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Traditional Hazara handkerchief belonging to Afghan asylum seeker Hedayat Osyan, 2006

Date: 2006
Overall: 460 x 460 mm, 31 g
Medium: Cotton
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Hedayat Osyan
Object Name: Handkerchief
Object No: 00026926

User Terms

    This traditional Hazara blue cotton embroidered handkerchief belonged to Afghan asylum seeker Hedayat Osyan, who arrived in Australia on an Indonesian fishing boat in 2009.
    SignificanceThis modest handkerchief constitutes an extremely rare and poignant representation of a young Afghani asylum seeker’s journey to Australia. In June 2009 17-year-old Hedayat Osyan escaped ethnic persecution in Afghanistan and travelled by plane to Malaysia and then by boat to Indonesia. In December 2009 he boarded a fishing boat from Indonesia bound for Christmas Island with nothing but the clothes on his back, a ring given to him by his mother and this traditional Hazara handkerchief made by his younger sister. Hedayat carried the handkerchief in his pants pocket during his voyage to Australia and it is one of few items representing tangible links to his family and homeland. The handkerchief has significant interpretive and display potential, and provides a personal, human dimension to a very divisive political debate about how to deal with asylum seekers who arrive in Australia on unauthorised voyages.
    HistoryHedayat Osyan

    Hedayat Osyan was born in 1992 in Ghazni province in central Afghanistan. In 2006 Hedayat’s father, a high school teacher, was kidnapped by the Taliban Islamic fundamentalist movement and disappeared. Hedayat was forced to flee Afghanistan to escape persecution by the Taliban and Mujahadeen (guerrilla fighters).

    In 2009 he travelled to the Afghan capital Kabul and enlisted a people smuggler to obtain a false passport. In June 2009 he travelled by plane from Kabul to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. After spending one week in Kuala Lumpur, Hedayat travelled with a group of about 15 asylum seekers by boat to Medan, Indonesia. The journey took three days.

    Upon arrival in Medan the group was arrested as they did not have the documents to enter Indonesia. They were put in gaol for about one month before they managed to escape. They went to the Indonesian capital Jakarta, where Hedayat spent about six months, before he managed to secure US$7,000 from friends in Pakistan to pay for the boat journey to Australia.

    In December 2009 the group of 45 asylum seekers embarked from Mataram on an old fishing boat crewed by two Indonesian fishermen. After seven days at sea the boat’s engine failed and it began to sink in international waters. The group was rescued by the Royal Australian Navy and taken to Christmas Island, where Hedayat was detained for two months before being relocated to Melbourne. He received a permanent visa after one month in a detention centre in Melbourne and in 2010 moved to Sydney to live with his uncle, who arrived by boat in 2000/1.

    Hedayat is currently completing his Higher School Certificate in West Ryde and hopes to study Asia Pacific studies at university in 2013. He also hopes to help his mother and two younger siblings who are still living illegally in Pakistan.

    Hedayat says, ‘When I was in Afghanistan I hadn’t this freedom and in here I have everything. There’s massive opportunity for every people, there’s equality, there’s freedom and the life is really easy here. I’m really happy and I really appreciate the Australian Government, the Australian people who saved my life and I’m always trying very hard to give something back to Australian people, that’s my responsibility because they saved my life’.

    Unauthorised boat arrivals

    Since the era of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s, the Australian Government has taken determined steps to deter refugees from arriving in Australia without authorisation.

    The first wave of boat people arrived in Australia between 1976 and 1981, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. They arrived at a time of dramatic social upheaval in Australia, with spirited public debate about our involvement in the Vietnam War, the new concept of multiculturalism, the breaking of many of Australia's traditional ties with Britain, and the forging of new links with Asia. Despite some opposition from the wider community, the relaxation of immigration restrictions meant that most of the 2,059 refugees were allowed to stay.

    The second wave of boat people arrived mostly from Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China between 1989 and 1998. On average 300 people arrived per year.

    Since 1999 increasing numbers of asylum seekers fleeing conflict in the Middle East have arrived in Australia. They are distinct from the previous two waves of boat people in that they usually involve larger numbers of arrivals and their passage is organised by people smugglers. During the peak period between 1999 and 2001, several thousand asylum seekers arrived per year. Numbers decreased dramatically with the introduction of the Howard Liberal Government’s Pacific Solution (2001-2008), which aimed to prevent refugees from reaching Australian territory, where they could legally claim asylum, to detain and process them offshore in cooperating countries such as Nauru.

    Since 2009 more than 19,000 people have arrived in Australia on more than 330 boats. In August 2012 the Australian Senate passed legislation to allow the offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island under the current Gillard Labor Government.

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