It’s pouring with rain outside, the palm trees are blowing furiously well the sea wall takes bashing from the 100 mph waves. No one would believe I am on the luxury island of Bali, Indonesia. Trust me I can’t believe it myself.
Right this minute I should be sat in a classroom in Perth, Western Australia studying my last course which will give me freedom to live anywhere in the world. I’m super qualified in business Management and have hardly ever been out of work, I have followed most rules in my life, certainly all visa rules.
So how come I am in Bali and not attending my studies? Well it was a rough journey, one that took 80 hours of flying and six countries over a two-week period, and it goes something like this.
The journey begins
December 5th (2016) – I depart London heading back to Perth. My partner and I already had our own christmas arrangements, he will be spending his with his children skiing in Japan. I will head to New Zealand to visit family. He will fly back to Perth on 8th Jan and I fly back on the 10th January.
(I Had a wonderful three-week holiday in New Zealand.)
January 10th (2017)- I depart Auckland eager to get back to Perth, I knew what studies I needed to do and was due to start January 30th.I needed to get back and get organised. I departed Auckland heading for Sydney which is a popular route as few direct flights go to Perth directly. What could possibly go wrong!
3 PM– I touch down in Sydney excited I am pretty much half way home. I follow the transfer line and enter immigration to run for my connecting flight. I waited my turn and held out my passport when the ladies face changes and she says “can you hold on a minute please, immigration wish to see you”.
I wait patiently when a male immigration officer comes over and asks me to follow him. He asks what is my purpose in Australia, I explained I am staying with my partner and about to attend studies. I have travelled on a tourist visa, choosing to convert to another type of visa when in Australia, it’s much easier and less time-consuming.
To cut a very long story short I was taken to an airport immigration security room and asked a variety of questions, such as, who is your partner, what work do you do, how long are you staying, do you have finances. I answered all of them with no issue.
I was then asked to agree for my luggage to be searched. I know he was only doing his job and with nothing to hide I said ‘OK’, I knew I never had any drugs or anything illegal.. I waited in the office well they stripped my suitcase , then they found and went through my phone with a toothpick! I stayed calm, the man’s just doing his job I kept telling myself. Then a women comes in rather abrupt with photocopies of emails saying your relationships is over, you’re here to work not study and your lieing to us. WTF
I asked her to contact my partner to which she refused, after an hour they eventually left him a voice message. He was in a courtroom (he is a lawyer) so could not just answer his phone. Well too late for me, it was time to clock off for the immigration officer and he simply said “I have to make a decision based on the facts and he’s not called back and I am due to leave. No explanation, no waiting for proof, going home was more important to him. He denied me entry.
Being denied entry meant I was immediately put under security. Two security officers will be arriving to transfer me to a detention centre. I got scared only hearing horror stories of these places. I asked for my phone, my personal belongings etc. the answer was NO. Suddenly I felt like a criminal, to which I am not. They were nice enough to put my partner through to my immigration room phone when he called back before security came to collect me. A bit fucking late of them to be so nice now!
The Detention centre
I fear the worse we have all heard the horror stories of it being like a prison. I have seen the news and read in the media how bad they are, so you should understand I was nerved. The two female security officers come to get me and inform me I am off to Villawood Immigration Detention Centre which is 30 mins from Sydney airport. No phone, no way to speak to someone it suddenly hit me that I had no idea how long I would be here.
I arrive for check in, greeted by smiles and forms to fill in and asked if I needed anything, I said I would love a coffee, never expecting it after my recent experience of the immigration officer in Sydney. I was super surprised when shown the kitchen where I could help myself to food (which looked very nutritious meals and endless amounts of coffee). I grabbed a coffee and waited in a small waiting room with the television for my name to be called. It looked no different from a waiting room in a doctor’s surgery. I was the only female, the only white person in the waiting room with other five males who spoke no English.
I needed to smoke and asked the female officer if she had a cigarette as they would not let me by any on route, she obliged and even had a cool chat outside.
Once through the check in I was shown to my room in the main detention block, which yes, is situated in the prison but highly secured so you don’t mix with the real criminals, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw my room, I had a bunk bed, desk, wardrobe, endless amounts of free mineral water, coffee, cereals and even fresh fruit. THis was nothing like people had been selling through the media. The flat screen TV in the common room was surrounded by sofas. The television was off and you could hear a pin drop it was that quiet and cozy. I was supplied with fresh towels, tooth-brush and even pyjamas. There was no need for pyjamas as it was 40 degrees.
I settled in first then headed to the office to ask f could make a call, they said only an international one. I rang a friend who could let my partner know I was safe and actually impressed and being looked after well. I was even offered a cigarette, I guess saying my ‘please’ and ‘thank you’s’ helped. I went back to the common room where the other detainees from pakistan and Malaysia were sat. They seemed quiet and scared so I started a conversation with them, I guessed them around 19-25 in age, they had looks of disappointment on their faces and I wanted to help make them smile. We spoke and discovered each others stories or why we are here, most were wrong visas. I wanted to cheer them up and explained that this is not the end of their life journey, it’s just side step to where we are meant to be in life. I even heard a few laughs, and everyone had smiles on their faces when I retired to bed, not that I could sleep, I did not even know how long I would be here. I decided it was best to go with the flow and follow the rules, after all I am not judged here for race, color, sexuality or anything.
At 8 am the following morning I was put through on a call to Qantas asking if I wanted to purchase a flight later that same day to London, I told them do I have to go back to UK, ‘yes’ as its my passport country and they have to send you back to your country I was told… Damn I thought, it’s cold there. I was fortunate enough to have credit with Qantas which would cover my flight, I was due to leave at 4 pm. I had 8 hours left so I asked questions of the security team. The Security team is an English company called’ Serco’ who provides security all over the world in detention centres.
I asked how long some people had been in detention, some had been here 7 years! Why I asked, I was told they choose to stay as they receive more money on the weekly allowance in a detention camp than they can earn back in their own country, plus they get free housing and food. Shit I wonder if I can make money from my stay!
Now don’t get detention centres mixed up with refugee camps, that’s a whole different story and one I don’t know much about. What I did find out during my stay in detention is you do have a choice how long you stay. They have to give you 72 hours to pay for your own flight out, then they find one for you which you will need to pay back if you don’t. I also discovered there is no control from the detention centre how long people stay, it’s not their decision, but well you are in their company they look after you, and very well. Yes for some it is unsafe to go back to their own countries, but first ask yourself how did they gt in the country in the first place? Trust me when I say they don’t get sent home if their is a danger to thier life, and they are looked after well in detention and paid a comfortable allowance. Facilities include recreational sporting, tuck hops and schools.
Before I left the detention centre to head to the airport my lunch was delivered which consisted of chicken curry and rice, with a side salad and chocolate pudding dessert! I ate and waited for my security team to pick me up and transport me back to the airport. It gave me the chance to thank each and every one of the staff for looking after me so well, I thanked the other detainees for their conversations and gave them words of encouragement to go on. In a way I felt sad leaving not knowing what will happen to the others, I just hope they did well.
At Sydney airport I am put in a prison cell and asked what movie I wanted to watch! it’s the complete opposite to the dungeon quality treatment the news has been reporting. Once boarding commenced I was first on and sat at the back-they would not let me upgrade to business class this time! The flight went via Dubai and eventually 23 hours later I arrived in Terminal 3 in freezing cold England! I had already made plans this was a short trip and walked over to Terminal 4 to check in for my flight to Singapore, three hours later.
You see I had made the decision not one person can stop me being who I want to be, not harming anyone and travelling with my own money why not do it. It takes no one but me to let theses experiences ruin me.
I boarded the flight back to Singapore via Doha and was greeted by a friendly face at the airport. I had been travelling for 3 days with no sleep. The round trip of Auckland-Singapore via the detention centre, via Dubai, London, Doha and now finally Singapore… all I needed was sleep. Yes,the experience has chucked a curve to my plans, but it has not stopped them. Now I await in Bali where I headed to after Singapore until I hear back from Australian Immigration about whether I can go back in and continue my studies. In the meantime well in limbo land I am not wasting a moment, I will go on building adventures and achieving dreams. If not in Australia, who knows maybe Bail!
I wanted to write this experience so people know not to give up on your dreams, you will manage in difficult times by going with the flow. The only person that can stop you achieving your goals are you. Hey, I am on a sun kissed beach living a life which cost 1/10 of what it does in Australia or the UK. Maybe its down to Karma telling me to take some time. Who knows.