Formerly a Shiite Muslim, Mohammad Mahdi Rafee became a Catholic last year after completing the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program. He was baptised by Archbishop Philip Wilson in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral at the Easter Vigil, also receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist.
Following an unsuccessful request for a Ministerial Intervention into his application for a visa, Mahdi was taken into detention on December 13 and now faces the possibility of being deported to Afghanistan.
Speaking by telephone from the Kilburn detention facility, Mahdi said he feared for his life if he was forced to go back. Of Hazara origin, he said he had already received “two or three death threats” from people in his home country who were opposed to his Christian beliefs.
“I have been reading the Bible every day and praying every day.
“I’m really sure the Australian Government is human and won’t send me back…because if I go back I am sure I will be killed by the Taliban because of my changed religion,” he told The Southern Cross through an interpreter.
Archbishop Wilson is also very concerned about Mahdi’s welfare and has written to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton expressing his “grave fears” if the 31-year-old is sent back to Afghanistan.
“This concern is shared by many people in the Adelaide Cathedral Parish, who have mounted a campaign of prayer for his safety,” the Archbishop wrote.
“I would like to express my concern to you in the strongest possible terms. Our people have come to know Mahdi well and they are praying for him and his safety.”
Mahdi fled Afghanistan after a series of intimidating incidents involving the Taliban which forced him to abandon his university course in Kabul where he was studying to become a teacher.
He arrived in Australia in 2012 via boat and was granted a bridging visa. Subsequent attempts to obtain a visa failed as did appeals to the Tribunal and Federal Court between 2013 and 2015. His request for a Ministerial Intervention was declined in September.
Since Mahdi’s detention, members of the Cathedral parish have been writing letters of support to their local MPs and visiting him in the detention centre. They are worried that as a Christian and a Hazara he will be placed in grave danger if her returns to Afghanistan.
Last week Christian organisation Open Doors released its annual World Watch List which ranked Afghanistan as the second country (behind only North Korea) where Christians are most persecuted.
“It’s the first country on the list with Islamic extremism as the main cause of persecution.
“With the Taliban and the Islamic State controlling over 40 per cent of the country, it’s incredibly difficult to be a believer. Christians are sometimes even thought to be insane for leaving Islam. They can end up in psychiatric wards,” the report said.
Meanwhile Mahdi remains optimistic and said his only hope when he arrived in Australia was to “stay safe and be alive”.
He said he began researching Christianity a few years ago after he saw so much fighting happening in Muslim countries around the world.
“It has a really important meaning for me and when I searched the internet I found out about being a Catholic. Then I found a Bible written in Persian and read that.
“I believe the Bible, Christianity and Jesus, and the people in the parish will all help me,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said the case had been “comprehensively assessed” by the department and “Mr Rafee has been found not to engage in Australia’s protection obligations”.
“This decision has been affirmed by the Refugee Review Tribunal and upheld by both the Federal Circuit Court and the Full Federal Court.
“Ministerial Intervention is not an extension of the visa process. A person who has been refused a visa and has unsuccessfully sought merits review is able to write to the Minister and request intervention.
“The Minister only intervenes in a relatively small number of cases which present unique and exceptional circumstances.
“People whose requests for intervention have been unsuccessful and who do not have other matters before the Department are expected to depart Australia.
“It would be inappropriate to confirm further details, including individual circumstances, relating to this case,” the spokesperson said.
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