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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Darkest Before The Dawn

John and I met, in all places, in a nightclub.

A few days later over coffee, John told me of his situation: he was an asylum seeker in community detention with no working rights.
John had been forced to leave his home and family in Nigeria nearly four years earlier. Even though the civil war had ended, the unstable and volatile political situation continued to take thousands of lives and threaten the country’s stability. Several attempts had been made on John’s life and he finally had no choice but to flee, leaving behind everything he knew and loved: his career, his community, his family, and his future. He had his life, but had lost everything else. 

By the time we met, John had traveled secretly through five countries in Africa and Asia finally seeking political asylum in Australia. He had been waiting in my country for nearly two years.  Two years with no resolution to his situation?  I was stunned!  John was sure his visa was about to be granted.  The more he told me, the less confident I felt this visa was arriving any time soon.  His English comprehension and speaking deteriorated as he told his traumatic story: this was a man under a lot of stress and I saw immediately this was part of the problem.

I offered to help.  Gradually, our relationship changed. As I delved into the history of his life, I learned more about this man.  I was impressed with his integrity, his love for his children and his fervent desire to just live a normal life after over five years of wandering the world trying to find a safe haven.  I read the Refugee Review Tribunal Decision Record.  Who was this man of whom they spoke?  It certainly wasn’t the man I was learning about.
With hindsight, I don’t think there was any doubt we were attracted to each other from the start.  John was under strict medical instructions not to form a relationship.  There is no doubt being an asylum seeker is an emotionally and psychologically dangerous and damaging place to live.  In addition, John was dealing with the relatively recent break-down of his marriage; something he had not wanted, yet he understood his ex-wife’s position.  He’d been gone too long.  Due to his cultural values, John could not enter into a formal relationship until, I quote: “I get my visa, can get a job and feel like a man again. It is very important that I be able to provide.”  We were by now in a relationship; we just didn’t admit it – to ourselves or anyone else!  

I discovered John was on a “removal pathway”.  Despite my best efforts, I was unsuccessful in preventing his deportation from Australia on Monday, April 12, 2010.  When John was placed back in detention, I felt like I am sure many girlfriends have felt in the past when war was declared and their soldier boyfriends were notified of being shipped out. We didn’t even get to say goodbye, but we were not giving up.  The government might be against us, but I believed justice would win in the end.
In May I flew to Nigeria and we married.  In June we lodged our partner visa application. For months I lived every day not knowing if I would wake up a widow, yet it seemed no-one in officialdom cared.
In November I was personally handed the visa denial, and was told,
“You can appeal.”

By this stage I was ill.  We moved John to Qatar for safety.  I felt hopeless, but remember John saying to me, “I know you think this is a hard time, but for me it is much better than ever before, because now I can call my children every day.  I know where they are”. We were on the home stretch. 

With the invaluable assistance of our legal team, we won the appeal in February 2011. John and our four children came home on June 3, 2011.  John had left when our youngest was two, she is now nine.  
Yes, there are cultural differences: we simply talk them through.  

John has just completed a course in Landscape Design and is looking for an adult apprenticeship.  The children are all doing well in school, our eldest particularly well.  We’d love a romantic weekend away, but a mountain of school books and uniforms came first!  We will wait.
John is a wonderful husband and father.  He is my best friend.  We are in love.

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