A young refugee’s plea for a better future

Nooria Wazefadost
The Sydney Morning Herald

I am an 18-year-old female refugee from Bamiyan, Afghanistan. I am in year 12 at Holroyd High School and I am studying for my HSC. I came to Australia in September 2000. We left Afghanistan because of civil war, persecution, ethnic cleansing of my people, the Hazara, the dangerous environment and the unfair treatment of girls and women.

We children had no educational opportunities at all. We knew our escape route would involve a lot of danger. We knew we might die of starvation and thirst, or be killed by pirates or storms at sea.

We knew our mother might die, because she was pregnant. However we decided to go because we were desperate. Escaping was the only thing we could do to ensure our futures. We were hopeful that we would find safety.

There were six of us: me, then aged 14, my little sisters, 13 and 3, my little brother, 9, my father and mother. A smuggler hid us in the back of a truck for our escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Then we were smuggled to Indonesia where we had to stay in hiding. My mother had to go to hospital to give birth. The rest of us were locked in a terrible flat 24 hours a day, until it was our turn to get on the boat.

So we got into a little leaky fishing boat, more than 100 of us. I was one of 30 children and babies on board. It took us 10 days to get to Australia – 10 days of horror, sadness, no food or drink and so many worries about our future. Can you believe that a child could die in the middle of the ocean without a drop of water?

The only music I heard in my childhood in Bamiyan was the screaming with horror and mothers crying for their children’s future, and I heard it again on this boat. We were all vomiting. My poor mother with a newborn baby was sick the whole way.

Finally, in September 2000, our boat was guided by the Royal Australian Navy and landed on Australian land safely. I was happy because my miserable life was over, and a new horizon with no more death and killing was welcoming us. But my dream wasn’t over, since I found myself in a prison.

We arrived the day before the Olympic Games started. We were sent to a detention centre in the desert with fences around it. It was scary and we never felt safe because we were in a compound with single men who had been there a long time and had gone crazy.

Refugee children in the detention centre could often be heard crying well past midnight, breaking the quiet of the night. Instead of toys, children’s games, birthday parties, going to school, healthy food and not-so-healthy ice-cream and sweets, the children in refugee camps have to grapple with boredom, fever, bronchitis, pneumonia and intestinal diseases. They wander about the camp, eating and drinking whatever is available.

We were in that detention centre for two months, and then we got refugee status and were freed. The Department of Immigration sent us to Launceston in Tasmania. I liked it there. Everyone was so lovely to us.

But my dad said we had to move to Sydney where there was more work. So now we are in Sydney. We have been waiting nearly four years for Australia to say yes to us.

On Thursday, it happened. We proved that we are still refugees who would be persecuted if we were sent back to Afghanistan. We are now permanent residents, and we can’t wait to get our Australian citizenship.

Today is World Refugee Day, but suffering continues for refugees in Australia. About 8000 proven refugees remain on three-year temporary protection visas, many of which have expired, but still the refugees have no clear idea on their future.

A refugee is a kneeling person, kneeling in front of the captain of a ship to ask for a reduction in his escape price, kneeling to pirates to ask for mercy, kneeling in front of an international organisation to ask for its help, kneeling in front of the police to ask for permission to go to the market, kneeling in front of a foreign delegation to ask to be accepted in their country.

Children are our future and they are precious. They should be out of detention centres and be in schools, colleges, TAFEs and universities. Imprisoning them is not protecting Australia; this is disgracing Australia.

As refugees, our only fault is that we left our native homes because of persecution and danger, and sought to find refuge on Australian soil.

I believe everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution, ethnic cleansing, war and danger.

I urge the Australian Government and all the concerned, amazing and caring people of Australia to free the children from the detention centres, to give each refugee a permanent visa and let them be clear about their future.

Everyone should have equal rights; it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl, a woman or a man, or from different backgrounds.

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