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My Desperate Journey with a Human People Smuggler - Barat Ali Batoor

July 31, 2017

Published on 30 Jul 2017

michaels presented FujiFilm Advocate Barat Ali Batoor as part of our Insight Lecture Series held during Melbourne's Photo Show on 22nd July.

Barat's family was driven out of Afghanistan during the civil war when most of his people were massacred. He returned to his ancestral country for the first time after September 11, 2001, when the Taliban regime was still in Kandahar, despite the United States-led campaign to oust them. After visiting the devastation and destruction of 23 years of war, Batoor decided to work for his country and to draw the world's attention to the plight of the Afghani people the problems facing the country.

Barat Ali Batoor is a multi award-winning photographer based in Melbourne. He was born in 1983, in a family that was driven out of Afghanistan during the civil war when most of his people were massacred. He returned to his ancestral country for the first time after September 11, 2001, when the Taliban regime was still in Kandahar, despite the United States-led campaign to oust them. After visiting the devastation and destruction of 23 years of war, Batoor decided to work for his country and to draw the world's attention to the plight of the Afghani people the problems facing the country. He chose photography as his medium of expression. 

Batoor started photography in 2002 and launched his first solo exhibition in 2007. His photographs were exhibited in the United States, Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Dubai, Australia, Pakistan, Italy, Japan, Switzerland and Afghanistan. His works have been published in magazines, newspapers and catalogues such as TED Gallery, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Stern, India Today, Afghan Scene, Risk Magazine, The Global Mail, The West Australian, Strategic Review and others. He participated in “Lahore Artist Residency” in Pakistan and was the 2009 recipient of a photography grant from New York’s Open Society Institute for the documentary project “Child Trafficking in Afghanistan/The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan”. At the Nikon-Walkley Awards in Australia in 2013, Batoor won Photo of the Year Award and was a winner in the Photo Essay category. He was also awarded the 2014 Communication for Social Change Award by the University of Queensland. 

Batoor does public speaking and he is an active advocate for refugees and human rights. He was a speaker at TEDx Sydney in 2014.

https://www.ted.com/talks/barat_ali_b...

Find Barat on:
https://www.facebook.com/bbatoor
http://www.batoor.com/

 

Introduction

(Barat Ali Batoor)

[Applause]

Good afternoon; thank you so much; thank you, Peter, and thanks for coming and joining me for the talk.

First of all, I want to excuse, as for an excuse, because I have a very bad cold, and like, I will try my best to speak well, but there might be some difficulty in between.

[Slide shows a white background and the words, “My Desperate Journey with a Human Smuggler”]

My Photography Began

As Peter introduced, I started photography in 2002… [Mic issues – he apologises]

But I’m kind of an accidental photographer.

I never thought that I will be a photographer or this will be my profession.

Since my childhood, I was always interested in theatre, modelling, and fashion.

So I wanted to be photographed, but I was living in a very small city.

I was born in a small city as a refugee; my parents fled Afghanistan because of the civil war and operation against my people.

So I belong to Hazara community of Afghanistan; who have long been persecuted and oppressed by the ruling class, or governments through all the years and centuries.

Sixty-three percent of the total population of my people was massacred brutally by the then-King (Abdur Rahman).

He built minarets with their skulls; he sold Hazar men and women into slavery; in bazaars of Kabul, Ghazni, and Kandahar; just in return of, like, a kilo or two kilos of wheat: That was the price for a Hazara.

Then after that, they snatched or occupied most of the lands that belonged to Hazaras and distributed them among their own people; and then heavy taxes were imposed on the Hazaras, on what little they had left.

So my parents, they also fled to… many, many people, many Hazaras - those who survived - they were trying to flee and they settled into neighbouring countries: Iran and Pakistan mostly.

So, my parents, they fled to Pakistan and they settled there.

They got married there and I was born in Pakistan and grew up, it’s called (Quetta)

It was in the city called (Quetta) which is neighbouring to Afghanistan and Iran’s border.

I grew up there; this is a very small city; not very advanced technologically, or from a development point of view.

So to become a model, or an actor and to get your photo shoot done, was kind of like a fancy dream that was almost impossible; but when the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers in the U.S. happened, many of the foreign journalists they poured into (Quetta) and Peshawar; which were the two major cities connecting to Afghanistan.

So, they couldn’t get into Afghanistan because of the Taliban; they were waiting to get in, well, when it is safe.

Interpreting

At that time, I was a teenager - only 17 or 18 years old - and I was, I just started learning English, and a friend of mine told me that there are many journalists and they are in need of interpreters; why don’t you go and give a try, so you might earn good money?

I went there; I tried my best to get a job, but it was really difficult for me because I was very young and most of the journalists couldn’t trust that I would able to help them; to show them around and to arrange meetings with important people; such as President Karzai was an unknown figure publicly at that time, and he was living in (Quetta) and so are the other ministers and a few other important people that, who became important in the interim government and after.

My First Camera

But after that, like I got a job, and I went to Afghanistan for the first time with the journalist from Sunday Telegraph, England; and that was my first job and I earned some money, and I bought my first camera.

So like after, looking at the devastation of my country; there was nothing, and like, standing in a complete building or undamaged structure in Afghanistan at that time; so I decided, like, I should express my view; what I want to say about my country - the place where I belong, that I had never been to - and it was going… it was supposed to be… become good.

And I decided to buy my first camera with the money that I earned from that job, and I bought my first camera, and then started doing photography.

So that was very accidental, and I didn’t have any guideline or mentorship.

So I started with some wedding photography, and at that time it was film; we were using film, and like, I was… it was very expensive, so I had to be very careful shooting, and then I got some jobs as a wedding photographer, and then was shooting on streets.

In 2005 I decided to go to Afghanistan and move permanently because I thought that it is safe enough to now go and live there.

I went to my birthplace… no, not my birthplace, the place of my mother’s birthplace, (Bamyan); which is the central Afghanistan.

[Slide shows a scene from a mountain village in the snow – a wall of orange mountains in the background with people walking with buckets in the snow]

It is famous for its giant Buddha statues; which were once stood there, and the tallest one was the world’s largest Buddha statue, and it was blown up by the Taliban in March 2001.

So I went there and I started working for an NGO which is now part of the UN - International Organization for Migration – and part time I was shooting the daily life of my people in Afghanistan, and liked to express and to see how the condition of people living in Afghanistan are.

For two years I worked in (Bamyan) and then when I moved to Kabul, I organized my first exhibition.

There I started working on different stories and looking at the poverty and the miseries of people living in the country.

I was so moved and I wanted to… I was learning and I wanted to work on longer term stories.

Dancing Boys

So, one of the stories that I picked up was the dancing boys of Afghanistan.

[Slide shows a young boy dressed in feminine clothing with makeup on, with a red frilled cloth wrapped around his hips – there are grown men dancing around him]

This is an appalling tradition in Afghanistan that young boys are often abducted, or bought from their poor parents by the warlords and powerful people, and they are put to work as sex slaves and dancers for those people.

So the warlords and the powerful people, they take these boys in their private parties and make them dance.

In some parts of Afghanistan this culture, it is also… kind of… it is, like, a symbol of status - some people, they feel very proud if they have a good-looking boy with them - and the boys are often, like, they are eight years old, up to like… they remain with these people until they get old; and ultimately, these boys they become pimps, or they will do the same things.

So the cycle runs.

Soros Foundation Grant & Photography

I applied for a grant to complete this project for the Soros Foundation - Open Society Institute documentary grant - in 2009; which I received, and I started working on this project.

Initially, I was thinking that it was, like, I knew that it was a very sensitive project that is to be done.

I knew the risks; I had the idea like it can take my life, but I was determined to do it because nobody worked on this story before.

It was widespread across Afghanistan, but nobody was really talking about it.

I was thinking, why nobody is talking about it, like, there is a big presence of foreign journalists - not only the locals - but nobody was talking about it, and I tried, I dared to do it, but it was then I faced the difficulties.

We had six months of time to complete our projects to submit it; for around, like, I started my research long before the grant started, and then when I was in the fifth month of the project, I got a call from my mentor -  (Yuri Kaserov), some of you might know his name, he works for the Times, part of new agency - and because I couldn’t reach these people, like, they were very hard to be reached, and, like, the warlords and the boys, they were not ready to be photographed; and it was, even I received some threats, and like people who were, who I was asking them, they were not interested to help me; or they were scared.

I asked the human rights organizations even and nobody was interested to help; but finally, I met this boy – (Shakur) -  he was a freelance dancer; he was kidnapped when he was 12; to another province and then he was kept in the custody of the warlord for five years, and he escaped from there, and came back to Kabul; but he was not accepted by his family, and the society; so he was compelled to start the same thing, which he was expert at now, as a freelancer.

So he helped me introduce to some of the boys and took me to a party to photography - which I completed.

So at the time, I was happy when I completed that I could complete the project; but it is safe now, I have done, and nothing happened - nothing serious happened.

Published In The Washington Post

But in 2012, when I was working for the US Embassy in Kabul, the bureau chief of Washington Post came to Kabul and I was introduced as an expert on this subject because I researched a lot and I was in contact with these people, and he interviewed me and asked me to provide my pictures to be published in The Washington Post.

I agreed and it was published in The Washington Post.

The day it was published, a few days later everything changed dramatically.

US Embassy sacked me because they asked, they said, like, I didn’t ask them to do an interview with for The Washington Post, which was not in our contract to do the same, because I was not their spokesperson.

And they were thinking, like, people in the government will think that America is behind this project, or supporting this, and soon after I started receiving death threats from people who were offended; and I was being surveillanced, like, I was because being stalked by unknown people, and they even came to my home.

My mother was very worried.

Afghanistan To Pakistan

So we left Afghanistan; we decided to leave immediately; leaving everything behind, and we got a taxi in the middle of the night and travelled back to Pakistan.

So in 2005, I left Pakistan at that time the situation in (Quetta) was better, good.

There were some incidents happened at that time, on the Hazaras; it was only two or three incidents - slightly better, but when in 2012, I went back to Pakistan, it was extremely dangerous place for the Hazaras; they were being targeted on daily basis; there were suicide attacks on them; they were, like, now they were “ghettoised” - so they were living in two small areas in (Quetta) city and every way, the entry into that area - which is covered, like, surrounded by mountains – there are check posts by military, army and paramilitary forces.

Check your cards for going in; it is like a border, but still, people are being killed.

I saw many people, the people I knew or I grew up with; many of them they got killed, or some of them they got injured.

[Slide shows a young man in Afghani clothing using a walker]

Started Taking Photos To Create

This guy, he was my schoolmate; he was in a soccer team of my school.

He got injured in a religious procession, like, the Shia Muslims they have in every year, and there was a suicide attack on the procession and he got injured, and he is disabled from the lower part, for the lifetime; so he can’t do anything; and when I went to (Quetta) and I started taking photos and, like, was, this was what I could do to raise something; I wanted to create something.

But my mother was very worried, like, because nobody was sure if going out in the morning; nobody was sure if they will come back alive, and there was… everybody was, at that time, were trying to leave Pakistan; the Hazaras.

So a lot of people smugglers were operating there.

[Slide shows a man lying back on a bed with pins in his right arm and his legs elevated and wrapped]

This guy, he is also, I have known him for, since my childhood; and he was… his van was ambushed -  the two parts that the Hazaras live, so the travel, it is nearly four or five kilometers long, and on that route their van was ambushed and everybody got killed, and he was the only one got injured.

But after I took this photo, after two or three months of that, like, he also died of his injuries.

People Smugglers

People smugglers were operating at that time; so there were many of them, some of them they were operating on route to Europe, and some Australia; my mother also (refers to me) I don’t want to see you get killed in front of me here; so you have to leave now; and I was the only sole breadwinner for my family.

So I also found a smuggler and paid him, and he arranged my trip to Thailand.

So I went to Thailand and they got a visa for me; so I went there and then from there, like, they guided me and handed me over to other smugglers.

[Slide shows image of a man standing behind a green bush, with a small dingy coming across a brown river]

So, in Thailand they arranged the trip to go to Malaysia; so the plan was to go to Malaysia and then Indonesia.

So, here you can see: This is the river, like, which divides Thailand and Malaysia; that is Malaysia, and here, where I’m standing, is Thailand.

So, this smuggler and that speedboat are coming to cross the border illegally into Malaysia.

When we crossed we were four people; I met the other guys once I get to the small town next to the Malaysian border, in Thailand.

So the trip was organized for four people and when we went to the other side there were two other smugglers were waiting for us - the Malaysian smugglers and with the Toyota Corolla car – and they took the seat, the back seats off, and we were sitting on the metal, on the metal, four of us; and from the beginning they told us, like, that we should keep our heads between our knees, and we shouldn’t look out.

So for five hours, five and a half hours, we went to Kuala Lumpur like that.

And then we were… in between we had a rest; it was a break for them, like, they were doing some kind of drugs; but we also, it was a small break; and then we started the journey again.

And in Kuala Lumpur we were handed over to another smuggler, who took us in Chinatown, in Kuala Lumpur, from there, and to house in an unknown place, we didn’t know.

And then we were locked up in that house for three days and nights.

Initially, when we went there, there were only three or four people, and then people kept coming and they were joining us.

[Slide shows a group of young men sleeping on a carpet in a bare room]

So, this is one of the rooms for that three days; we were there, like, I was taking photos.

And on the third day, when the smuggler came and said that the trip is ready and we have to be ready and to go and deposit our rest of the money; so we should go.

[Slide shows young men sitting cross legged on the floor – praying]

On the last day, people in this picture - our friends, like, those whom I met at that house - all gathered to pray for the safe journey because the next part of the journey was a boat trip, where we heard stories that many people drowned - from Malaysia to Indonesia.

Payment & The Journey

So, they were praying and then we started the journey; and there were instructions by the smugglers what should we do and where should we go, and he clearly instructed us that once we get to Indonesia, we have to pay 1000 dollars each to the smuggler we are meeting in Indonesia.

So we were 16 people; we paid $16,000 to the smuggler and he also instructed us that we had to go to hotel in Jakarta, because they will not ask for documentations, like, to hire or to rent a room.

Once we arrived in Indonesia, we didn’t know which place it was, but we were taken to a wooden house and first the smuggler, he collected the money that we were told to give - $16,000, American dollars - to the smuggler, and we were instructed to wait and rest for two hours, then we will be picked up.

In two vans we were picked up, and we travelled for 21 hours.

[Slide shows men sleeping in a van of some sort]

It was 16 of us - 21 hours; we were not allowed to go out of the vans, and even they were turning off the aircon off; the week it was extremely hot, and we were, like, the whole body was numb, like, sitting 21, continuously for 21 hours; and we travel to small another city where they arranged our trips - the flights to Jakarta - and airport security they were also involved; so we were clearly guided into the plane, and where we went and everybody passed away again.

[Slide shows the men sleeping on an aeroplane]

So, I took some last photos, and then we travelled to… we flew to Jakarta.

Arrived In Jakarta

And in Jakarta, as we were instructed, we went to the hotels - that same hotel that we were instructed by the smuggler in Malaysia - so they didn’t ask for documentation.

It seemed like when, once we hired the room, they were charging obviously a lot of money, and they were also scaring us - if we go out, so, we will be arrested by Indonesian police.

Then we realized that this hotel was probably used as a brothel or something; we stayed there the night and it was also… people were using this place because it was also closer to the United UNHCR’s office; so then, what the people, like, the asylum seekers they were doing.

So the next day they would go to the UN office early in the morning to get registered with the UN so they get asylum papers, and they will not be… they will be protected by the police.

So, they have that paper from the UN.

[Slide shows a man standing in the corridor of a hotel – red light surrounds him]

We stayed the night there and the next morning I took a taxi.

[Slide shows a man sitting with his wife and family – child on his lap]

I knew a guy who was in Indonesia before me, so a town outside of Jakarta, called (Bogor) - I called him and he was there, so

I joined him.

And here many asylum seekers from Iraq, Myanmar, Iran, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan; they were all there; and I joined my friends and, there I… it was my plan, like, while I’m travelling I should document my journey as well.

I was not sure if I will be allowed by the smugglers, but luckily, until this part, it was… there was no problem; I was not stopped.

Documenting With My Camera

And I started documenting the daily lives of asylum seekers in (Bogor).

I met my primary school teacher; the lady at the far end.

She was also there with her family in (Bogor).

Their claims were rejected once, and they were waiting to apply for another appeal.

And I also met other people; those who were waiting for their boats to get ready and to travel to Australia.

[Slide shows a man showering in an outside shower area]

It was a very difficult time; everybody was, like, in a very suspicious, their suspicious mode was turned on; nobody could… nobody was trusting another; like, they were thinking, like, doubting on each other, maybe like they are from immigration, or from police, or from smugglers.

Everybody wanted to stay away from these things; they shouldn’t be labelled either like the spy for smugglers, or not spy… spies for immigration, or worker for smugglers.

Like, if they are labelled and it’s proved to be, like, you have cooperated with the smugglers, then you could face charges for that.

And everybody wanted to… so it was really difficult to photograph people at that time; and nobody thought, like, was thinking, like, they were all very surprised, like, wondering why I’m doing this, as I am also an asylum seeker.

Like, they were all worried about themselves, but they… and I was taking photos; they were trying to arrange the trip and I was taking photos.

But I was also doing the same, like, I was in search of a people smuggler, like, who can arrange a trip so I can join.

The room that the guys who I joined in Bogor; it was seven people. Seven people - they were sharing a big bedroom with two queen-sized beds.

It was seven of them, and I also joined them; we were eight, living in that small room.

[Slide shows a man peering around a corner. There are photos of soccer players on the wall]

The Boat To Australia - Documented with My Camera

After few days, three of my roommates they got a call from the smuggler that their trip is ready for Australia, and one of the guy – Jafar - he was a very nice guy; he asked me, like, if you want I will also talk to the smuggler.

He’s from the same town as him.

So he will speak to him if I want to join them.

Then, I was, I don’t know, for some reason I was doubtful - I said, like, no I want to spend few days here before I make a wise decision.

They left for their perilous journey, and after few days of that; we heard that a distressed boat sank on route to Christmas Island.

Soon we found that it was the same boat that my roommates were on that; and then we got another news that the two other guys who were in our room, they the drowned; they were missing, and only one guy – Jafar - who offered me; he survived.

We were really sad and scared.

It was a difficult time, a situation, to make a decision.

Going back was not an option, and going forward was also very risky; both ways, there are chances to get killed, or to drown.

But it was… I decided finally that I will go.

I’ll go; I’ll take that risk; because if I reach, then I will be able to help my family.

If I go back, I’ll get killed by militants; those who are targeting Hazaras there, in the name of Islam, but…

And my family will be left alone, and they will be vulnerable in front of them.

So, I decided and I found a smuggler, and we all agreed to go with this guy, and he promised us that the boat that he has arranged is very good; is a cargo boat, and then in a good condition; so we all trusted.

And the deal I made with a smuggler that we are five or six people from one place; if you want us to go with you, and then I will take my camera with me. That was the deal that I made with him; and he said, he was very suspicious of me, he was thinking that maybe I am operating for either Australian immigration or Indonesian immigration, so he was doubting that I may tip off these security agencies; so, the trip can be unsuccessful.

But I promised that I will not take any photos until we are in the water.

That was agreed and we headed with them, and we got a call in the afternoon, and said, like, we have to immediately come to Jakarta, and we are ready to go.

[Slide shows a man lit by blue light, sitting outside in the night]

I and my friend (Majid), we went to the city and with other guys; they also followed us, and then we were taken in the night to an unknown place - we didn’t know the area - and on small speedboats, we were taken towards the main vessel.

I was on the last one and reached after leaving there, like, we soon, like, lost the main vessel.

So we kept searching for an hour and a half or something, to find the main vessel.

They were about to leave when we found them and we boarded them.

[Slide shows a group of young men standing below decks]

The first night and day went very smooth.

On the next day, like, it was daylight bright, we found that we were 93 - 93 - asylum seekers on that small fishing boat - it was not a cargo boat - small fishing boat, and everybody was instructed to go below the deck because we could be… if we are seen, then we could get arrested.

So, 93 people in a very small and congested place downstairs; was very difficult; everybody was getting sick, and there were also diesel tanks in there - very smelly there.

[Slide shows a group of men standing on the deck of a wooden boat, and some men are standing beneath decks, with their heads poking out of a wooden hold of sorts]

So, we were there, and people who were closer to the entrance they were taking turns to get out and get some fresh air.

I kept taking photos; going around and, like, the first day and night went smoothly.

And by the second night, the weather turned.

Our boat was floating on the water like a matchbox; we were in the middle of the Indian Ocean - I saw on the GPS, next to the captain - we were in the middle, so, Java/Indonesia was on the other side, and Christmas Island on the other.

So we were in right in the middle, and we were trying to reach, go towards the Christmas Island, but the boat was, like, uncontrollable.

The captain told a guy on the boat, who knew Bahasa; told him that, discuss with your friends, if you all want to go further I will take you, but nobody will survive; everybody will die.

But if we turn back, we might… there might be a small possibility of surviving; but going further, there is no way; everybody will die.

Because the further we went, the water got rougher, and then it was very bad.

[Slide shows a group of men in orange life vests and the sky is grey and the water is choppy and dark in the background]

Everybody was very scared, and, like, everybody was… I could hear, like, people were crying and praying for… they were recalling their loved ones.

It was a very terrible moment, and a time, like, still I think, when I recall that moment, it sees or it sounds like scenes from when you see those scary movies - like dramatic.

It was real, like, we were in that real situation.

We didn’t really… we didn’t have any hope that we will survive, but after travelling back for seven hours, and the steering at the end, like, it was working only one way - the other way wasn’t working.. the thing… the wheel.

Indonesia

And we reached… we saw an island and everybody got happy.

So, getting closer to the island, we… our boat crashed onto the rocks.

[Slide shows men hanging on to whatever they can find on the boat – bright orange life vests bright against a dark sky]

Like, it was…it also leaked in the bit in between on the second night, like, water was coming in faster, and we were bailing water with pots, with pots.

Like, one of the water pumps was not working.

[Slide shows very scared, wet men sitting in the boat with bright orange life vests on]

Our boat crashed onto the rocks and in… and we ended up into the jungle; and we spent two nights in the jungle, without food and water.

Then ultimately, we were seen by a tourist, like, group, and they inform the Indonesian police, and we were arrested and were taken to a detention centre in (Serang).

Detention Centre

In the detention centre, we were furtively strip searched by the Indonesian immigration.

[Slide shows men standing on the deck of a boat, waving their bright orange life vests at something out of frame]

So, the money, the shoes; everything and mobile, whatever they got, they took it from us.

My camera, like, I missed this bit that once we jumped into the water; my camera went into the water and, like, whatever I documented it seemed like it is gone.

I was really pissed off on that, rather than my failed journey.

Like, I said, what have I done?

This is… this shouldn’t have happened.

My Memory Card Was Blank

But I was really worried about that and I also asked one of the tourists, like, he had a camera, like, I said can I check my card in your camera?

And I inserted my card into his camera; it didn’t show anything, and I was very hopeless that I lost everything.

So, at the immigration detention centre, they took everything, and we were locked up into 3… 2 big holes; and the smaller one, the room; I was with seven other guys.

So we were locked up.

It was decided that we will run away.

I really did not want to end up in a detention centre with an uncertain time that how long we will be there, and that was not the plan to be there.

Like, I mean I never thought that I will be detained; I was born free and I wanted to be free.

Our Escape

So we waited until the night, and the next morning we kept looking at the guards; their movements; once they sat around the fire; around 3:00 a.m.

So we all woke up quickly and removed two glass slats from the window facing outside; so there was a small alleyway and the big wall, with the shards of glass on the top.

Our shoes were taken, so we were bare feet; so we removed two glass slats and I was the first one to go out of the window and took the bedsheet and the pillow, wrapped the bed sheet around my forearms and put the pillow on the shards of glass; we climbed the tree and jumped onto the other side.

And we made the group of two, two each of us; and then we escaped.

We didn’t have any money, and we got a taxi and told the taxi to take us to Jakarta; from there, as we didn’t have money, my friend - the guy who came with me - he had hidden some American dollars, but the taxi guy was not accepting that.

And I checked my pockets; I lost all my contacts because my mobile died in the water, but that was also taken by the immigration guys; so I checked… there were two business cards in my pocket, and one was from my friend who I attended a photography workshop in Thailand with, and the other was a journalist from the Global Mail from Sydney, and he met just before… one day before the trip.

He wanted to do an interview, but I… everybody was avoiding to speak to media because they were scared that they will be punished for speaking to media about the situation; because of the Australian government, it was popular, like, it was very… among people, like, they said, like, they don’t like, so you will use be punished for that.

So we travel; I met this guy one day before, and he wanted to do an interview with me, but I said, I will… I didn’t tell him that I’m leaving… I’m meeting the smuggler on the next street, like, where I was meeting him, and we left the other day; but I had this, his mobile number on the card.

First I tried my friend; she… her for her mobile phone was off, she was Indonesian, and the second number was from this guy and I called him; he didn’t pick up.

The second time I tried, he woke up - 5 a.m. in the morning - and he said… I introduced myself, no this is me, Batoor, do you remember we met a few days ago?

He said, yeah, what happened?

I said, like, I was on the boat and our boat journey failed, and we were about to die and we were arrested.

So I escaped from the detent centre!

Can you please help us? Can you pay for our taxi, for we come to Jakarta?

And he said he was not sure, and he agreed; and he didn’t give us his home address, but he said, like, I will come to this place; he was also scared, and he paid for our taxi; he took us to his home.

And we had a little bit of rest, and then went for breakfast; and he did all this story - a piece on the Global Mail for that day, that what has happened.

So, unfortunately, Global Mail is not active anymore, you can’t see, but there was this story that they broke.

My Memory Card Survived

And that day I also checked my friend’s house, that luckily, my memory card survived, and the pictures that you can see now.

So, they are from the same camera that which died in the sea!

And, then, I was… we went back to Bogor, to our normal life, and I was in this between, from the beginning I was in touch with my mentor, Tim Page, who was a veteran renowned photojournalist for his work from Vietnam and Cambodian war.

So they strictly advised me not to take any other boat and not to risk my life.

So, and they told about my story to SBS; and Mark Davis from SBS (Dateline), he travelled to Indonesia and did a half an hour documentary about my journey; because this was the first time in Australian history that anyone has documented the boat journey of asylum seekers.

You all must have heard about the journey, that how it is in writing, but it was the first time being visualized.

Resettled In Australia

So ultimately, this story got popular and many of my friends at the UN and the US Embassy and the journalists; they got they got to know… they came to know about my situation and they started helping me.

So my case was processed through UNHCR fast, and I was resettled in Australia in 2013.

Awards

In 2013, when I came here, my story won two Walkley Awards; photo of the year, and the photo he said, and I was invited to speak at Ted; and then, since then, I had been speaking publicly.

I was also honoured to be sponsored by Fuji; that I have been using the camera - Fuji X100s - which I really love.

I love the square photos!

Which I shoot mostly with this little toy - it is very handy and small.

I was also awarded by the University of Queensland for the award called Communication for Social Change award, and since then I’m active and I have been advocating for refugees and what they are… from what circumstances they come, and what do they face; and how they are represented here.

I also travelled back to Pakistan.

Now, I’m making a feature film about my journey and the reasons that why people flee their countries on firsthand.

What makes them risk their lives?

They know that it is 99% death; as you are on board, you board that leaky boat, old fishing boats, it is 99% death.

Like, they are overloaded most of the time by the smugglers.

Our Feature Film

I have done… I have completed that feature film and that is now to be released soon.

I will show you a promo of that.

[Slide shows video with the title “Batoor: A refugee journey” and Arabic music and singing in the background. The camera shows flags, a woman in hijab, some men sitting in a graveyard, and Barat praying. Barat narrates about his journey as a refugee, along with information and interviews with various people about the terror and discrimination against the Hazaras, including bombings and harassment in their small community of survivors]

[Music]

“Our community is under siege and they live in constant fear. Many of my people are desperate to find a way out, but hope is fading. Their story is my story.”

[Music]

So this is…

[Applause]

Thank you.

This is the first trailer of the film and it is about to be released.

Thank you so much; and I’m looking forward to getting the new Fuji camera - the square one, the GFX - to play with that!

And to be determined, and keep documenting social issues; not only about my people; any social issues I am determined to work on.

I hope I’ll get the strength.

Thank you so much.

[Applause]