I was one of them I fled Afghanistan to escape persecution. My new life in Australia is fraught with difficulties, but I am thankful to be here
By Hussein Guardian/UK 20 June 2013
'In Afghanistan, as an Hazara, what I look like defines me.' We asked each other what we imagined Australia would be like, to keep spirits high as we drifted aimlessly in the ocean. “I hear Australians are nice ... they like human rights, and they respect everyone. “Australia has every religion and every ethnicity, so people can be whatever they like.” “No one cares what our faces looks like. They won’t care that we are Hazara.”
Me, Salim*, Hassan and Ali, along with 75 other people, had been lost at sea for four days after our rickety boat’s engine had finally given way. We had run out of food and water and, very quickly, the hope that we would ever make it out of this journey alive. But on our fifth day, the Australian navy rescued us. Six months later, I find myself sharing a small two bedroom house with Salim, Hassan and Ali, the same men that were with me when we got on the boat in Indonesia. We have been welcomed with open arms by the community.
In Afghanistan, as an Hazara, what I look like defines me. It is what got my father and my brother kidnapped by the Taliban – they were Hazara men who dared to dream of a better life by pursuing education, and wished the same for their children. That’s why I was forced to flee, leaving my family behind in Afghanistan. I still remember my father’s exact words to me, "I know my life is in danger, but the Taliban will not take me because I am a doctor and serve the people." Sadly, he was proven wrong.
I have miraculously made it here and I have been fortunate enough to get help from an extremely generous couple – I call them my "Aussie parents". Along with Salim, Ali and Hassan, they are my family here. They have supported me and my father’s dreams by helping to cover the costs of my education. While I have been lucky enough to spend my time studying to get a complete in IT, not many others are in my position.
Because we arrived on boat after 13 August 2012, we are under the "no advantage rule". This means that we have been living in the community without any work rights, and we don’t know for how many years we won't be allowed to work. We receive under $30 a day from Centrelink which goes towards paying for rent, bills including electricity and water, weekly groceries and if there’s any left over, warm clothes for winter to help keep our costs down.
We have been depending on the kindness of the community which has come together to help us. They provide us with clothing, food, even English dictionaries, and a lending hand whenever we need it. In true Australian spirit, these people have made us feel welcome in our new home, even when those new rules try to do the opposite. Each day I see Salim, Hassan and Ali go through the same routine. No job, no income, no study, no opportunities, and ultimately, no self-worth. And then I recall the conversations we had on the boat.
We still want nothing more than to belong and to be part of community. We want to build a safe future for ourselves and our children – the ones we have left back home at the wrath of the Taliban, and the ones we want to raise as Australians with a shot at a good life. Our image of Australia as a refugee friendly country has not changed. Knowing the terror that Hazaras face in Afghanistan, we are just thankful to be alive. That is also why, despite these new rules, people still make the journey to Australia. Salim, Hassan, Ali and I know why people come here – we have lived it. Like us, they have no choice.
It is stressful for us not to know our future. We don't know if we will be accepted and taken in as Australians, or if we will be sent back to face it all over again. But as we wait, we’ll have long conversations with our new Australian friends, we’ll make tasty Afghan dishes to take to our neighbour’s BBQ, and best of all, I'll keep going to the beautiful ocean, my favourite place here. Who knows how long this will last.
* Names changed to protect. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/20/australia-refugees-boat