Farrah Nasser

Farrah Nasser was born in Iraq, where she was an Arabic teacher. She arrived in Australia in 2001 by boat. Nasser was then detained in Woomera for three months and 20 days. While in detention, Nasser witnessed a fire in the centre that left her and the other detainees without food or water for two days. She also saw the psychological impact of mandatory detention has on other detainees. Since leaving Woomera, Nasser has become an Australian citizen. She lives in Whittlesea.


Transcript of Interview

8 November 2007

Interview conducted by Maree Joyce

MS JOYCE My name is Maree Joyce. Today’s date is the 8th of November 2007 and I’m conducting an interview with Farrah Nasser. The interview is being conducted in Thomastown, Melbourne Victoria. Welcome to the interview can you please tell me your name?

MS Nasser My name is Farrah Nasser.

MS JOYCE Thank you, Farrah.

SPEAKER I’m going to ask you to pause just for a sec.

MS JOYCE Do you have any other names, any nicknames?

MS Nasser No.

MS JOYCE No, when were you born, what’s the date of your birth, Farrah?

MS Nasser The 1st of July 1965.

MS JOYCE And your age now?

MS Nasser Forty-two.

MS JOYCE Yes, and what is the city and country of your birth?

MS Nasser Najaf the holy place in Iraq.

MS JOYCE In Iraq, right. Can you spell Najaf for us please?

MS Nasser N-a-j-a-f.

MS JOYCE Thank you. I’d like to begin our conversation now about your story. We’ll start with the time before detention, when did you leave Iraq?

MS Nasser I left Iraq at the end of 2000.

MS JOYCE And what was your life like before you left, can you tell us something about your family, your home, home life, education all of those things?

MS Nasser My life was so happy with my husband and my children. I have had a big family and very nice neighbours, helpful. I finish the University in Arabic language and I work as a teacher, an Arabic teacher, for more than 10 years in Iraq Baghdad. There’s no problem (indistinct) in Baghdad.

MS JOYCE Can you tell us about your religion, what your religion is and what the practices were that you would engage in?

MS Nasser My religion is a Muslim Shia.

MS JOYCE And what does a family, a Muslim Shia family do, how do they practice their religion, how would your family have lived that?

MS Nasser A lot times, not a lot to do, (indistinct) work you do.


MS Nasser Because of the previous regime. Some of them do their religion secret, yeah.

MS JOYCE Was it like that for you?

MS Nasser No, I just – I want to do something at my home, yes.

MS JOYCE Okay. So how did politics affect your life? You’ve mentioned that you weren’t always able to practice your religion the way you wanted to or some in the family couldn’t, are there other ways that politics affected your life?

MS Nasser In 1991 my life is changed from good to worse. After the anti father, you know the anti father in Iraq in 1991.


MS Nasser So, most of the city in Iraq erupted and my husband he was taken to jail because at that time the security forces were taking everybody in the street at that time with reason, or no reason, especially, people who were Muslim Shia, so my husband was taken in the jail and then executed.

MS JOYCE Were you there when they took him and did they come to your home or was he at work?

MS Nasser In the street, he was in the street on his way to the school, he was a teacher too. So, the security force was still come to (indistinct), to my house, searching if there were weapons hidden in the house, that’s the reason to come and harassing us, my children. So, they harassing continuous, I’m fear of my daughter make me let her to marry, even though she was 14 years old, to protect her. I then stopped going to school, me and my children because of the danger. This harassment as I said, continued until 1998 so I decided, at that time I decided to leave the country, leave everything, my house, family, everything and to go to everywhere to – for save my – to save my son.

MS JOYCE And did you know what had happened to your husband or you didn’t know at the time?

MS Nasser No, 15 years I don’t know whether he is still alive or died. So, (indistinct words) collapsed, they found him and other people in the mass grave.

MS JOYCE And were you still in Iraq at that time, or you were here?

MS Nasser No, here.

MS JOYCE You were here by then. Is there anything else you want to tell me about your life before you left Iraq, were you living in Baghdad at that time or Najaf?

MS Nasser Yeah, Baghdad.

MS JOYCE In Baghdad.

MS Nasser Yes, I born in Najaf but I lived in Baghdad.

MS JOYCE So, that must have been a very big decision that you took?

MS Nasser Yeah.

MS JOYCE So, what was it like when you were leaving Iraq, you know, was that a fearful time for you?

MS Nasser Of course, it was fearful for me because I fled with the false passport and I stopped in different, several countries.

MS JOYCE Which countries did you stop in?

MS Nasser Jordan, Malaysia, Indonesia and then Australia.

MS JOYCE And then came to Australia.

MS Nasser By boat.

MS JOYCE When did you arrive in Australia?

MS Nasser I arrived in Australia in 2001.

MS JOYCE And were you immediately in detention, placed in detention then?

MS Nasser Yeah.

MS JOYCE When you arrived?

MS Nasser Yeah.

MS JOYCE And how did you arrive, did you come in by boat or?

MS Nasser Yeah, by boat.

MS JOYCE By boat came to where in Australia?

MS Nasser To Woomera Detention Centre.

MS JOYCE But where did the boat come to?

MS Nasser The boat in Christmas Island, boat and then by plane.

MS JOYCE By plane to Adelaide or?

MS Nasser Adelaide, Woomera – Woomera in Adelaide.

MS JOYCE Into Woomera. So, how long were you in Woomera?

MS Nasser Three months and 20 days.

MS JOYCE Three months and 20 days?

MS Nasser Yeah.

MS JOYCE Farrah I wonder can you tell some stories from your time in Woomera to help us understand what it was like for you?

MS Nasser There are many sad stories.


MS Nasser I can’t tell you this time.

MS JOYCE Bit too sad to tell?

MS Nasser Yes, sad to tell.

MS JOYCE I can understand that.

MS Nasser There were routine days.

MS JOYCE Yes. What were the routine days like?

MS Nasser Routine days like, at seven o’clock they – you get up – by the microphone.


MS Nasser Over the microphone to tell us to go to breakfast and at nine, nine o’clock we go to English classes. At 12 o’clock lunch time, around six o’clock dinner time and between dinner and lunch you can visit each other.


MS Nasser Yeah, ask for any news about us and they asking about what would happen in the unknown future, yeah. So, it’s boring, worries and fear, yeah.

MS JOYCE How were you treated in Woomera?

MS Nasser Some of them treated us nice and the other (indistinct).

MS JOYCE Were you able to practice your religion in Woomera?

MS Nasser Yeah, no one interfere us, very little yeah.

MS JOYCE What are your strongest memories of Woomera, if they’re not too sad to tell?

MS Nasser This is terrible.


MS Nasser One story is still printed in my – my brain, my eyes. So, while we are, while we were waiting in the line to – in front of the restaurant to eat lunch, we hear like screaming, yelling and then fire, fire breakout and the fire and smoke go to our – our rooms. Somebody you know, was many fence many position in the detention centre (indistinct) depressed, some people live a long time and psychology position. So, back then and make them to do something wrong, we know it’s wrong, no one accept this (indistinct) so, they lit fire and as I said and the fire broke out and the smoke – sorry. After the police, the police and the staff lock us in and ran off away and left us just the crying men, women, children including me.

MS JOYCE The fire’s still going?

MS Nasser Yes, still going. After a while, the police came and they hosed(?) the men who lit the fire with the hot and cold water on their back, the back of the men who lit the fire, to – to control them and arrested them and then bashed them and arrested them and go to – to the prison. So, after that we stayed two or three days without food and water until they fixed the restaurant, so this is – – –

MS JOYCE No food or water?

MS Nasser Yeah, two days I think, two days without food and water.

MS JOYCE Was it very hot?

MS Nasser Very hot, very hard.

MS JOYCE Your rooms were burnt, did you have beds or?

MS Nasser Yeah.

MS JOYCE You did have a bed?

MS Nasser Not my room but many rooms (indistinct) bed.

MS JOYCE But no food and water?

MS Nasser Yeah, like a punishment for us. When they punished, the punishment for all of us.

MS JOYCE Everyone was punished?

MS Nasser Everyone in the detention, yes.

MS JOYCE So, that’s still a very strong memory for you?

MS Nasser Yeah, strong memory, yeah. I can’t forget it.

MS JOYCE Are there any other strong memories you’d like to share with us?

MS Nasser Yeah, similar, similar this story.

MS JOYCE Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Woomera that you haven’t shared so far?

MS Nasser Yeah, terrible life, hard life. Unknown future but I’m lucky you know just to stay for three months and 20 days, from there released and come to Melbourne.

MS JOYCE So, when you left Woomera you came to Melbourne and what has your life been like since leaving detention, Farrah?

MS Nasser There’s no comparative between life in detention centre and life outside detention, like between heaven and hell.

MS JOYCE It’s like?

MS Nasser Like heaven and hell.

MS JOYCE Like heaven and hell?

MS Nasser Yeah.

MS JOYCE Very different.

MS Nasser Very different, yeah, like it’s very nice, people they so beautiful, helpful, very kind. (Indistinct) many Australian friends, I want to take on to study English to improve my language, yes it’s very nice.

MS JOYCE So, who has assisted you since coming out of detention?

MS Nasser The Foundation House for Survivors of Torture, especially Dr Rosemary Schwarz(?), Therese (Indistinct) sorry – they assist me a lot. The physiotherapist(?) (indistinct).

MS JOYCE Right, so what’s the best thing about your new life in Australia?

MS Nasser Is everything is good and I found myself – I found myself in Australia, really I found myself even though I – I am rich – I was rich in Iraq, you know Iraq is a very rich country but I live (indistinct) – I found myself in Australia.

MS JOYCE Can you explain that a little bit, about what finding yourself is like, what that means for you?

MS Nasser Yes, as a human being. We treated here in Australia as a human being, we have the right to say, to speak, to write, to do what we want to do. Not in Iraq, we can’t do anything, we’re afraid even from our children (indistinct) is at school, we can’t say anything against the regime or family (indistinct).

MS JOYCE Is there anything else you’d like to say about life now in Australia after detention?

MS Nasser I happy with my son, my son is working, he completed high school and now he’s working. My son’s happy, I came to Australia to save my – the reason I came to Australia to save my son – just worried about my – my daughter in Iran with her husband, he is still just (indistinct) after Saddam collapsed.


MS Nasser Now she live in Iran, terrible life.

MS JOYCE Terrible life?

MS Nasser Illegally, yeah, they live illegally.

MS JOYCE M’mm. Are you able to have contact with her?

MS Nasser Yeah.

MS JOYCE I think Farrah when we finish, you have two photo’s you’d like to show. Before we do that, is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

MS Nasser I just thanking (indistinct), thank the Australian Government because I – I will become Australian citizenship, I will receive next Monday (indistinct) I will receive the citizenship.

MS JOYCE Well thank you for coming to Australia (indistinct) – – –

MS Nasser (Indistinct), thank you.

MS JOYCE Would you like to show the – – –

MS Nasser And thanks for everybody who assist me.

MS JOYCE We appreciate you telling your story and thank you for that.

MS Nasser Thank you.

MS JOYCE Would you like to show the pictures now (indistinct)?

MS Nasser (Indistinct)

MS JOYCE It is wonderful you have that photo.

MS Nasser Yes.

SPEAKER Okay, I’m recording.

MS JOYCE Farrah you’re holding a special photo, can you tell us about the photo?

MS Nasser This is my husband’s photo, this is the only one I have. It was very small, but my son make it bigger.

MS JOYCE That’s good – and his name?

MS Nasser Abdullah.

MS JOYCE Abdullah and you’ve told us what happened to Abdullah.

MS Nasser Yes.

MS JOYCE Thank you for showing us that beautiful photo, do you have another photo you want to show?

MS Nasser This is my son’s photo.

MS JOYCE And he’s name is?

MS Nasser His name is Kavar(?).

MS JOYCE His name is Kavar.

MS Nasser (Indistinct words) Australian.

MS JOYCE Yes, that’s good. Thank you Farrah. Thinking about the photos Farrah, I’m wondering if you lost anything in the fire at Woomera, any of your belongings?

MS Nasser Yeah, I lost some photo, special photo.

MS JOYCE What were the special photos you lost in the fire?

MS Nasser My daughter’s photo, yeah. My husband photo, there were some relative photo. Some money in my pocket, yeah.

MS JOYCE That must be very hard, did you lose anything else or clothes or papers or books?

MS Nasser No problem, for the clothes.

MS JOYCE What’s that?

MS Nasser No problem for the clothes, (indistinct) for money but the pictures.

MS JOYCE The photos?

MS Nasser Yeah, (indistinct).

MS JOYCE Can’t replace them.

MS Nasser Yeah, you can’t replace them.

MS JOYCE So, that was an added suffering for you?

MS Nasser Yes.

MS JOYCE Thank you for telling us about that.

– – –

Posted in 2001, Detainee, Iraq, Woomera