THE day I graduated from Brisbane's Yeronga State High School was one of the happiest of my life. I was a little older than some of my Year 12 friends, but still filled with happiness.
I paused before I walked on that stage, put my hands to my face and took the moment in. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the amazingly compassionate school community who always believed in me.
I felt more hope - because lots of beautiful people were caring for me like my family. I didn't know how to handle this much love and say thanks. I cried tears of happiness, rather than sadness.
But the sadness I thought I'd put behind me has returned a little this week and threatens to engulf me on Tuesday: My judgement day. It's when my bridging visa expires and I may face two bleak options: Nightmare in indefinite detention, or hell in Iran.
I'd rather die than return to Iran. It's better to die, even aged 23, than to return to torture over there. That's why I'm pleading with Minister Peter Dutton to help me achieve my dream of permanent residency.
It was only through living in Australia I realised that, as a woman, I have a right to be respected. Back in Iran, my stepfather did one of the worse things you can do to a girl. He took my innocence by force.
Badly hurt and terrified, I ran to a friend's house for help, but her older brother was in. He saw how vulnerable I was, took advantage of that, and further destroyed my innocence. I was broken and nearly destroyed. Didn't think life could get any worse. But it did.
My stepfather told the community I was a "bad girl" who'd done immoral things. He has ties with the Iranian government - a big reason why I can never return. I was made to feel so much shame, that my stepfather said I needed to "clean up my name" by becoming a child bride to a much older man - one of my stepfather's friends. He was 60. I was just 16.
Mother begged me to flee, and I did - I came here, to Australia. I learnt three new things: How to be strong, real friendship and true love.
The beautiful Brisbane community which welcomed me with open arms over the last five years has helped me to rebuild my life. I've had two jobs and am completing a Certificate in health studies. My pledge to Minister Dutton is to spend every day of the rest of my life giving back to my community in Brisbane.
My guardian angel, Deputy Principal Jessica Walker, told me I wasn't free because every day I was being taken to school from the Brisbane Immigration Detention Centre, I was accompanied by a guard who watched over me and often this guard searched me before I was allowed in the school. But I was just so happy to be able to study and feel a little bit normal, connected to my school community.
Then one day the officers told me there'd be no school today. I was extremely distressed and begged not to be separated from my husband. They didn't listen.They flew me to a detention centre in Darwin where I was no longer allowed to go to school. The nine months I spent there were some of the darkest of my life.
My husband was the only thing that kept me going. I met him in Brisbane at a youth camp and we fell deeply in love. It felt like part of me was missing without him, it was like I had lost something and I was always searching for it, but I could never find it. He never gave up on me, he made me so proud to be his wife, and he was in the front row when I graduated after I had been released from detention in September 2016.
Now Minister Dutton could send me back there, and rip me away from my husband again, the only man who has shown me that real intimacy comes from a place of kindness and never from violence.
To cut me out of the Brisbane community who've shown me that a woman can be powerful, have dreams and make the dreams come true, if she believes in herself and tries really hard. My dream is to be a midwife. I want to start my new life here, so I can deliver special new lives to you, every day, for the rest of my life.
I've started a petition on Change.org because it's my last hope. I've learnt that other immigration petitions have recently won and I'll be asking my signers to contact Minister Dutton and ask him to show some compassion for a young woman who has been through so much, and yet has so much to give.
Please let me have peace and experience true freedom for the first time in my life.
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