BOOK REVIEW: Under the Same Sky by Mojgan Shamsalipoor & Milad Jafari with James Knight

BOOK REVIEW: Under the Same Sky by Mojgan Shamsalipoor & Milad Jafari with James Knight

Hachette Australia
April 2017
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction/Biographies & True Stories

8/10

We all live under the same sky. Or do we? All of us may be born human, but our lives are determined by the genetic lottery of our birth – where we’re born, in what era, and to whom. Stories like Under the Same Sky are important because they cover and delve more deeply into the complex issue of asylum seekers and immigration, especially in this post 9-11 world where “national security” is a high priority on most political agendas. Under the Same Sky does not offer any easy solutions to the problem, but it is an emotionally-wrought, interesting and educational look at two individuals’ intriguing stories.

Australian author James Knight is no stranger to writing about refugees, having previously written the book, The Dragon’s Journey about a Vietnamese boat person named Duy Long Nguyen. In Under the Same Sky, Knight is paired with young married couple Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari. The pair were originally born in Iran, arrived separately to Australia by boat where they eventually met and fell in love. For both of these people the journey from Indonesia was a long and treacherous one.

I was thinking: That is not going to take us to Australia. That is impossible. Then I thought about the promises that the people smugglers had made to my dad; one, we would stay in good lodging; two, the boat would be in good condition; and three, there would only be seventy people on board. They were all lies…All I could think was, How are we all going to survive?

 Milad’s family fled Iran in the aftermath of the 2009 election. Members of the Jafari family had been outspoken supporters of the unsuccessful presidential candidate, Mir-Hossein Moussavi. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won and retained the presidency, individuals who had supported Moussavi were jailed and others were killed. For Milad the situation was all the more precarious because he had also been recording rap music in a strict Islamic climate where that very act was forbidden.

Mojgan’s family was also negatively impacted by the results of the 2009 presidential election. Two of her uncles were hanged and killed after they were falsely accused about their political leanings. Even though the accusations were unfounded the damage had been done.

Neither of my uncles had been protesting. And even if they were, they would have been standing up for something they believed in. Is that wrong? I didn’t wear a hijab for a long time in Iran because I looked so young, but then when I did look old enough, I still didn’t wear one. I liked showing my hair, and my make-up, and my light nail polish too. I thought, It’s my body. It’s me. But I got into trouble from the police. I said if I don’t listen to my God…that is my problem. And then they said, “If you don’t do these things you’re going to hell”.

Mojgan’s situation worsened and she was raped by her step-father and the brother of a friend in two separate incidents. Mojgan’s violent and abusive step-father’s solution was to force Mojgan to marry a 60-year-old man who was older than her mother. Mojgan had no say in the matter so her mother encouraged Mojgan and her brother Hossein to flee Iran. Like the Jafari family, they too would travel first to Indonesia and then to Australia by boat.

Milad and Mojgan lived in community detention in Australia. They would eventually meet at a Baha’i camp and fall in love. Milad and his family were granted permanent residency in 2012 because the Australian government recognised that they were refugees. But Mojgan’s case – while horrifying – failed to meet the same criteria at least according to the government. In their interviews with bureaucratic officials, Mojgan and Hossein did not reveal the full extent of their trauma back home because they had long grown to distrust the government after having lived in Iran for so long.

Mojgan and Hossein’s situation was interpreted as a family and personal issue. Significantly, perhaps crucially, Mojgan, due to her own trauma, fear, and shame, had chosen not to tell her interviewers at both Christmas Island and Darwin that she’d twice been raped; instead, the strongest information she’d provided concerned the remaining abuse, both physical and mental, that she’d suffered from her stepfather.

The situation in Australia with respect to refugees and asylum seekers had also changed and become more complicated. In some cases the asylum seekers had come to be viewed by the public as criminals, in the same vein as the people smugglers. Mojgan and Hossein would pursue a number of different legal avenues to remain in Australia but this was to no avail.

It seemed only Minister (Scott) Morrison could intervene, but that was improbable. And so too was any likelihood that Hossein would return to Iran because the Islamic Republic steadfastly refused to accept any of its asylum seekers who would not come home ‘willingly’…
Hossein had become a stateless man, wanted by neither Australia or Iran. His ‘home’ was behind wire, and neither he, nor anyone else in the world, knew how long he would be there.

For some time Mojgan was living in limbo. She attended Yeronga State high school in Queensland, and completed her HSC because she hopes to one day become a mid-wife. She and Milad continued their courtship and they eventually got married. But these events did not change the Australian government’s stance on her case and eventually Mojgan was placed into detention and featured on Australian Story.

Milad and various supporters began the #FreeMojgan campaign and frequently protested. While Mojgan was eventually released from detention she was only offered temporary visas and her future is still precarious. The campaign is currently calling on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to use his powers to intervene. Watch this space.*

Under the Same Sky ultimately puts human faces to the complicated issue of asylum seekers and immigration. It does not attempt to preach or sermonise the issue, it merely tells the stories of these two Iranian youngsters and offers a look at their pasts and their dreams to build a future together in Australia. This book is ultimately an emotional and powerful story about strength, love and commitment and confirms why we should all stand up and listen to important stories like these because who knows how many more disturbing stories there are hidden in our detention centres.

 

 * Update from the publisher below, sent 22nd of June, 2017.

 


 

An important update on Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Hossein Shamsalipoor during refugee week

 

Mojgan Shamsalipoor was seventeen when she was forced to flee Iran after years of abuse and the threat of an arranged marriage. Her mother urged Mojgan to leave, because she could not protect her daughter, and insisted Mojgan’s brother Hossein go too, to protect Mojgan.  They paid people smugglers to help them make their way to Australia via Indonesia.  Desperate for the safety of a new life, they boarded a small boat. They were told Australia would help them.

A year earlier, Milad Jafari and his family fled political persecution in Iran and they too made their way to Australia by boat. It was before the tide turned on compassion towards asylum seekers and, after several months in detention, Milad and his parents were granted refugee status. The Jafaris are now owners of a small business in Brisbane.

Things were different by the time Mojgan arrived. After twenty-five days detention on Christmas Island then four months in Darwin, Mojgan was permitted community detention in Brisbane. She settled into the Brisbane community and was then given a temporary bridging visa. She met Milad and they fell in love. They married and made plans for a life together in Australia. Everything changed when Mojgan and Hossein were sent back to detention, their asylum seeker status denied, their lives put on indefinite hold.

Mojgan and Hossein faced the prospect of returning to their country of origin. For them, that would mean prison, torture or death. For two years the Brisbane community fought for Mojgan’s release while she and Hossein were detained behind the wire. But the loudest voice was always Milad’s, who just wanted his wife and brother-in-law to come home. A campaign to #FreeMojgan gained nationwide support and in September 2016, Mojgan and Hossein were released back into their community on bridging visas while they waited for Minister Dutton’s decision on their most recent submissions for visas.

Last Wednesday, Mojgan’s submission was rejected. She was told it was finally determined and that she had six months to settle her affairs, leave her husband and community and return to Iran. Hossein finds out his fate on Friday.

 Hachette Publisher Vanessa Radnidge says: ‘Hachette Australia proudly published Mojgan, Milad and Hossein’s story UNDER THE SAME SKY in May this year. It powerfully reveals the way history and politics have impacted on these young people, who only want the chance to build a life free from abuse, persecution and imprisonment. Mojgan and Hossein’s lives would be in danger if they return to Iran. This week Hachette will send a copy of Mojgan’s book to every federal minister and shadow opposition minister and ask them to grant Mojgan and Hossein the right to become Australians. Anyone who reads their whole story will realise Mojgan and Hossein are genuinely in need of asylum and ask only for compassion and the chance to contribute to the country they now call home.’

A rally will be held in Brisbane Square on Saturday 24 June at 1pm. Mojgan will be there to tell her story.

You can sign and share a petition to support Mojgan at:

https://www.change.org/p/peter-dutton-i-was-violated-beaten-tortured-please-let-me-be-free

 

BOOK REVIEW: Under the Same Sky by Mojgan Shamsalipoor & Milad Jafari with James Knight

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