line with somebody in Canberra in Immigration in Canberra, interviewed me, what’s happened to you in Kuwait? Persecuted, the reasons and all this experience and my life story. All right, so they took me to – put me in the police station jail for three days. Federal Police or (indistinct), I don’t know come interview in the middle of that and then after three days they took me, they come and took me, the same officers, they took me to the airport, Immigration (indistinct) took me to the airport straight to a charter plane. Where are we going? They said we are going to (indistinct) Island.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry, to where?
MR SISALEM (Indistinct) Island, (indistinct) New Guinea isn’t it? They said yeah. I said, why are you taking me to New Guinea? They said Australian Immigration processing centre but located in New Guinea. I said, why there’s, no place in Australia, there’s no place, there’s no one in Australia you can take me to? They take me to New Guinea. Maybe no one just wanted (indistinct) to wash their hands from me there, so they can get me. The only thing was saving me in New Guinea that was still holding (indistinct) was clothes. Was still holding (Indistinct), so you done anything to me it will show on the (indistinct).
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry, you said to him, (indistinct) what?
MR SISALEM The situation in New Guinea is, as long as I was in contact with (indistinct) as long as (indistinct) they didn’t wash their hands from me yet, so these guys, and CID or something, New Guinea can not do much to me. They follow me everywhere but still was shown specially when I apply with Amnesty International when I was in New Guinea have a file with them. They interviewed me and everything and they were working on my case Grant Thom. from here, from Sydney here.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What’s his name?
MR SISALEM Grant Thom, yes, I believe he’s a head of Amnesty here or something like that. Doctor Grant or see Doctor (indistinct) after that. Anyways, so, if I come back to New Guinea now nothing will save me, not even a (indistinct) can be in the picture. So, I didn’t risk my life to just go this, I mean, when I was taken to the Thursday Island, the time I stepped out of the helicopter I looked like that, I felt the feeling. I was looking for all my life since, this nightmare started in the Gulf War, I feel that the nightmare is over. It’s over, it’s done, finished all the troubles finished. I feel this feeling, it lasted for about two weeks.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Is that how long you were in Thursday Island?
MR SISALEM No, that’s until I realised that the things is going down again.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said this feeling for the last two weeks, where were you for those two weeks?
MR SISALEM Well, for three days on Thursday Island and on the way to the plane, when they took me I said, I can’t do that he said, you have to otherwise we can’t process your application, that’s the only way. That’s the rules, that’s how things work, that’s the closest processing centre we have to this place. I said, it’s no argument with them, he was already, the guys, two big guys was already ready. They try holding my arm, if I struggle something would know what to do. Well, let’s believe what he say and get on the plane, took me to Manus Island all the IBS, what do you call it, ABS all the ABS of detention centre waiting for me there, took me from the airport took me detention centre, put me there. I find most of the asylum seekers there actually are the ones I met in Indonesia on that boat I didn’t take. And hey, what you doing, these guys still believe I am a spy. Then they see me coming with five, six ABS and all these people, and I’m by myself. What happened, where the hell did you come from? We met again after two years taken all sort of journey they took very first one, but they still in detention centre, they spent it there. They about to leave, they got accepted all of them by New Zealand, the second group and detention centre about to get empty. So, the DIMIA guy, DIMIA head in the detention centre that then told you behave, he tell me if you behave good maybe you can accompany these guys to New Zealand next month. Behave good, what’s going on in here. Anyways, I realised it after that soldiers beating asylum seekers, asylum seekers being detained in the solitary. As the whole thing’s gone on I said, damn it, I come to the wrong place, that’s the wrong country. Anyway, I realised after this things was going down, I said, maybe these guys are wrong, maybe they forced them to do that, just believe I’ll be all right but then they come to me and they said, we don’t have any papers about you, we don’t who are you, what you doing here. I said, how come you did accept me in your centre and you don’t know who I am. Said, we don’t know anything, so, I don’t know, and he left. His name is Dean nice guy, I don’t know where he is now, Canberra, Sydney maybe I have (indistinct) with him one time in the pub or something.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You what?
MR SISALEM Maybe I will see him one time in the pub or something, “Hey Dean.” God. Anyways, and they supposed, all the people remain there are supposed to go in one group but there’s 20 people from that who will ask to stay because Australia want to take them to Australia. They send one young, one old man, they got angry. Why, why we have to stay another period if we accepted in New Zealand and the chance of life in New Zealand is bigger than Australia because they get their instant citizenship there. There’s no stay in temporary for few years.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How did you know this information about the getting immediate citizenship in New Zealand?
MR SISALEM The Internet connections are very useful anywhere in the world. Internet can do anything and that’s what saved my life. Anyways, I can find any information if you want to, you find it from public, compare it to documents, compare it to media and you come up with a solution. But you don’t need to know because the first group was went from that detention centre was six months before or more and they were already for their citizenship, and they were already citizens.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can I just ask you – we’re just stepping back a bit.
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you remember what time of day it is that you arrived on Manus Island at the detention centre?
MR SISALEM It would be the 23rd of December 2002.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you remember what time of day it was when you arrived, like morning, night?
MR SISALEM It was during the day. Let’s say afternoon because I took my shower, I was talking to these guys while I took my shower and the sun was already up but you don’t know, it’s such different timing, maybe it went back when one hour back, no it’s the same hour zone yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What was your first impression of the detention centre or the processors?
MR SISALEM Well, I was still having that feeling I had when I got to Thursday Island. I thought maybe yes, I saw this country I didn’t like but it still have some bad feeling I don’t want to live with. It’s yeah, it’s a bit, I thought maybe yeah, that’s the price I’m here for two years jail, that’s the price they are going to take from me. Because I’d spent two years, I saw the death three times on my way once in the jungle, the other in the town, the other one on the way to Australia when this crocodile was standing next to me in the mud, or sink me, I’d already thinking I’d lost my life I was not going to make it, I’m going to sink here and nobody here even knows about me. So, yeah that’s what I decide, I don’t need to, worry about two years.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Aladdin – – –
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC We are just going to take a break now and just change tapes. Interview with Aladdin Sisalem, this is tape three. Aladdin you were just telling me about your arrival on Manus Island. Can you describe the compound for me, the processing centre?
MR SISALEM Well, the processing centre can house about 1,000 person. It’s made out of caravans and container shipping materials, like a container shed was made out to be a room. It’s quite big it’s about, I don’t know, five kilometre square something like that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Is that the island you’re saying is five kilometres square or the detention centre?
MR SISALEM Well, no the detention centre. Yeah, it’s quite big, it was, it’s based in the middle of or in the age of a naval base, New Guinea’s base. Which it was Australian naval base before that, which it was American naval base, was made an American naval base and they were the Hiroshima bomb were (indistinct) from. This is the island, this is the place or this place that made the difference in the Pacific War and that’s where the bigger battle between America and Japan in the Pacific War. So, you can see lots of – that was built originally by the American navy and still remains things from there, from that time. Of course, the nature have covered lots of things but still things we were using in detention centres actually from that time, there’s some memorials, there’s some aeroplanes in the water, there’s things in the water, mostly aeroplanes, zeros. Yeah, it’s a historical place but it’s a structured area because it’s a naval base for New Guinea, it’s a separated small island from Manus Island. Manus Island’s a few islands besides, many islands beside the main island.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were you on the main island?
MR SISALEM No, we’re on separated island called Lembroi, (indistinct) connect to Manus Island with a bridge something like that and had it’s own naval harbour and its naval base.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What about, were there walls surrounding the processing centre?
MR SISALEM Yeah, wire walls.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were there guards around the walls?
MR SISALEM There is the APS, the Australian police security who take care of the order and law. There is normal guards who watch, which is private security companies.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you know what nationality they were?
MR SISALEM South Africans, New Guinean’s, different nationalities but mainly South African because this was a South African security company. So, they were taking care of the watch and APS takes care of the rules and all this or whatever. And there’s the DIMIA officers, take care of the dealing with the cases and there is the IOM contracted by Australia to take care of the living conditions in the centre. So, it’s lots of big business.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you describe your living quarters on – – –
MR SISALEM Well, when I arrived there people were saying that their living quarters was hard before until too much demands and all this, they recall it was quite fine, they were about to leave and they were trying to make them patient. All the people who work in detention centre different facilities are cooperating with each other to do the same things that the government need. So, the living quarters was good, was fine, our place was all right.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you have a room to yourself?
MR SISALEM Yeah, it was detention centres to house thousand people and there’s only 400 people originally and when I arrived it was only 140 people.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You mentioned it earlier but what nationalities were they?
MR SISALEM Iraqi’s, all of them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you speak a common language with them?
MR SISALEM Well, I can speak Iraqi dialect but sometimes speak to them Egyptian dialect.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you tell them your nationality?
MR SISALEM Yeah, they know that. I met them before in the Indonesia.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were there families when you – – –
MR SISALEM Yeah, mostly families. Mainly families.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How long were they there?
MR SISALEM Two years.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC They’d been there for two years?
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC But after you arrived how long did they stay?
MR SISALEM Well, 120 spent another month before they left in the middle of June, January sorry, or the end of January something like that and only 20 about 20 remain, was real surprise for them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How was that for you to actually now be in a small community where there was some sense of hope for these other people?
MR SISALEM Well, for these other people they were already exhausted, they were already finished, they already went too long life in detention centre and they just getting ready to leave. They just got the news that they were going, they were leaving, they were done. So, yeah they were calm that time but if I was there few months before or even more it was war going on there from what they told me. It was a war and that’s why I think the DIMIA officer told me if you behave well, you may go, accompany them to New Zealand. I didn’t understand what he mean that at time but from what I heard after that the stories, I understood and after that from what I saw, I thought it was more serious than what I heard. What I saw is when these 20 single people was told that they won’t be going to New Zealand, they did not see any reason for it and they got really angry. That was like two weeks after I was there or something, 10 days, and they got really angry and they decided – and they wanted to see the manager and the manager didn’t want to see them and didn’t come.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Was the manager, which overseeing body did he belong to, did he belong to IOM, did he belong to APS, do you know this?
MR SISALEM Well, it should, suppose to belong to the DIMIA, to DIMIA but they don’t have a strategy, they like, showing the responsibility of, you can’t really tell if it’s IOM manger or the DIMIA manager is the one that your case in his hand. But if you know about the situation very well, or originally is IOM was just there for services and then that’s what they tell you when they trying to wash their hands from any responsibility and when they’re asked by DIMIA to do something they would do it. They were, if they asked by DIMIA to go to talk about this case or these things they would do it.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did the 20 Iraqi refugees who were left, did they speak English as well?
MR SISALEM Maybe some of them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were there translators there on – – –
MR SISALEM Yeah, there was translator DIMIA who know everything. Lots of people working for them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You were saying how these 20 people were angry and they demanded to see the – – –
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What happened?
MR SISALEM Well, he didn’t come, he didn’t want to see them. So, they decided to close the red line.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What’s the red line?
MR SISALEM It’s the fence. From inside detention centre if you do something unacceptable the ABS would charge, ABS would put the handcuffs on the hands, ABS will beat you, abuse, will do whatever. What they’re supposed to do.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What is – – –
MR SISALEM If you – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What is seen as wrong, let’s say you do something wrong, what is seen as wrong?
MR SISALEM What is seen as wrong, getting angry, getting – demand things, things like, don’t answer the teasing, if you answer the teasing that you have in detention centre, if you’ve, if it reflects on you, make you angry or you can’t do this, you can’t do that, if you come out and say no I want to do this okay, you broke the law. You break the law. Things like that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, what happened when these Iraqi’s crossed the red line?
MR SISALEM The security guard was on the (indistinct) they opened the gate and they walked to the office where the manager is and outside the gate they tell you it’s New Guinea, inside the gate Australia. Outside the gate the New Guinea Navy will take care of you. So, I jumped up on top of the caravan to see what’s going on and I watch this hundred of naval people beating this, there are beating 15 young men beating them to hell. I can’t believe what I saw. Some of these guys lost teeth, some of them stayed in the base hospital for a couple of weeks, some of them got hard injuries.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you just clarify, to get outside of the compound, who let them out, who let the Iraqi’s out?
MR SISALEM No, just one officer, IOM officer was walking out, maybe the one who was, who got them angry, you know, going to see the manager, when he was walking out they just before they close the gate, they open the gate pushed the guard, open the gate walked out. Because the, you can actually see from the fence, you can actually see just next to the detention centre were the officers are for IOM and DIMIA where they live, where they sleep, where they work. So, they went there, they want to see the manager. I mean, it’s not fair we can’t, it’s not reason, I was accepted by New Zealand, even give me the reason why you want me to stay longer so I can go to Australia.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did these people who were left, did they have family members who went to New Zealand or were they, do you know if they were individuals or – – –
MR SISALEM No, no New Zealand where the one, save the Pacific Solution. New Zealand where the one that country that take most of the, here – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC No, what I meant was – – –
MR SISALEM What you meant is, why New Zealand take – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC No, no the people who were left.
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Fifteen or 20 who were left, who didn’t go to New Zealand, were they related to the people who were taken into, so were there families who were split up?
MR SISALEM No, no, no they not related. It’s the first thing Australia, first what I heard is, the first people that’s taken to Australia is the people that have a brother or a husband or something in Australia and then come to New Zealand. New Zealand took the rest. So, Australia from that group was (indistinct) they took the people that have relatives in Australia and the rest they made a deal with New Zealand and New Zealand took it. They made it through the UN as well.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, what happened after these individuals were attacked, beaten?
MR SISALEM Well beaten, some of them stayed in bed for two weeks, some had neck injuries, they stayed for, until the middle of April. No, that’s yeah the middle of April, I believe, I just can’t remember, middle of March or middle of April and then they were, before they were taken, yeah everything was fine. They tried like, to DIMIA did everything good for them, extra food options, extra stuff, Internet connection, unlimited access, just to keep them calm and just to keep their mouth closed about saying they almost died, from the beating. [A portion of this interview has been removed for legal reasons]
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did they get medical attention?
MR SISALEM Of course, a high medical attention after that. They were afraid after (indistinct) they were afraid. But what happened there happens there nobody knows about, nobody – it doesn’t come out, what’s happened in Manus stays in Manus. It’s a new oppression. Anyways.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What happened to those 15, you said you said that they were there till March or April, what happened to them?
MR SISALEM Well, as I said, they made the situation in detention much better about the food and entertainment stuff and Internet so, and then we (indistinct) they got on the plane to Australia, they’re in Sydney now somewhere but only three of them left with me.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were you, up to this point you said you arrived in December is that correct?
MR SISALEM Yeah, up to this point.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What was happening with your – – –
MR SISALEM After a month, they were saying they have nothing for me. So, I was still nervous, I was still seeing them going and talking to other people about their cases and nothing they swearing that they don’t have anything for me, they don’t know why I’m here.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Who was “they”, when you say they don’t have anything?
MR SISALEM DIMIA, DIMIA. So, I thought maybe these guys teasing me to think I have other option I can take, I’ll see I’ll just, I mean, even if they have something for me will they saying nice thing, they like to tease there, they like to get you hard, they like to tell things that make you angry and nervous and afraid and they cannot let you relax, they will come up with something new every time. That’s the situation in detention, that’s just tragedy.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC When you say they, who do you mean they?
MR SISALEM All people work for the government in detention centre. All the facilities.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you give me an example of that?
MR SISALEM Well, I’ll give you the example, that is with me, my own experience but I will give you the hard ones because there are lots to talk about, there’s no time to talk about the small ones. Only natural ones, normal ones. So, after they took these guys two and a half months later something to Australia, they left only three people with me. Two young people almost like teenagers, and one really old guy, old man, single old man. Feel sorry for him. They stayed with me and from then on they start with me. They ask me, to come and ask me to deal with the New Guinea Government to get a solution with them because you cannot stay in detention forever. I said, that’s true I cannot stay in detention forever but it’s true as well New Guinea Government has nothing to do with me being here. I was put in here by the Australia (indistinct) what’s dealing New Guinea Government for, said, you in New Guinea you deal with New Guinea Government and you know the rest what’s mean, I don’t have to tell you.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Please explain.
MR SISALEM Well, you put me here, not New Guinea they have been detaining me here, not New Guinea been detaining me here when all this Australia has said. If (indistinct) in New Guinea people will be dead by then. Specially after you guys went and – after that we sure.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, if they told you that you had to – – –
MR SISALEM Deal with the New Guinea Government?
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did they put you in touch with New Guinea authorities, did they – – –
MR SISALEM I said, I know what, you guys are trying to do, trying to make me deal with the New Guinea Government so you can wash your hands of me, well I tell you what if I have anything hope for New Guinea I left, I didn’t stay 10 months in New Guinea trying with them and see what’s New Guinea is, or the corrupt of the New Guinea Government. Without that, I have enough experience, I have a fair decision about escaping from here, I’m escaping from New Guinea, I’m seeking asylum from New Guinea, I’m afraid of it. You can kill me too, that’s why I come to Australia, if you want to get rid of me give me the hand with new future not in New Guinea, why would you destroy my life. Anyways, few days later or maybe a week, this woman who told me in the detention centre, this guy first the manager there because (indistinct) the police come out of Keonga asking me, asking him to take me to the jungle where the same woman that told me that New Guinea doesn’t give protection to people from terrorist countries, together come and that other guy, I don’t know who. So, there the island manager come and asked me you have to talk to them, about what, said, I have to talk to them. So, I went to talk to them the guy was drunk and the guy was sweating to hell, I said, who’s that what’s going, he said, we know everything you told them we know what you said about us. I said who are you joking, who do you think you are, what do you think you are, (indistinct) out there just waiting for something to happen you think you black out? He don’t tell me the story, he don’t threaten me well, but it’s not their fault, it is your fault and for really, for eight hours and deal with the Australian Government and then go and tell them everything that I said about what’s to me in New Guinea. Well you ask me why did you leave New Guinea, why didn’t continue, I have to explain but you don’t have the right to go and tell them and if you didn’t tell them, who told them because you are the only one I told, beside you and (indistinct) and the same thing if the (indistinct) of Australian Government. However, with this information about (indistinct) protects your information to the persecution country what’s more than that, you should (indistinct) in yourself, if you can. Anyways, I left and I went out and few hours later ten navy guys from the base crossed the red line inside detention centre to get from my room, put me in the truck and took me to basement cells was made in the Second World War I guess.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry, basement?
MR SISALEM Cells was made in the Second World War I guess you can see some signs there on the wall signs from Nineteen sixty something or something like that. My (indistinct) and what day and the cell some guy and yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where you given any explanation as to why you were taken there?
MR SISALEM Nothing at all.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, were these – – –
MR SISALEM I was given explanation after that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Afterwards?
MR SISALEM Yeah, afterwards.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And these people who took you were they Papua New Guineans?
MR SISALEM Navy, they closed the red line that’s why it’s detention centre for (indistinct) made for the detainees not to cross the red line where is the fence, here Australia, outside it’s New Guinea, get outside it’s a New Guinea issue. So, the (indistinct) to my room, when I’m sleeping front of these two young guys and this old man and I (indistinct) everybody. Where (indistinct) takes you and (indistinct words) DIMIA, is DIMIA whoever.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What happened next?
MR SISALEM When we in, they put me in the cell they said, you can be killed for what you said about New Guinea in Fijian. I said, I don’t speak Fijian. I still swearing, shouting, there’s three, four guys I can’t count just all over me kicking and punching. [A portion of this interview has been removed for legal reasons] But all the punching and they are things to think and is threatening my life something else, because once a (indistinct) hand to put my foot in the jungle nobody will know about me. So, I went back to detention, I had manager waiting for me with his stuff like, a bunch of, I don’t know, these guys they found them in the clubs in Thailand and government bought some humanitarian work, I don’t know what the hell is going on in this world. Anyways, the say, so do you want to deal with the Roboya(?) now, Roboya’s the direct manager who asked the commander to put me in this jungle and ask me to go back. I said, I did a smiley face I says, tell you what, whatever you do I’m not going to deal with New Guinea again. Yes going to give it up if you want to shoot me shoot me now, you’re not going to have wash your hands. They said, look here you stay in this part of detention centre you can’t go around.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What was this person’s name you were talking to?
MR SISALEM Exactly, damn it I can’t remember his face.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC It’s okay, we’ll move on and come back to it.
MR SISALEM I don’t remember his name, there’s too many names.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Yes, so you told him that you’d rather him shoot you than deal with Papua New Guinea. What happened after that?
MR SISALEM He was American guy anyways from Texas, I forget, I can’t remember his name very well, just a second though, my memory is a bit tired because of what’s happened after that. So, after that he ordered that I stay in this part of detention centre, block 5 or something like this, cannot move out of it. I said, no way I’m not. So, he – at the same time because (indistinct) inside he’s tries to threaten me a lot I said, I’m telling you can shoot me I won’t be afraid of that. So, but they stopped me from all the facilities like the gym, the Internet, from everything.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Was there an explanation given to you, why you – – –
MR SISALEM It was just clear forward, clear forward, you deal with the New Guinea that’s what happen to you, clear forward just (indistinct), nothing to laugh, or cry about, clear forward. There only on Manus Island everybody think you’re gone, you’re dead there’s nothing there, you have no price, nobody will save you and they send you a (indistinct) guy as well. John Stefan(?), they send him to New Guinea to finish my problem, I called him he said, he called me before asked me to deal with New Guinea I might as well, I said, no you can’t and this the situation, that the situation this what happened, if you don’t know I’m telling you now, if they didn’t tell you what I told them. So, I called him after that on the public phone and he sounded like a different person. He said, I just happen to be in this area and I was screaming and like, shouting, complaining and telling them like this the one who served my life. He said, now, you deserve it, I told you to seek asylum for New Guinea, you didn’t, you cannot see bullshit, you see Kuwait persecute for (indistinct), persecutor, you bull shit people, (indistinct words) said, here we go. I said, but you know, I said Kuwait is a founded country for (indistinct), how do you persecute refugees, how (indistinct). Said, that said why didn’t you tell me, why didn’t you guys tell me just wasting my time all this time. And then the truth will come from (indistinct) after, call Amnesty International.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, you still had access to use this phone?
MR SISALEM Yeah, it’s a money phone.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where did you get the money from?
MR SISALEM The two guys and the old man who ask me to promise that I’m not to tell anyone when I get it.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you remember their names?
MR SISALEM The old man Noor(?) first name and the other young guy Decker(?) sorry, my memory’s really bad here, you understand why my memory is so bad after that. So.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, you said you rang Amnesty International?
MR SISALEM I try, yeah I ring Amnesty International Grant Thom, they promise me everything all right and they would get, and then I used the other guys (indistinct) to use my email send (indistinct) send me a message on my email saying that we get a lawyer from London and then every few – nothing had, everything stops Amnesty is not responding to me anymore, Grant Thom not responding, nobody’s responding what’s going on. I call some of them, she tell me you crazy go and say that this New Guinea persecuted, he can shoot you here. That’s what’s her name from Belgium as well, Anu, I have all these phone numbers wherever I have this, all these emails and not just claiming something and doesn’t have it. Anybody opened their mail would have emails and documentation (indistinct) you said that, you said that I have everything. Anyways, it just shows (indistinct) why is this a movie, everybody’s corrupt, everybody’s afraid of everybody what’s going on, and what I am, I’m nothing, why is this big people use all these powers to make something out of me over nothing. So, they come after one month IOM, with a statement, a returning statement to Egypt. Said, you sign this one, said, I could sign – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry, could you just clarify what was that statement they wanted you to sign?
MR SISALEM It’s a IOM kind of form called a returning statement, IOM assist you to return to where you come but they won’t assist you to settle anywhere. Anyways, that will come later. So, I said I can, if I sign it Egypt will refuse, they say, no, we know how to make them accept you. They said, like that, I said I’m just dealing with a bunch of I don’t know, he doesn’t know anything about war politics, he doesn’t know that Egypt actually the President himself cannot make the decision for me to come back to Egypt because Egypt is not controlled by the government, it’s controlled by other people wherever. I said, okay, I sign the statement and I want to get access back to the Internet, they said, okay one hour a day, I said, unlimited just like others, he says, okay. I signed the statement gave it to him and went back on the Internet first thing search the media organization, human rights, anything, send emails there and then get connected, get (indistinct) and (indistinct) and get connection even chat on the Internet. Chat in the messages, I got this person, this brave girl in New York, get me connected with Senators in South Carolina, we talked about my situation and then this newspaper from New York called me, contact me. We want to interview you, made interview with them in the (indistinct) and this guy still work in the (indistinct), go work in Greece the organization get a nice network work for me and then this girl and then come to the time that they got response from Egypt. They agreed to issue me a new document but they refused my visa to Egypt and that’s what I expected. Now, the detention centre facility guys trying to find the reason or work out a way, now to stop me from the (indistinct) again. Everything is calm, make friendship with them, working them good, slowing them down and try the Internet to get help. They all decided to move, decided to give me the last hit, they thought that I won’t stand it, is to move the other three people from detention centre, leave me alone and they’re right. My feeling first two weeks was like hell.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where did they – – –
MR SISALEM In July.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where did they take them to?
MR SISALEM Australia where should be three months before. Where they actually should be New Zealand three, six month before. Anyways, they thought that I won’t stand it, I’ll decide to end my life by dealing with the New Guinea Government than to stay like this on my own, very deserted situation. Not even the guard allowed to talk to me. They brought me the food when I’m not there.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC They – sorry?
MR SISALEM They bought me the food when I’m not in detention centre, somewhere else go find my food, nobody I do see. I don’t see anybody, but I still have the Internet. So, after these three guys went the spokesman from DIMIA Canberra went and said to the (indistinct), they said, the last refugees was moved in detention centre and the facility was shut down and they have public article about that where people forget after that. So, this girl, who get in contact with that girl in New York, her name Sarah Steven from Sydney work for Green Left Weekly, small newspaper but made big sense in my life. She’s got in contact with me and said are you there, I said, yeah I’m here, said, the DIMIA says the detention centre was closed and everybody was gone, I said, no I’m still here. So, she went and talked ask him for interview and said, you said it was closed down but I rang Sisalem, a guy called Sisalem there, he said, that’s not our responsibility. He said like that, and then goes to the Minister Rod Lavers, what’s his name, they all the same to me actually.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Ruddock?
MR SISALEM Ruddock. Thank you, Ruddock. He said the same thing it’s not our responsibility this guy, and then I got this email from this lawyer or this guy send me email for the lawyer as (indistinct) connection it doesn’t actually happen sometimes, Australia comes world wide for me, from German to New York to Greece to Merauke or whatever (Indistinct) or whatever. I get some connection finally after all this (indistinct) I get a connect with Julian Burnside.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry, just before you go on about your connection to Julian Burnside. Can I just ask about conditions and how it was for you to be on your own, you said you had no living contact even with guards or anything did you have freedom to move around the – – –
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC – – – the process centre?
MR SISALEM Yeah, I am having access again for everything since I signed that things but let’s say I mean, these people that work in detention as well, even if they have to do it because they love the money a lot or because of they believe in what they doing but still, put yourself in my situation, sitting there by yourself. Solitary detention, it’s a (indistinct), completely and everything is just going past you and you didn’t get out. They know, they (indistinct words). They think they don’t need, nobody can stand it for more than a week, that’s what they told the other two guys, the other three guys that left, when they ask them, how about Aladdin, said, he won’t be here for more than two weeks. They thought I won’t stand it for more than two weeks and will agree and put my, they told me you can have a citizenship in New Guinea if you want, said, yeah have the citizenship it for two weeks and then my body be in the jungle. I’m not going to risk that, send me somewhere else or maybe to New Zealand. The guys there are fine they didn’t have political problem there, like didn’t have racism problem as well.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Tell me about what it was like for you to be on your own there?
MR SISALEM Well, first two weeks was terrible but you know, you don’t do something just for yourself, if I give up myself, I give up myself but what about my parents, my father can’t do anything, he doesn’t do anything. If I don’t do it, he will end his life like this and he doesn’t deserve it, he didn’t do anything wrong, all that he done is teaching music supporting us. He didn’t do anything, why he deserve that and he have no understanding for him. He (indistinct) just to stand next to him.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said you had Internet, were you able to contact your parents at this point?
MR SISALEM I’m able already contact my parents from the phone.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry?
MR SISALEM With the phone, with the phone.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You were talking to your parents from Manus public phone?
MR SISALEM Yeah, the public phone yeah. As I talk to (indistinct), as I talk to Amnesty, as I talk to many people overseas.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, they were aware of your situation and you were aware of their situation?
MR SISALEM Yeah, everyone was aware. I always contact with them, whatever the communication system, even in jungle there’s a communication system (indistinct word) which could reach to – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Was that important for you to be in contact with parents?
MR SISALEM Yeah, because they don’t know if (indistinct) things, if they lost me or something like that I won’t dare forgetting them. I want to know how they doing, I want to know which stage my brother and sister get to.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And what stage were your brother and sister at, at this point?
MR SISALEM Now?
MR ZYLBERSZPIC No, then?
MR SISALEM Then, still a bit of hope, a little bit. Just small fall from the stage where they have to face all what I faced.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC A little bit of hope you said?
MR SISALEM A little bit of distance, between what they have to face and their life because it’s about the age. When you get to this age you have to face more and that’s about the time the condition and what’s happened in the world wide. And another thing, living overseas there I have to explain again, explain myself when they don’t know anything about it.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you speak to your brother and sister?
MR SISALEM Yeah. Speak to them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How was that, then I mean, then?
MR SISALEM Well, actually my brother and sister themself, I didn’t speak to them for a while because it’s a very short time, amount of about three minutes to talk on the phone.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How often did you do that?
MR SISALEM When I was at detention centre?
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Yes.
MR SISALEM It’s about what I can manage about three minutes in the each month or something.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Three minutes one each month?
MR SISALEM Yeah. So, didn’t get – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Was that because financially you couldn’t afford it – – –
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC – – – or because that’s all you were allowed?
MR SISALEM Well, at that time it was the public phone, couldn’t afford it. It was a weird situation see some people that’s making business (indistinct), anyways. So, lots of things you know.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, how did you cope with this being alone?
MR SISALEM Yeah, (indistinct) thought maybe it will have it, it’s only (indistinct) to get out of here, I’m going to get, must be solution. There’s always a solution, there is always a way, that’s what I believe in. So, well there must be solution, this a sign of (indistinct) coming (indistinct), I was on the Internet trying, I mean, die trying better than die waiting. You won’t feel harder than hard as you die trying.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How many people were left with you to you know, authorities – – –
MR SISALEM I can see the guards anyways, not inside the facility anymore, it’s outside the fence, ABS is gone all gone and IOM and the cooking facility, the medical team left as well. So, there’s no medical treatment after that, whereas the big thing I didn’t mention, to get myself calm that month or that two month trying to work something out before things go down, I accepted what they kept offer me all the time, what they called anti- depression pills but when I come here and ask about it, lots of people, this kind of pills given to people that have hysteria or something, break the mind. If I don’t take it a doctor will come to my room, give it to me. Sometime, I keep I don’t take it, just pretend and when the medical team left these pills become in the hand of one of the managing team, they give it to me. So, they kept giving it to me but less than before the doctor because when the doctor it was with three kind of pills, two tablet each for two and one tablet for the third one so about five pills everyday. 500 milligrams to 1/3 milligrams tablet.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Why were taking them?
MR SISALEM They said anti-depression they keep you calm.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you think that you needed these tablets?
MR SISALEM With all of the situation I’m in, we could not do anything but accept it otherwise you get crazy. You have to use them, might have to keep calm, have to find the settle down, take another pill.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were you aware that you were needing to be settled down?
MR SISALEM Yeah, but I wasn’t aware of the kind of pills I was given. I know it’s anti-depression pills or something can stay in your body for a night and then it’s gone but the pill they gave me (indistinct) around showing what is it, when things went down again with them. When they tried to stop me from using the Internet again, come to me on using the Internet, already Burnside found (indistinct) and took up my case and already for my first hearing in the Federal Court here, not for my release on detention because the court in Australia whatever court, High Court does have no authorisation to release me from detention in an other country. But had authorisation to order compensation for me from the government for removing from Australia unlawfully. Whatever the lawyers knows, I don’t know much about this resolution and this laws and these tricky things.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Let’s just step back a bit. So, you were saying how they’d given you these anti-depressants, these five tablets that you were taking.
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And did they help you, did that help?
MR SISALEM I would sleep, wouldn’t sleep after that after military threat my life, after the military threaten my life I wouldn’t be able to sleep, help me sleep. Can’t sleep without them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC That was in detention?
MR SISALEM That was in the beginning of my, me taking the pills but after that the problem become two because I could not stop these pills, because when they try, one of the strategies they used to try to tease me with, they stop me from these pills for days. For days I cannot sleep at all, I get crazy, that’s what they threaten me and I have to complain to the lawyer and the lawyer send letters to DIMIA.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And was this all after once you were left alone on the Island?
MR SISALEM Well, yeah but I start taking the pills before I left alone. Since I was given the chance to go back or since, I was getting back from the navy. So, I cannot -, what I’m going to do I can’t sleep, I had to accept these pills especially somebody offering to you and they’re commanding it and it’s the doctor, it’s the (indistinct) who work for the (indistinct) of the IOM contracted by the (indistinct) of the Australian Government. So, I have to believe them, I need it anyway so, I took it. I start taking five pills a day, coming out of my ears.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What about food, you said the medical staff went, a lot of the administration went, the kitchen staff went what about food for you?
MR SISALEM I had honey. Honey.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Honey?
MR SISALEM Honey the cat. He was a very nice cat, I used her very well. They used to give me this expired food after that, all the expired stock. They send a enormous truck to Nauru as I found out and expired stocked stayed there for me.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Who prepared it for you?
MR SISALEM The kitchen staff, I don’t know who’s there I don’t see the kitchen, so. They give me expired food, so if Honey will eat from it first, I would eat. If Honey didn’t, I won’t.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How did Honey come into your life?
MR SISALEM It’s just a cat who’s born there I guess who knows, I went there in detention centre he was playing the kids before they left. He’s a very patient cat, very nice but if somebody big touch her, slash his hands. So, if this nice cat find me sitting alone she comes stays keep sleeping with me before I was alone she never come to me. So, even the animals can feel. So, yeah I used to give the cat the food, when she smell she can tell if she can eat it or not, if she will study it I won’t eat otherwise all that I can get is diarrhoea and stuff like that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And did that happen to you?
MR SISALEM All the time. My teeth my stomach I come here to feel – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What happened to your teeth?
MR SISALEM I don’t know some kind of bacteria give me gums problem but the dentist here, I’d been to the dentist here and it was fine and had something like blood, or something from my stomach.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you know what these problems were a result of, was it the food, was it the conditions there?
MR SISALEM Well, it start only when the bad food starts.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you get any other illnesses while you were there?
MR SISALEM No, not really, not very much. Didn’t get anything at all, only these things. No, they were hoping that I would get something.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You were talking about when you first contacted, were contacted by Julian Burnside was that correct did he – – –
MR SISALEM No, this lawyer in Adelaide, I guess, referred me to Julian Burnside who got directly (indistinct) take over my case and Julian Burnside become as well one of the legal team. So, I had a legal team of four lawyers, one name’s Tom (Indistinct) he was dealing with me everyday, he’s the one who keep me, calling detention because the strategy of teasing after that, after the court ordered my situation in detention remained how it is right now until the final hearing, which Internet remains, everything remains. They start teasing with that cutting it sometimes, stopping everything cutting the power, cutting the water and things, the bad food, the teasing whatever. It’s like Mickey Mouse games and when you complain but the nice thing is that the legal team have to hear from me, I have to send an email everyday telling about my day to make sure that everything’s fine, to make sure that I was not given to New Guinea authority. And court ordered for mediation for the government, (indistinct) the government and I keep also (indistinct) about the new trial, trying everything, (indistinct) the other countries. But it’s useless (indistinct) other countries, even if it’s a chance, there is no chance because we are (indistinct), because no country had authorisation to deal with a refugee directly but through the (indistinct) if I was outside the country. I tried, kept trying everything, the same time and the lawyers trying it Australia hoping that if we won the case the government would be ashamed and instead of paying me compensation they will release me from detention to Australia. That’s what the legal team hope, that’s what Julian Burnside hoped, that’s what everybody was hope, that’s Tom (Indistinct) told me. So, it comes this way. So, I watch Eric Verdallis on the screen, talking about me, defending me, first man to stand for me in my life, my whole life, even my father had never stand for me once. First man stand for me, I had to cry after 10 years, I haven’t cried for a while. See some man really standing for not helping me, not standing between – you’re not going to get him.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did you see this on the computer screen?
MR SISALEM You can see anything on the Internet, all the channels here, the way they were. Yeah, and watch ABC, anything on the Internet. Yeah, so it was very good feeling, it gave me hope that they was (indistinct).
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What people, do you remember at what point in time this was that you saw Mr is it Verdallis(?)?
MR SISALEM Eric Verdallis.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Eric Verdallis, what point in time in your stay on Manus did this happen, was it the first few weeks was it months after – – –
MR SISALEM No, I was on my own for 10 months before I left Manus.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC At what point did you see this?
MR SISALEM That’s – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you remember?
MR SISALEM Well, it took, first of all that was, it took the media after, the medias start talking about it a lot get attention more and then other media come out with the cost of my detention, the cost $23,000 a day the government (indistinct). So, this point get public attention, because people doesn’t care, (indistinct) was sitting there. I was chatting anyways, with people who know their opinion everyday, every hour, every time chatting with three four people from Australia, from all over the world. I know their opinion, I convince some and some just walk away and that was everyday. I was just sitting on this computer from waking up until sleep, sending email and chatting with people and just working. It was busy 10 months for me sitting there. I know (indistinct), trying to (indistinct) and defend from the detention facility teasing and (indistinct) stop teasing. People sitting receiving there receiving $20,000 a month just to make idea everyday, how you going to tease him today. That’s, I almost said his name, the manager. God, how funny is it, he’s lucky (indistinct). Yeah, just – – –
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So, when you saw Eric Verdallis face that somewhere in that 10 month period?
MR SISALEM Yeah, in this 10 month period.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were you – – –
MR SISALEM When the media start to interview him, they lock me up because he’s my legal representative, he’s my legal lawyer.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were you still using the anti-depressants at this point?
MR SISALEM No, when I left detention centre, when I got here Melbourne I stopped it immediately.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC But you were still using them on the island?
MR SISALEM Yeah, still I can’t leave them, if I leave them I have to sleep, I have to sleep so I can think. If I can’t sleep I won’t be able to think, I won’t be able to defend and they kept teasing me, many things, cutting things on me I don’t know how to explain it. [A portion of this interview has been removed for legal reasons]
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were they giving you any information about what, apart from the work that you were doing to come to Australia, were they giving you any information about what their intentions were, were they going to leave you there, were they going to try to get you know, to get you just put you in Papua New Guinea, was there any information coming to you from them?
MR SISALEM Yeah, only thing says you are Papua New Guinea responsibility, you here because of Papua New Guinea and if you don’t get out of here have to deal with Papua New Guinea.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC But they didn’t – – –
MR SISALEM Nothing else.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC They only said this – – –
MR SISALEM Okay, talk to me as a United Nation officer, United Nation organization not a Papua New Guinea government, talk to me as tell me what you can do for me, we can do for you anything, the IOM have all your (indistinct), all your laws on the Internet and I’m showing it to you, you should be doing this and this and that. Said, no we don’t do this, actually, we don’t work for IOM we work for Australian Government, Australian Government want to wash their hands from me, like Papua New Guinea and that, they are criminals all right. They are criminals, they can do anything for money, they can destroy people life for money, they all go there, work in United Nation, go five stars hotels, get a high wage, publish on the Internet we have 30 million refugee we need a fund for them, we need money for them. Not protection, we need money for them, that’s why they’re refugees, because they are, they don’t have money, they don’t have food. Spend $7 on each one, keep $70 for the stuff and put $100 in my pocket, I’m going to assault one of my officers sexually before someone like me come to make my place in Geneva. One of the people got in the contact is the President of United Nation in Australia, Margaret Ronald. I got in contact with her through a Senator Andrew Power and he also tried to help me, so somehow she find herself need to help, have to help me or something I don’t know and she was on her way to Geneva to see Rod Lavers the High Commissioner and she promised me to talk to him about me. All right, that’s good. She wanted to talk to him, she came back told the guy, I said (indistinct) about everything she got there. They know about me and they meant it and what they told me they told her and they told her that she have to be afraid for her position and when she came here she said, we couldn’t do anything, nothing. I said, I know already Matt told me everything you told him. (Indistinct) for every word email to me. You know that email that you sent to him, he forwarded it to me, I have it. You are afraid for your position. They are all afraid for their positions. Amnesty International before I go just to (indistinct) you can cut it from the video after that if you like. The journalist from London was interviewing me, newspaper there whose action can tell that’s happened to have a friend or a contact in the Amnesty International head office there and he found out from him about me and he found out that they sent international Australia, what his name, the person that I talked about before, they send him out and told him to back off my case. That’s why Amnesty International can’t have no time talking to me. No sign, no anything because they sent him from London directly to back off on my case. Don’t do much about it and I have that guy as a witness and he doesn’t give a shit and if he is a liar, he is a liar for himself but I am not a liar because that is what he told me and that’s the only explanation why they promised to get me a lawyer and that week, just before London and after that they didn’t just forget about the – forget about replying to me they forget about answering me. So that’s the only real explanation I have even when the guy didn’t ask him, I didn’t tell him anything about Amnesty. He happened to talk to that person for me for my good and that is what he heard.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry we are going to take a break.
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And change tapes.
MR SISALEM Thanks.
SPEAKER We have got one more tape left.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC (Indistinct)
MR SISALEM You got angry, aren’t you?.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Rolling. Interview with Aladdin Sisalem. This is tape 4. Aladdin you were telling me about when you saw, you cried for the first time in ten years and when you saw Eric Verdalis on the computer screen, fighting for you, I think that is what you said. And what happened next with respect to your attempts to leave Manus Island?
MR SISALEM Well, it’s not about leaving Manus Island, it’s about surviving, that the issue for (indistinct), I mean Manus Island, it’s a paradise.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC It’s a?
MR SISALEM A paradise. A place of paradise. People pay money to go and have time there, if they could. But, I was in danger there, big danger. Already everybody targeted me, everybody wants me because of what I am saying and what I said, I said because of what I need and I need is my right and home, my right and a place on earth to belong to and to accept me. My right for protection by some governments. Nobody can live in this world without protection, nobody can have rights without protection. Somebody to protect my right. Simple, I needed my humanity and these people doesn’t understand that and instead of giving me my right, they want to destroy what is left in my life, to avoid giving me my rights.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC When you say “these people” who are avoiding giving you your rights, who are you talking about?
MR SISALEM For example, one day someone asked me when I, when I was released, I was in Brisbane actually, they ask me, what would you say to John Howard now if you see him? They said, what I would say to him. I don’t know if he’s the one who made this decision about what’s happened to me. I don’t know if he’s the one that controls, maybe there is somebody else that controlling him. I don’t know who is trying to destroy my life. I don’t know who is playing all this. Who has made the Palestinian leader support Iraq against Kuwait and put me in danger. I don’t know who destroys my life. It is somebody out there, some people, trying to play or to control me, control John Howard maybe. John Howard told Australian people that I am a terrible person, I deserve detention, but what I know is that these people control everything and what I know is Eric Verdalis stand between me and these people and nobody dared, even my mother, even my parents are get afraid of that. Everybody can get afraid of that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC When you were working with Eric Verdalis to come to Australia, was there ever talk of coming here just on a some sort of a temporary visa or what was the strategy?
MR SISALEM First of all, I had maybe about one person hope that Australia would accept me, I mean nobody will do all this to me, to accept me in the end. What I was hoping from the court case I had, was to give me in my situation until I find a solution and I was working on that. I was cooperating with the legal team anything they ask me, anything I do. I do it to them for and as much as they want and more but I did not actually put Australia as my priority in living or as my chance, not my only my only chance, not my chance at all, I did not believe, I mean all what’s happened to me in that detention centre, it shows exactly that Australian government would do anything, will cross any line to get rid of me, and that’s fair enough, they don’t want me in their country. But the only thing I don’t think is fair is to put me on somebody that would destroy my life and destroy my life to get rid of me. What I thought is, of a solution, my fight with the United Nations was more and I got them in the end. The media got (indistinct) to come to me in detention centre and give me my right and protection. They recognise me finally as a refugee but not because I was persecuted by the Kuwait government or in Kuwait it’s because I’m stateless and that’s (indistinct) and this was the deal. We recognise you as a refugee but we will not recognise you as a persecuted person but as a stateless. So, finally I get a solution, not full solution because I still have to re-settle me, that’s my right or command me to other countries to re-settle me but which I didn’t and nice thing about Eric Verdalis he was fighting honestly. He said on the media, I don’t believe that your (indistinct) have recommended Aladdin into Australia until now and they won’t recommend me to anyone. They won’t let me get out of there because if I get out of there, I will tell everything happened with me. So actually what’s, the person I was in contact with in the legal team was Tom (indistinct).
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Can you say that name again.
MR SISALEM Tom (indistinct) he’s a barrister. A guy who was used to work with DIMIA but left after what’s happened and become an independent barrister and become a member of Spare Lawyers for Refugees. He is still working like that so he was the one in contact with me everyday and everyone else was working on my case. (Indistinct) putting their case in the court and Sam Hy was preparing for the court.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sam Hy
MR SISALEM Sam Hy that is the fourth member. He was preparing for the court issues, legal issues for the court so the case can be processed well.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How did you react to the fact that there was this team of people, working for your future?
MR SISALEM Well about the team of people working, I didn’t think at that time they were working for my future, I thought they were working for saving my life. That’s my reaction, that’s what I take it. Before that and doing that as well all people from all around Australia working for me as well, supporting me.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What effect did that have on you to know that you were getting, finally getting this sort of support?
MR SISALEM Okay, that’s just showing me first of all that before I think, that’s just the world, the world is not that bad, all this, or I have more hope, that’s natural things, but be honest, just show me that I am not wrong. I am not that wrong and ask for what I am asking for.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were there times when you did think you were wrong?
MR SISALEM If the whole world is turning against you, before you find the person to stand next to you, just to be fair, why the whole world is wrong and I am the right one, if the people that feeling for you or understand, are still afraid because they don’t understand if all this happen to you over nothing, why would be? If I was them, I would be the same, I mean, all this happen to you would be over nothing, that’s impossible, must be, he must have done something. I didn’t know what I had done but I know I done nothing when I started to have some support. People took their time in working for me (indistinct) and then finally people stand between me and my persecutors (indistinct) that’s a bigger thing so, yeah, give me some right, some right I never dreamed of.
SPEAKER I dropped something I’ll just pick it up.
MR SISALEM I always just going to go for the rights and things. (Indistinct).
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry.
MR SISALEM That’s all right, joking.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC I just lost (indistinct) outside.
MR SISALEM Yeah, yeah, that’s alright.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You just said that your last words then were, just give me my rights.
MR SISALEM Well, the things I was looking for was a normal rights as to belong to some country, to have protection and to find somewhere if something happens to me I have home to go to seek refuge in, I was seeking a home, a home, my friend grow up with me and people I met, I heard many times people saying, I want to go home, I am going home. I never had a home, I don’t know where my home is. It’s not a big deal to have the right and I don’t have the right to buy or sell, I don’t have the right to do anything like anyone, I don’t have the right to vote, to have choice, to be a member of community, I left this all, I want just have a home where I can go and stay in peace, away, if somebody doesn’t like me outside, I have home to go to, stay there, stay away from any troubles. Actually what these people done for me and especially the legal team, is give me right more than home. They didn’t, they couldn’t give me a home but they gave me something else.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What’s that?
MR SISALEM They give me the power. The right, the power of defending myself from people persecuting me outside. Yeah, they couldn’t give me a home to go to and seek refuge and stay in peace but they gave me protection outside. Yeah, we can’t get you a home and they can’t because my home is not in their heads, my home is in the hands of the people persecuting me actually. I am persecuted by the people that I am seeking refuge from.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You, you said that you spent, you said earlier that you spent all day from your waking moment till the end of the day on the computer, communicating with your legal team.
MR SISALEM Communicating with public. People (indistinct) some people angry, some people have sympathy. Everybody was contacting me. It was unusual story for them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC When you said, you said people were sympathetic but you also said people are angry.
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What were they angry about?
MR SISALEM Angry about the article on my side was published the day before or the same day. Accusing the Australian government for supporting me. People that supporting the Australian government or believe what Australian government doing. Will not stand there they would just to send email, they come online with me. Or you have that thing why don’t you do it. How am I going to explain to you mate in your language if I have that I would do it. Just because I don’t have that I have to do this and this force me to do this and if you was in my position what would you do. They would say, I would do that. I said, that is what I did.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Did they ever respond to you when you explained?
MR SISALEM Most of them were convinced and that’s many people that I still know now is people that were actually against me before because it’s simple, I mean, I am not asking for people to buy something. I asking for people to change their minds about something and this thing is my life. So they won’t lose anything by seeing the truth and these people is better than the others. These people at least want to know even if they believe I was (indistinct) but at least they have, they given me the chance to defend myself. But other people just be there, will vote for the government again and they don’t know an they don’t want to know.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC On a slightly less, on a more minor matter you said you spent your day, a long time on the computer. Did you have any other recreational activities while you were there on your own? Did you exercise,
MR SISALEM Of course.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Read.
MR SISALEM I can’t think without exercising without throwing the pressure out of my body.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What did you do?
MR SISALEM I just heavy weightlifting, gym-ming, how to (indistinct). I remember my coach used to say, the healthy man praying in the healthy body.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Which coach was this?
MR SISALEM When I was little, I used to like boxing. Yeah, that’s funny.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC At what point did, with respect to your, you talked about your, your court case, how long did that go on for?
MR SISALEM Seven months.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC At what point did you find out, was there and immediate, was there a point when you found out an immediate result or was it more drawn out?
MR SISALEM It was disappearing. First things, first hearing the court ordered for mediation, (indistinct) felt the court orders for other mediation and (indistinct) the schedule that the date.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Who was the mediation between?
MR SISALEM Legal team and DIMIA representative and talk about three mediation until a month before I was released. (Indistinct) himself when I never talked to him before, send me an email and asked me to call him. I said that’s it, he will apologise to me now and show his sympathetic, in tell me he couldn’t do much. Fair enough. He done his best, all of them are doing their best. So, I called him and I was ready for the bad news and then he told me, I will to tell you something but you have to promise me that you won’t tell anyone even your parents, you won’t mention it even to yourself. I said, I promise, what is it? I still think that you will ask me that they will do this and this to you and don’t tell anyone but for everything they done for me all he deserve that. They can get it, let them do anything to me and I won’t tell them, I won’t tell anyone if that is what they want because they really (indistinct) for me and I believe that. There wasn’t trying to destroy me like others try. So, I said I will do that. He said, I had an argument with only a few members in DIMIA and least one of them that would release you and (indistinct) to Australia next month but until this happen nobody should know. No one at all, if anybody will know the whole argument will have to start over again. I couldn’t stand on my feet that time. I couldn’t stand on my feet. That (indistinct) officer standing there waiting for the phone to finish, he looked at him like this, he’s himself that devil cried. That little devil cried. Johnny, he was just doing his job, he couldn’t do it, what he had to do. He cried, (indistinct) and one month trying to keep it inside myself, just keep the centre and trying everything I was trying with any other country with everything with the connection, the same pushing just to make sure that nobody would feel something on me until this DIMIA guy come, the same guy who took me to Manus Island, and took me to Australia and then to Melbourne and he was nice and he said sorry it wasn’t me, it was Canberra that did it.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC So how did you get from – – –
MR SISALEM I took a plane from Port Moresby and then plane to Cairns and from Cairns to Melbourne.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Why did you come to Melbourne?
MR SISALEM I had this friend in Perth that organise everything for me, organise with her, (indistinct) independent, just friends, organise for me some kind of start there. I want to start in Perth but I can’t I wanted to come to Melbourne to see these unusual people. See (indistinct).
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Were you, did you fly from Manus to Port Moresby to Cairns?
MR SISALEM We took a commercial plane.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You say “we”, who’s “we”?
MR SISALEM The same DIMIA officer who took me to Manus Island from Thursday.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What about the cat?
MR SISALEM The cat, the cat of the restaurant, I come a few days later I was in Burnside house waiting for interview with the Channel 7 before Burnside ask me to come inside his office to have this other interview with the, with a guy called John, what – – –
SPEAKER John Kane.
MR SISALEM No. He’s a very, from what I heard, he is a very famous reporter in Sydney.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC That’s okay, what happened?
MR SISALEM Whatever, he used to be always against refugees and this issue (indistinct)so I want to hold earphone I had the interview with him, I don’t know (indistinct) few, quite a few interviews at that time so I wasn’t even realising who is interviewing, so, and he asked me about Honey and all of this. John, no, Laws, or whatever, and he asked me about Honey. These people start calling me from all over Australian saying John Laws is, campaigning for honey to come and from Paris from New York from Australia found twelve thousand dollars and Shaun McLeod who used to write articles against me, his articles became on my side he want himself get Honey and was delivered to Australia to me and they don’t know what to do with the rest of the money so so they get the cat fence for the backyard. Yeah and I got the cat and they don’t know the support was getting the cat in no time and John Laws get 20 minutes for Burnside on his show to talk about refugees because of Honey.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC About?
MR SISALEM Refugees on his show when he is actually always all the time, as I was told he was against refugees kind of person. So, the cat changed lots of people’s minds. I used to walk around Melbourne and say it’s you Aladdin, I say, yes. Nice girl say is Honey your cat? Oh yes, Honey my cat.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How was your reunion with Honey.
MR SISALEM She is with people now take care of her better than me. Wasn’t good what’s happened to her, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t ask actually for her to come here because that’s her home, that’s where she born, that’s where she knows, that’s what kind of creatures she can hunt.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Where is she now?
MR SISALEM A bit far away.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Back to your arrival in Melbourne. Can you describe when you landed in Melbourne. Was there anybody there to meet you.
MR SISALEM Yeah, actually on the bridge on the plane about four, three, of DIMIA officers were there to give me some clothes and handful of money and to tell me that I would be staying with this guy, who was with them and then further the terminal, before outside, found John (indistinct) and Tom (indistinct) waiting for me. I had a drink with them.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How was that?
MR SISALEM I didn’t know, I spent the first month in Melbourne, all what I am looking at it’s in the colours for 32 (indistinct) of screen resolution, just at the screen I was watching. I was feeling that I am watching the screen, I am not there, I am just watching the screen for a month, walking the streets seeing everything move in front of me, people come talk to me, people not talk to me, interviews whatever. It was something, I’m sitting there watching on the TV, directly. Specially with the three bottles of wine everyday to get rid of the, my need for the tablets I used to take in detention where I decided to stop it immediately until (indistinct) start to drink that much for a month but I don’t get drunk, I don’t have a problem, I don’t get drunk anymore now. That’s what they done to me. So, yeah I was just dreaming first month. I cannot remember anything as it’s happened on the reality, I could only remember it as something moving on a flat screen, a voice coming out of little speaker. I would say maybe because I sit on the computer for 10 months, didn’t move.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Have you met Eric Verdallis?
MR SISALEM I met Eric Verdallis few days after that in Burnside’s birthday party, his home.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How was that?
MR SISALEM He just come next to me and standed there and said hi, how are you, said, good (indistinct) realises what’s happened. I went sit on the stair, we were sitting on the (indistinct), I kept looking at them, I’m like you look drunk and I can’t believe just a little too bit. Yeah, I was, I can’t even believe that I met Eric Verdallis, I can’t even believe he did exist. All I believe is all that’s happened was a dream, and but I know it’s happened somehow, it’s happened that I had a story, I had a problem and this problem was quite hard because it was very insisting people. I mean, I met insisting people for, I become insisting sometimes and just trying something. I’m coming, everybody can have it but it was very strong, it was heavy I mean, yeah these people was strong, these people was still there, these people wanted me. It was like natural disaster to me and it was just these guys standing, this person in particular, standing between me and this natural disaster.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC When did you contact your parents once, soon after you arrived in Melbourne did you contact your parents?
MR SISALEM I contacted my parents the day I was leaving detention centre, after that, actually who break the news Istemia(?) the Minister, whatever DIMIA told the newspapers that I would be released day or so after that (indistinct).
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What was your parents reaction when?
MR SISALEM Yeah, they were so happy.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What are the conditions of your current state here in Australia, what sort of a visa are you on now?
MR SISALEM Well, that’s what I was going just follow it, when I said they were very happy, I was going to say I wasn’t happy because they still in the same situation, because of my current visa. I taken (indistinct) five years (indistinct) to visa not allowed for permanent protection before I spend these five years. That’s mean, my parents have to survive another five years in their condition before I can be able to be the hero that will help them. I’m going to have to spend five years of my father life knowing what’s happened to him, believing it could happen to me. My father he built (indistinct) family 15 years and more after there before they turned on him and he then have no right. My father stayed temporary protection for a long, long time. His situation was okay, he can still build and survive but when some things change out there in the world it will turn all his life 180 degree and that’s why my father got stroke, and that’s why because he felt guilty.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How far into your five year visa are you now, how much is left on that?
MR SISALEM Well, I spent one and half year something like that.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What happens after that Aladdin?
MR SISALEM Well, what’s happen after that is according what’s happened in the world at that time. If there’s a war with something, (indistinct) and security problem. If there is a natural disaster, if there is anything happening in the world out there it will show.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What are your plans?
MR SISALEM Well, what I’m trying now to do is to get my only hope in this band of visa which is a shorter period specified by Minister.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Sorry, can you say that again, a what visa?
MR SISALEM Like my class of visa demand that I spend the 54 months in the country before the Immigration Department is able to process my application for permanent protection which I already filed. Unless, a shorter period is specified by the Minister in writing. So, I sent to the Minister and she replied to me through a – I sent to the Minister through my local number at that time, where I was to live here in Melbourne and she replied to me asking me to send her in writing what’s in the public interest of Australia for me to have a permanent protection. It’s not my field, I have no experience what’s in the public interest here or what’s in the public interest will be interested in me for, I can’t say anything. I don’t think the public is interested (indistinct). So, I used to have legal minded people, used to help me to sort this out and they did. So, we just need now for waiting now for I get a few references from people I dealt with here. Like work experience, education and all this and waiting for the psychologist to make his report about that, already for my psychologist to make his report what’s in the public interest of Australia for my psychologist to be given a permit. It’s very far away from what I believe in. What I believe in that, all that I need from Australia is protection and if I have a disability then I would have no chance of having protection in Australia if that’s the way it works and that’s what not Australia would sign it for. If there’s interest in me in the public so, I can be given protection if not so I have to die or I have to live in the ocean. So, anyways I have to do it this way because in the same time if I was denied protection in Australia this will give me the right to seek protection somewhere else. It won’t hold me between the sky and the land, I said that to my father. So, all what I need is a (indistinct) and I’m allowed to stay here or not that’s it and the Earth is very big.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC If you’re allowed to stay here do you have any plans or intentions?
MR SISALEM Well, the government provide me free education service, I chose the field that I believe in I could do something.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What’s that?
MR SISALEM It’s just some engineering field, I mean, nothing work out there without engineering things. Everything we use everyday, some (indistinct) use this to get the favour back.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC To get?
MR SISALEM The favour back. That’s the best I can do. I mean, I think that’s the best I can, what I going to do.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How are you finding life in Melbourne now that – – –
MR SISALEM Well, I understand people now I see people they’re gone, people think what kind of people but they still have the same problem as me. Maybe in front of this camera I can tell everything that tells about my life and what I think, everything this interview I said my name that was Aladdin Sisalem, but for my normal life of public my name is Dean. My background is normal just like you and others, nothing suspicious about me just the way I lived in Kuwait.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Would you prefer that?
MR SISALEM That’s the only way I have to survive otherwise with people looking in the different eyes, if it’s sympathetic or anger or you would be just black and white between the coloured people or you be coloured person between a black white (indistinct), it can be (indistinct) people suspicious, or unusual background or (indistinct) experience. Happens to anyone people have accidents they don’t get trapped, they still suspicious they still different in people eyes and that’s what I don’t want. I don’t want my experience or what’s happened to me affect me.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Has it affected you?
MR SISALEM It’s better to be a part of community, as a community, not a part of community from where you come from. It’s better to be just like anyone else and that’s what I wanted to be always, just normal, have a normal life like anyone else. But a lot of people look at me as somebody else experience (indistinct) or somebody who is actually suspicious or somebody who’s have a unusual story. That’s my part, inside me but for the normal things, I’m doing my best, I’m doing just like anyone else trying to work, trying to study, trying to build my life like anyone else, like my friends in my community. Yeah, wherever I live, I live.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What about seeing your family again your mother and your father and your brother and sister?
MR SISALEM My brother tried to commit suicide two times in the last year.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How old is he?
MR SISALEM Eighteen but I knew he can’t handle. He don’t know there’s a world out there he can escape to. I’m too late for my brother, my parents. I’m too late for my family.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You’re too what?
MR SISALEM Late.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What do you mean by that?
MR SISALEM I should save them out of this situation long ago, years ago, because one day they make sense. They should be out there, out of there long ago I was (indistinct) too late took me long time, took me five years to do it. Took me 15 years to do it. So, I’m too late trying not to save whatever I could, least my father’s still alive bad health conditions still alive.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC How is your father’s health?
MR SISALEM A few things. One things, and that’s trying to work all the (indistinct) he’s kidney, needs the kidney and I’m the only in family who have his type of blood so but that won’t happen if I can’t meet him somewhere. I can’t go anywhere and the country would give me any kind of visa they’re not sure that I can be returned to Australia or Egypt. I (indistinct) situation.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Are you in touch with your – – –
MR SISALEM Yeah sure. Always calling them, always calling.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Are you talking to your younger brother?
MR SISALEM Yeah, talking to my younger brother but talk is cheap.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said earlier about that one of the important things to you is to have a home. Do you have a home now?
MR SISALEM Not yet. I’m a guest here.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What will make that different?
MR SISALEM It will make it different with me because even if I’m a guest in your house I still going to keep the house clean, I still going to do my part. I’m a person in the house but it’s made different that I can’t build something because if I build something I’m not sure I would keep it or is still there or not going to be destroyed after my time in this house goes. I don’t have the strength or the courage to do it, specially when I seen it before, I seen that my father building his life and in no time was destroyed all because he’s been a guest. I’m getting over being a guest even in my own home, even in Kuwait I been a guest, that’s my country, that’s what I want and I don’t have the right of it.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Do you think you’ll ever find home?
MR SISALEM Well, I don’t, should not be demanding. I mean, once I get the legal right to live somewhere why should I demand more for. Doesn’t matter what I feel inside me, doesn’t matter that I feel sorry about losing Kuwait. Not because I left it, it’s because of the war I lost it already before I left it.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC You said earlier today that you weren’t brought up with any, at home there was no religious upbringing in religion. Do you have any sort of, religious belief or spiritual belief?
MR SISALEM Of course I have spiritual belief. I mean, I know that I don’t, I risked my life many times and I was saved by someone, by some power. I know I saw a few things, unusual things maybe because of my mental condition that time but yeah, I know things doesn’t happen out of (indistinct). That somebody, I know all that’s happened to me, I know that I didn’t survive this out of nothing I know. I have beliefs, I have, I know there’s somebody, I know things.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Aladdin could you tell me about that painting behind you on the wall?
MR SISALEM It’s sort of, Egyptian tradition painting but it’s actually more spiritual than tradition because it reminds me one time I spend in the jungle, in the forest (indistinct) forest and no signs of human life there but you survive only with the wind, with the fire or with the water.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC What do you call that?
MR SISALEM Yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Does it have a name?
MR SISALEM No, yeah when you are without all this technology or (indistinct) things that humans made in their life, when you in the middle of the forest with nothing at all and even your clothes is barely covering you all that you have is the water to (indistinct) with and the fire to help you and wind really, the air. That’s what you use for living but now I use no – oh God I have this email today, send – and have to drive I can’t take the train to this – things like that. When – yeah.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC And just finally Aladdin, you have experienced a great deal in your life so far. Do you have any final thoughts or something to say or a message to people who will be watching this in years to come?
MR SISALEM Well, my thought is this. It’s not actually a big deal that I went through according to other situations but it just different in other this situation than it has the fear in it. The fear of unknowing, that was my problem people afraid of what they don’t know and that’s why what’s happened to me happened. So, my appeal is people I know is nothing it’s a human nature (indistinct) of it to be afraid of what you don’t know but it’s not impossible to try to know and that’s what I hope people will do. Is if you afraid of something try and know about it because if you keep afraid of it not you but somebody else going to get hurt and that’s not impossible because somebody like Eric Verdallis did it and he didn’t even think about it. He just saw – believed his heart, forget the fear saw the right from the wrong, what visible to him. Do your part and nobody can blame you.
MR ZYLBERSZPIC Thank you Aladdin.
MR SISALEM Thank you.
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