Iranian actor who spent almost two years in an asylum-seekers’
detention camp where he fell in love with one of the guards is
telling his story in a new play that could embarrass the
Australian government over its tough immigration policies.
"Through The Wire" traces the ordeal and romance
of Shahin Shafaei, a 30-year-old actor and playwright, who fled
Iran after the Ministry of Culture banned his work.
Shafaei plays himself in the drama, which is
running at the Sydney Opera House, before beginning a national
tour next year.
The play’s writer and director, Ros Horin, hopes
"Through The Wire" might even tour in Asia, where the publicity
could expose the Australian government to more criticism of its
policy of detaining — sometimes for years — people seeking
In mid-2000, with Iranian authorities
threatening to jail him, Shafaei paid a people-smuggler 4,000 US
dollars for what he hoped would be a passage to Germany.
Instead, he ended up on a rusty and crowded boat in the seas off
When Australian border guards intercepted the
vessel in June, they sent the passengers, who did not have
proper immigration papers, to the Curtin detention centre in the
remote desert of Western Australia.
It was there that Shafaei met Gabrielle Schultz,
a camp guard. "I could see a sadness in her eyes about her
work," said Shafaei.
With the perfect English he had acquired as a
student of literature and religion, Shafaei became a leader of
the detainees at Curtin.
When Schultz returned to Curtin after a
seven-month break — this time as a counsellor, not a guard — she
and Shafaei began an intense friendship that eventually flowered
into a romance.
"Our first conversations were about God and
creation and different world religions," said Shafaei, a non-practising
Muslim who had read not only the Koran, but also the Bible and
Torah, the holy books of Christians and Jews.
"We began talking every day and, when she was
not around, my friends could see how sad I was."
But the pair had to keep their romance secret.
"What could I have done?" he asked. "Kiss her in front of
everyone? It was not possible."
Soon after Shafaei was released in February
2002, having spent 22 months behind a razor-wire fence, Schultz
resigned her job and the couple moved in together.
"The love is there," he said. "We do not need
marriage to prove it."
But there is also the complicating fact that
Shahaei is living in Australia on a three-year temporary
protection visa which expires next February.
"Before we decide about marriage, I would prefer
to see what my future is," he said. "I do not want to use
marriage for this issue."
Through a network of refugee advocates, Shafaei
also met writer and director Horin, a prominent arts
administrator and human rights activist in Sydney.
"I’m Jewish and I felt the Australian people
could not turn a blind eye towards this issue (of detaining
asylum-seekers) but I wanted a new way to tell the story," said
Horin, who convinced Shafaei to return to the stage.
Shafaei insists "Through The Wire" is not a
polemic against the Australian government’s policies but
believes that a play will speak with more power about the plight
of refugees than any newspaper story.
"This play is not about criticising the government," he said.
"But it puts a human face on this issue that people have only
read about. It shows that this policy, which is happening in the
Australian people’s name, is inhumane. -(AFP)