$227,000 bill for detainee

BEWILDERED: Ali Bakhtiarvandi, who now calls Ballarat home, faces a $227,000 bill for the 4 1/2 years he was accommodated at detention centres in Australia.
BEWILDERED: Ali Bakhtiarvandi, who now calls Ballarat home, faces a $227,000 bill for the 4 1/2 years he was accommodated at detention centres in Australia.

ALI Bakhtiarvandi wishes he was more forgetful.
If his memory wasn't as good he might not remember the many killings he saw during the Iran-Iraq War, nor the experiences of his time at Australian detention centres.
But those memories remain clear and when he recalls the harsh treatment he received in Australia he wonders why he now has a $227,000 debt hanging over his head for the 4 1/2 years he was accommodated at Port Hedland,
Maribyrnong and Baxter.
Each month he pays the Federal Government $125.
Mr Bakhtiarvandi, who now calls Ballarat home, was born in the city of Abadan in south-east Iran in 1966.
From the city he could see across the border into Iraq. Life was relatively peaceful until 1980 when war started.
"More than 60 to 70 per cent of people in Iran at that time were busy with war and they forgot normal life," Mr Bakhtiarvandi said.
Iranian men were sent to join the military for two years from the age of 18. It was a fate Mr Bakhtiarvandi avoided until he was about 20 and as a penalty for avoiding conscription he spent a longer time in the army, where he
worked as a nurse.
He says working as a nurse suited him because it meant he did not have to carry or fire a gun.
"I see lots of people killed . . . young people, babies, pregnant women," he said. "Two million people were killed in the conflict. It's not a small number. It's easy to say, but when you think about it it is not easy to hear."
He still has family in Iran including his mother, four sisters and two brothers.
They were complicated times, politically, and it was dangerous for Mr Bakhtiarvandi to remain in Iran.
He fled to Indonesia, found a smuggler willing to send him to Australia and landed with a boatload of other refugees on Ashmore Reef off Western Australia in June 2000.
After a short time in Darwin he was sent to Port Hedland Detention Centre where he says he spent a month in isolation. Finally he was interviewed by the Australian Federal Police and immigration officials over three hours.
They refused his case.
"It was very hard to understand why we have to stay there without any reason. We believe we are not criminal and not a danger to anyone in Australia," he said.
"They did not treat us very well. They treated us like the enemy."
He went on a hunger strike that lasted for 48 days, at which point he was shown a fax he was told had come from then Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock. He was told the fax said if he refused food doctors were authorised
to force feed him, which they did.
He was in Port Hedland for more than a year then transferred to Maribyrnong, where his spirits lifted. Detainees received visits from refugee supporters and lawyers who took an interest in their cases.
He spent more time at the Port Hedland police station in cold, dirty conditions. At Port Hedland he was told he could go to Baxter Detention Centre if he chose to. Perhaps it was a self-destructive bent or depression and a feeling
of helplessness, but something compelled him to choose Baxter.
After four months in Baxter he was sent to Darwin in August, 2004, where after an appearance in court he was given a visa, allowing him to stay in Australia permanently. He says he lost his mental and physical health while
in detention, then gained the bill after his release.
Home now is a modest unit in Ballarat.He works 40 hours a week at an agricultural chemical company. It is a physically demanding job but he says he is treated well.
"I am very happy with the people I am working with, they are very lovely people," he said. But he says the debt he owes is now a trap. If he leaves Australia to visit family he cannot return unless the bill is paid in full.
He says the bill represents the price the Australian Government has placed on freedom.