On August 15, the day that the Taliban seized Afghanistan’s capital, chaos descended on the streets of Kabul as thousands were desperate to escape. Today, some of these Afghan refugees are thankful to be adjusting to life in Australia under a government program dedicated to protecting and resettling those in need.
Former reporter Shazia (not her real name) is among the three thousand Afghans being granted asylum under the Australian Government’s Humanitarian Program. She is currently living in Western Sydney with her eight-year-old son and hopes that the government will take action to rescue her husband and three other children that were left behind at Kabul’s overcrowded airport.
“I feel happy to be in Australia, and I am thankful to the Australian government for everything but being away from my children is extremely difficult. No mother can stay away from her kids for long,” she said. “I request that the Australian government please bring my family to me; otherwise, I cannot survive without them.”
A report by The Age in October says families spent days on the cold, dusty ground outside Kabul airport before they were able to board a rescue flight out of Afghanistan. Others, who were unable to be identified due to security reasons, told The Age how they were threatened and beaten at gunpoint by the Taliban as they were entering the airport. For many, they now face the heartache of being separated from their immediate family members who were left in danger.
On September 1, Abu Bakr Zahid arrived in Darwin where he spent two weeks in hotel quarantine before being moved to Sydney. Formerly employed in the finance sector, he is thankful that the Australian government helped all his colleagues escape. Mr Zahid says he is “very happy to live in a beautiful and multi-cultural country,” but urges the government to rescue his family.
“It is very difficult to live in Afghanistan under these circumstances, and the Taliban are after those who worked with foreign troops,” he said. “It is very unfortunate that we had to leave our homes and families behind with empty hands and couldn’t even bring our clothes.”
President of Afghan Community Support Association of NSW Australia (ACSA), Mohammad Nader Azami says they have been working with the federal government to assist the new migrants. They have been providing emotional support as well as a massive amount of clothing, sanitary items, and fresh food through the Settlement Services International (SSI). “Upon hearing of the news of their arrival, ACSA representatives met with them and offered their support on behalf of the community,” he said. “After our meeting they got the confidence that some people speak their language and know their culture.”
The Afghans are temporarily living in Bella Vista and Penrith hotels, but Mr Azami has confirmed that they will receive a house package, and ongoing assistance to assimilate into Australian life, seek employment and enrol in courses. “Afghans living in Sydney are very generous and kind and are more than willing to help their fellow Afghans, here and in Afghanistan,” he said. “We want them to know that we are here to assist them in any way we are capable of.”
“It is our moral responsibility and obligation to provide assistance to these people who have left their country under very unusual circumstances,”
– Mohammad Nader Azami
So far, Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has agreed to accept three thousand refugees from Afghanistan, but according to Immigration News Australia, religious leaders across the country are calling on the Australian government to take in 20 thousand. Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, believes that the immigration cap should be increased because responding to the transparent needs of people is a feature of human compassion. “We went to Afghanistan to secure the freedom of Afghan people, and now we need to bring as many as we can, as generously as we can, so that they can share our freedom,” he said.
Afghan public figure and women’s rights activist, Arezo Younes, settled in Australia after escaping during the Taliban’s reign with her family, almost two decades ago. Since then, she has become a prominent voice for Afghan women around the world. As the nightmare returns to her homeland, she fears that it will once again be as it was when she was a little girl in Kabul – when they closed every door of hope for women throughout Afghanistan. “I believe that being born as a woman in Afghanistan is like paying for the bad karma you are unaware of,” said Ms Younes. “Living under the Taliban regime was like living in a jungle. You fear that your life could be taken by a hungry animal at any time.”
Ms Younes is especially concerned about those who worked with the US and its allies in Afghanistan, who urgently need rescuing. Compared to Britain, Canada, and the United States, she believes that the Australian government is not doing enough to help Afghans seeking asylum. “The amount of the messages I have receive from Afghan journalists, lawyers, and those who worked with foreign forces is overwhelming. They beg for their lives to be saved and ask me to help them and raise their voice to the Australian government,” she said. “I know individuals that worked with foreign troops, and their families are in great danger, but no urgent action has been taken to rescue them.”
As the Afghan refugees begin their new lives in Australia, they are urging the Morrison government to help reunite them with their families. Last month, in a statement by the Department of Home Affairs, the government acknowledged the “tremendous distress” that the crisis in Afghanistan has caused the Afghan-Australian community, but at this stage, there has been no official announcement regarding plans to expand the immigration cap. “It breaks my heart to see innocent people suffering,” said Ms Younes. “They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children hoping for a better future.”
The article was first published on The Junction.