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Married in Nauru, kept apart in Australia – Mehreen and Haider’s story

Updated: May 5, 2021

Mehreen attempted to come to Australia by boat from Pakistan in 2013. She instead found herself in offshore detention on Nauru. She holds a Master’s in International Relations and has worked in a variety of fields, including community organising and telecommunications. Mehreen spoke about her life in Nauru, the challenges of being kept apart from her husband in Australia, and her experiences as mother to Eshal, now three years old.

Mehreen met Haider, her future husband, in Nauru. He was in a different camp and they initially could only see each other during dinner and sometimes in the evening to have tea, play cards, and pass the time. Mehreen and Haider cultivated a friendship over three years, then he was granted refugee status and could leave the camp. For one year while Mehreen still lived in the camp, Mehreen and Haider could only see each other for one hour on the weekends. She was then granted refugee status, and they decided to get married. Mehreen and Haider wed on 23 July 2017. Their fourth wedding anniversary is fast approaching, but the couple has not celebrated even one anniversary together.

Not long after the wedding, Mehreen found out she was pregnant. She was in shock and struggled with the idea of giving birth on Nauru. Mehreen had applied for resettlement in the US and was concerned that being pregnant would hurt her application. She decided termination would be the right path for her. However, it is illegal in Nauru for women to exercise their right to choose. Mehreen wondered how she would cope with giving birth in Nauru. She and her husband spent hours discussing how to navigate this new chapter of their lives.

After several months, Mehreen was brought to Australia – without Haider. Authorities informed Mehreen she was being transferred for her termination, but time had passed, and she had bonded with her baby. Mehreen wanted to terminate when she was in the very early stages of pregnancy, but at 22 weeks she felt differently. She chose to give birth instead. After stays in a hotel and in Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA), Mehreen was moved to community detention in Adelaide. Housed in a large house alone, far from the city and from other members of her community, Mehreen struggled with loneliness. She gave birth to her baby girl, Eshal, in April 2018 without Haider by her side.

Haider is in Adelaide Immigration Transit Accommodation (AITA), unable to live with his wife and raise his daughter. Mehreen and Eshal would visit, but once COVID-19 hit they could only exchange video calls. Despite their separation, Eshal remained connected to her father. But she was also confused as to why her dad is just on the phone. When Eshal saw other families together in the park, she looked frustrated to see other children have their dads with them. Mehreen said, “I don’t know what to tell her. She’s too young to understand.”

Visits returned to in-person at AITA, but Eshal and Mehreen were separated by glass from Haider. They could not touch, hug, or share food together. It was hard for all of them, but especially Eshal. She was confused and frustrated. Mehreen and Haider decided it was too stressful for their daughter and made the difficult choice that it was better for her to not visit her father under those conditions.

“I don’t need any visa, I just need my husband,” Mehreen said. She is fine to live in community detention for her daughter’s sake – she just wants her husband with them. “I don’t know how this government can be so cruel,” she said.

Eshal will turn three in April – three years spent without her dad. Mehreen is frustrated by the Australian government’s decision to separate her family. “Why? Our crime is just that we came by boat, but this is not a crime. Seeking asylum is not a crime.”

Thanks to Mehreen and volunteer Nazanin for putting this story together.

Family visits in AITA before COVID-19 brought a screen between them.

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