When the pursuit for freedom ends tragically

An Afghan doctor who fled the Taliban in Kabul became trapped for years in an immigration system that led to his death

AUSTRALIA – Dr. Sayed Mirwais Rohani, 32, is believed to have taken his own life Oct. 15 in a hotel in Brisbane, Australia.

Even though Rohani died in Australia, his mental health problems started thousands of miles away in Australia’s immigration processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, his mother told CNN this month. 

Rohani was born in Kabul in 1987. When he was 14, his father, Ahmad Tassangwal, fled Afghanistan in 2001 because the Taliban wanted to arrest him for getting a university degree and working in agriculture. Eight years later he was able to bring his wife and younger children to the U.K. through a family reunion visa. But the older Rohani wasn’t eligible.

His father paid for Rohani to get his medical degree in China. Because Rohani studied western medicine he became a target of the Taliban and he didn’t feel safe in Afghanistan. So after getting his degree, Rohani paid a trafficker in 2013 to take him to Australia. 

His father told him to go to Australia because it’s an English-language country without economic problems and now that Rohani was a medical doctor trained in English, perhaps they will need him. 

Now, however, he blames himself for his son’s death. 

“It was my fault. It was my fault, he accepted my decision, my advice,” Tassangwai told CNN. 

The boat Rohani was on in 2013 was intercepted by Australian Border Force agents. Rohani was detained and sent to Manus Island, which is an Australian detention centre in Papua New Guinea. He was there for about four years. 

Rohani spoke six languages and wanted to help poor people. 

His asylum application was accepted and he was allowed to join other refugees at East Lorengau Transit Center near Manus Island.

That’s when those close to him noticed he began to change.

Rohani’s advocate in Australia posted a video on Twitter in 2015 that showed a man she identified as Rohani being hogtied and carried out of the East Lorengau Transit Center. 

Posting on Facebook, refugee Farhad Rahmati said he was Rohani’s roommate for more than a year.

“We shared same pain for long time, long enough to destroy someone’s life,” said Rahmati.

In 2017, Rohani’s father flew to Manus Island and tried to take him home. But since Rohani didn’t have any travel documents he couldn’t leave without permission from the Australian and Papua New Guinea authorities. 

Rohani was arrested after an incident with his roommate but the charges were withdrawn on medical grounds and two years later Rohani was sent to Australia for treatment. 

His father said his son wasn’t getting treatment for mental health issues in Australia and pleaded with the Australian authorities for help for his son who was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. 

His father continued to fight to bring his son home, consulted lawyers and flew to Australia twice in 2018. 

Still Rohani wasn’t allowed to leave Australia. 

On the day that Rohani took his own life, he can been seen on closed circuit television as he walked into a hotel in Brisbane, Australia. He called his mother who had come to Australia to support him. The next day police called her informing her about his death. 

Rohani’s parents took their son’s body back to Kabul and buried him Nov. 1, 2019. 

Crisis support services in Alberta can be reached 24 hours a day:

• Mental Health Help Line: 1-877-303-2642

• Income Support Contact Centre: 1-866-644-5135

• Family Violence Info Line: 310-1818

• Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-387-KIDS (5437)

• Bullying Helpline: 1-888-456-2323

Alberta Press staff

-reporter@albertapressleader.ca

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