For Those Who've Come Across The Seas

Stu Nettle
Surfpolitik

Riz Wakil is not a local here.

Riz Wakil is, in the surfers parlance, a blow-in. In his case the term is literal, as ten years ago Riz left his homeland and sailed here. Riz Wakil is a boat person.

He also owns a printing business in Sydney that employs three people, has a wife and two daughters (one just six days old), and soon he will receive a surfing lesson by the man who has vowed to 'turn the boats back', the opposition leader, Tony Abbott.

The surfing lesson was planned by community action group, GetUp!, when Abbott recently auctioned off his surfing services to charity. GetUp! raised $16,100 and put forth their candidate, Riz, for the lesson. I spoke to him at his workplace in the week leading up to the election.

Swellnet: Where are you originally from, Riz?
Riz Wakil: I'm from Afghanistan. Ethnically I'm Hazara. Hazara's are one of the minorities in Afghanistan and we are located in central Afghanistan. We don't have any borders with neighbouring countries...no coastlines either. I grew up there until 1999. That was the year that my father decided that it wasn't safe for me and he organised for me to leave Afghanistan.

Why wasn't it safe?
At that time the Taliban were controlling most of Afghanistan. There was a genocide against the Hazar population. We believe that 62% of our population has been killed in a systematic genocide.

I was 18 when my father decided it wasn't safe for me. At that time the Taliban was looking for young males to fight on their side so I did not have much option. I either had to go and fight alongside them or against them, and my father decided it was not safe for me to live in Afghanistan anymore.

What did you know about Australia?
To be very honest I'd never heard of Australia. My father organised the trip for me and we had some family friends in Denmark that promised to look after me. So my father was planning to send me to Europe and I'd make my way to Denmark. So when I was in Pakistan I was still under the impression that I was going to Denmark. But down the track something changed. Getting into Pakistan was easy but to get out you need travel documents. A passport was provided and my travel documents took me to Indonesia. It was there that I first heard about Australia.

(At this point of the interview we were interupted by one of Riz' customers. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the local Liberal candidate picking up a job - promotional merchandise to be used at the election this weekend)

We got here to Australia on the 5th Novemeber 1999. That was when our boat was intercepted at Ashmore Reef. We were then towed from there to Broome and put into Curtin detention centre.

How many people were on the boat?
73 people including myself. The majority were Afghani's, with ten Iraqi's, including one whole family. When our boat was intercepted we were very happy because when we were in Indonesia we heard a lot of people had lost their lives making the journey to Australia, and the fishing boat we were on was leaking. It was very scary. When we got to Australian shores we were very, very happy.

When we got to the detention centre it was a very good sense of security. Compared to what we were fleeing there was no comparison. We didn't have any fear that someone would bomb us tomorrow, or this evening something horrible would happen to us or our family.

Problems started down the track. After spending a couple of months in the detention centre people started getting desperate because they were not getting any information on how long they would be in the detention centre. Then people started to go on hunger strikes and sew their lips together. People were trying to commit suicide, and people were having mental health issues because of the long term detention.

At that stage I just knew I had to do something to keep myself busy otherwise the circumstance would effect me as well. So, what I did was offer my assistance to keep myself busy in the kitchen preparing food for the detainees. I was given the opportunity to help the staff. It was a desperate attempt to keep myself busy.

At one stage there was a big demand from the detainees that we should have English classes. Because a lot of people began to be recognised as refugees and granted temporary protection visas so they felt they had to improve their communication skills while they had the time and opportunity inside the detention centre.

Why didn't you apply for citizenship or even a temporary protection visa in Aghanistan?
Unfortunately things are not as easy as some people think that they are. There is no processing centre in Afghanistan so there is no queue. Also, there is no processing centre in Pakistan, or Iran, or Iraq. In all these troubled part of the world there is no queue to join.

I used to get very upset when people asked me this question and when people called me a queue jumper. But now I think that they just dont know. They don't know the reality on the ground. I explain it like this - if a house is on fire, the fire brigade do not ask people to line up in a queue and wait for their turn to come out through the door. They tell people to smash a window or break down a wall to get away from the fire. That's exactly the same scenario as us. People who are desperate they dont have anywhere to go. The so-called queue...it does not exist. It does not exist in Afghanistan. That's the reality about the queue.

Myself, like others, deperately needed protection to live a life of freedom. That's the case with the majority of boat people.

Once your refugee status was approved how did you set about finding work?
When I tell you that people in the detention centre put their jobs at risk to help us it is true. Some people used to bring us books to learn English, or anything they thought would help us to get on our feet in the community quicker. I am very thankful to those people who helped us.

My first job was in a shoe factory as a process worker. I used to cut the soles of the shoes. I worked there for six months before I got an opportunity to work with a printing company in Granville. I told the guy who owned the company, 'I'm from this background. I don't know anything'. But he came from Lebanon himself, he was an immigrant so maybe he felt something toward me? He helped me a lot and I worked with him for nine years before opening my own business just before Christmas last year.

And now you're lined up to receive a surfing lesson from Tony Abbott, are you looking forward to that?
Well...the surfing lesson...I've never surfed before so hopefully I won't drown.[laughs]

Can you swim?
Yes, I do swim. I do swimming in swimming pool but I've only been in the sea a couple of times and I dont think I'm very good at it.

What do you plan to say to Mr Abbott?
The idea is to talk to him about the other side of the picture. To try to explain the situation and the circumstance which drives these people to leave their loved ones, their families, their kids, their parents behind and risk their life to come to Australia.

The Howard government had the toughest policies against asylum seekers in the world, yet still it did not discourage people to come to Australia. No matter what they will come. And Tony Abbott is now promising to go and act like a cowboy with his tough policies. So I thought it was a good idea to go and talk to him about how I was forced to flee Afghanistan and I am hoping to be able to get him to change his postion.

What if, God forbid, Julia Gillard was a surfer and you were to receive a lesson from her, what would you say to her?
Exactly the same thing. Neither side of politics see the refugee situation as a humanitarian problem, or even a human issue. They just look at it as a political opportunity where they can press this panic button and they can scare people. Although boat arrivals are less than 1.5% of refugee arrivals in Australia - and Julia Gillard acknowleges that - but still they are more than happy to involve themselves in this boat people bashing in an election year to try to scare people.

The refugee issue has lost it's human face. Both sides are in a race to the bottom. I believe there are real alternatives. You dont have to lock up people. You dont have to spend this ridculous amount of money to lock these people up in desert camps.

There aren't that many of us. Australian people have dealt with the flow of refugees in the past. After the Second World War many refugees came. Then after the Vietnam war many Vietnamese came and Australians treated them very respectfully. We just want the same respect.

Refugee Mythbusting

Postscript: Riz got to his feet first time...

Comments

nope's picture
nope's picture
nope Wednesday, 18 Aug 2010 at 6:23pm

good points! dont listen to the pollies people!!! dont be tricked into taking 1 of 2 sides. you dont have a choice on election day. sad but true.

clif's picture
clif's picture
clif Wednesday, 18 Aug 2010 at 9:46pm

First class article, Stu. So happy Riz and his family are here and safe.

rubber-bob's picture
rubber-bob's picture
rubber-bob Wednesday, 18 Aug 2010 at 10:05pm

Thankyou Stu! Love this site!

brendo's picture
brendo's picture
brendo Wednesday, 18 Aug 2010 at 11:19pm

go Riz !! Came with nothing, no English, now runs a business. He could teach some of our homegrown bludgers a thing or two about getting off your arse and making a contribution to society !!!

atticus's picture
atticus's picture
atticus Thursday, 19 Aug 2010 at 12:09am

Of course he's not a local! You've only gotta look at the photo to see that.

I mean, who carries their surfboard with the wax inwards?

dan_b's picture
dan_b's picture
dan_b Thursday, 19 Aug 2010 at 10:39am

This is one of the best things I've read recently about refugees and "boat people". I really hope the nation doesn't buy abbot's line about "stopping" the boats on Saturday...

buddwha's picture
buddwha's picture
buddwha Thursday, 19 Aug 2010 at 11:19pm

I think the majority of Aussies feel compassion towards the plight of the boat people. Unfortunately these 2 politicians have bought into the feelings and emotion of a loud and out of touch minority. Great story Riz. A real emotional winner to kick start the week end...

oldsalt's picture
oldsalt's picture
oldsalt Friday, 20 Aug 2010 at 8:44am

great article, great person, very happy for Riz and his family. All the best to him, his family and new business, good on ya mate!!!

daveozz's picture
daveozz's picture
daveozz Sunday, 22 Aug 2010 at 11:59am

This guy is a liar. He is a queue jumper. He should have lodged his application for permanent residence at the Australian Embassy in Pakistan. We have one Embassy and one Consulate in pakistan. Do not believe him when he says there were no queues to join. He lies! He came to Australia by boat as he refused to apply for immigration like everyone else. The british, the Poles, The Germans, The Italians all lined up. For some reason - he was above them. Shame on you!

biggles's picture
biggles's picture
biggles Sunday, 22 Aug 2010 at 12:49pm

sad to hear this but there are millions also under this situations. if aus and usa set up a processing, those talibans may plant bombs similar to those iraqi recruits queing up at the processing centre.

but quite a number of afghan TRIBAL warlords are doing very well. according to aus newspaper, they receive monwy from aus and usa to protect the roads but in order to get more, they act as talibans

huey01's picture
huey01's picture
huey01 Sunday, 22 Aug 2010 at 1:36pm

Daveozz your ignorance is so sad. Yes there was an Embassy in Pakistan to apply for refugee visa (by the way applications are no longer accepted there) but be realistic these people live in a remote part of the country. They have no education and therefore could not even begin to be aware of how to apply yet alone be capable of filling out the forms ( I'm not sure how you would expect them to even get a form - no internet / phone or mail service . As Riz said he had never even heard of Australia.

tam11's picture
tam11's picture
tam11 Sunday, 22 Aug 2010 at 3:57pm

great article! it really is good to hear the other side of the story. Daveozz you douche bag... didnt you read the article? The British, Ples and Germans waited in line bc (using Riz's metaphor) their house wasnt on fire. you cant compare their situation to that of the afghans. how long would u wait in a queue if your life were in danger, you ignorant little man?

santiago's picture
santiago's picture
santiago Sunday, 22 Aug 2010 at 7:50pm

Thanks Stu and Riz for the wonderful article.We should have more of this to see the other side of the issue. Frankly speaking,what we see and read everyday are stories of refugees especially from Sudan and other African countries who are mostly liability to the government and has no respect whatsoever to the values that we believe and live for as Australian.

atticus's picture
atticus's picture
atticus Monday, 23 Aug 2010 at 5:07am

What a sad and miserable human being Daveozz is. Pathetic is too good a word.

phil-collins's picture
phil-collins's picture
phil-collins Wednesday, 25 Aug 2010 at 1:15pm

Excellent Stu hats off!

d_tached's picture
d_tached's picture
d_tached Friday, 27 Aug 2010 at 1:14am

DaveOzz.... your ignorance is apparent.
Have you been to Central Asia or the SubContinent?

wato75's picture
wato75's picture
wato75 Tuesday, 7 Sep 2010 at 9:24am

his bro's back home are blowing up our bro's abroad. this is not a dig at him but more out our government for not bringing our boys home and getting involved in a dirty war that has nothing to do with us and has just put targets on all of our heads, Remember veitnam? remember bali?? its all bullshit

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 6 May 2011 at 10:46pm

I've just heard on the radio that Riz is redeeming his surfing lesson with Tony Abbott today. There are some great waves about in Sydney so keep an eye out for an extremely stoked Aussie/Afghani having his first ever surf.

Go Riz!

ACB__'s picture
ACB__'s picture
ACB__ Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 at 10:05am

Great Read. Thanks Stu.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 at 10:38am

Cheers ACB, I'd almost forgotten about this interview, which is kinda odd because it was one of the more satisfying interviews I'd ever conducted. He really was a marvel, old Riz. The last I heard of him was in this short article by Tim Elliott: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/from-refugee-to-businessman-a-success-story-20130721-2qcqq.html

wellymon's picture
wellymon's picture
wellymon Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 at 5:26pm

A few good ones out this week Stu, amazing how energy flows from a great surf.

Is Tony Abbott taking the surf lesson or paying for it...?
If he's the instructor GGF'ed, would not of had one iota he surfed. Don't surfers in general kind of stay away from budgie smugglers?
Speaking of iota! an extremely small amount, thats what will become of his budgie it's that cold down there.

I think Craig put a good link to a similar story in another thread, took me awhile to read but interesting the way their journey evolves and ends.

Daveozz, oh well your house is on fire now just get a ladder and climb closer to the ceiling and wait for Mr fireman to come and save you:(

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 at 5:32pm

This articles a few years old Welly, but is still if not more relevant today.

And yeah, there's the link to that other article: https://www.swellnet.com/forums/politico/39451

ACB__'s picture
ACB__'s picture
ACB__ Friday, 21 Mar 2014 at 9:51am

I was just having a scroll through heaps of old interviews, I think yerh its as relevant as ever now considering there are still huge amounts of problems with your detention systems. I think it's horrible not knowing when you're going to be released, mentally eternal imprisonment.

so, bump,bump,bump.

silicun's picture
silicun's picture
silicun Friday, 21 Mar 2014 at 12:34pm

Good on you Stu, this article is a great perspective to the issue of refuge. I will point out an error in Riz's thinking. The Vietnamese were not treated with respect when they sought refuge in Australia. Thankfully at the time a genuine statesmen was Prime Minister in Malcom Fraser who fought the politics at the time to expedite the entry of large numbers of truly desperate people - a great moment in Australian politics. Unfortunately the public were not so gracious and Vietnamese suffered the same type of myopic racism that the Italians and Germans did and that people form the middle east, Sri Lanka and Africa do now days, at the hands of the narrow minded likes of Daveozz. The sad thing is politics lowers itself to this type of rhetoric perpetuating ridiculous notions like "queue jumping". Davozz there's no point working your own hatred up listening to the politician's and shock jock's they are using the situation to score points for their own agenda, your better of looking into these cultures and the issues surrounding immigration and refuge a better understanding will remove your anger and hatred. Consider yourself privileged in the fact that you were born in Australia - this doesnt give you the birthright to shit on people who were born elsewhere.

Fozza's picture
Fozza's picture
Fozza Tuesday, 6 Nov 2018 at 11:18am

This is one of the best reads I've encountered on this site - thank you for the good work.