When he was just 14, Bashir Yousufi fled his native Afghanistan to Australia after being hunted down by the Taliban.
When he arrived here, he says he met a fresh kind of persecution.
“In my own country, the Taliban would come and shoot at me. I would be killed straight away,” he said.
“But the Australian government, they will kill you very slowly, very slowly, with your mind.”
Now, four years on, he has told an Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) inquiry on Friday he’s still traumatised by the memory of his time in detention.
As an unaccompanied minor, he was sent into detention on Christmas Island and housed in a small room with six other detainees.
There he says he saw children self-harming.
The national inquiry is investigating the effect immigration detention has on the health, wellbeing and development of children.
It had previously heard from child psychiatrist Dr Sarah Mares, who said she saw children with bitten-off nails and swollen knuckles during a recent visit to Christmas Island.
“They were chewing themselves to bits,” she said.
Others were grinding their teeth and banging their heads against walls, she said.
Showing a picture drawn by a child detainee depicting a handless, mouthless figure standing behind straight blue bars weeping, Dr Mares said such images spoke to the powerlessness they were feeling.
There are some 1000 children in mandatory and closed detention, many of whom describe themselves as “hopeless”, AHRC president Gillian Triggs said.
“These children would say, `we left hell, and we joined another’,” she said.
She said she believed Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was trying to get children out of detention, but it was taking too long.
She challenged the minister to release all children in closed detention before the inquiry’s September reporting deadline.
Earlier in the day, immigration department spokesman Mark Cormack elicited laughter from the public gallery when he said there was “no evidence” to suggest mandatory detention contravened international law.
He said the department had no right to go against the government’s policies or existing laws, which were designed to stop millions of dollars being funnelled into illegal people-smuggling rings.