Category Archives: Talented Asylum Seekers

Teenage refugees take to the stage to share stories of plight, change audience perceptions in Sydney

May 10, 2015 | ABC News

Young refugees are sharing their stories of war-torn Iraq and Syria, through theatre performances in the hope it will ease the trauma of their ordeal as well as educate the Sydney community.

The Tree of Life performance from Treehouse Theatre group at the Casula Powerhouse has designed a production to help the teenagers share their experiences.

Among the group of young refugees is Simon Oshana, who fled to Lebanon from Syria in 2012, before being granted refugee status in Australia.

Simon, 16, said he was 13-years-old and his life changed forever while playing soccer with his friends in the village of Tel Nasri in north-eastern Syria.

I thought ‘it’s easy, they just come here by boat, get a visa’ but no – it’s totally different.

Aisha Hawli, student from the Australian International Academy

He said rockets fired by rebel forces, ravaged the village.

“I saw the planes and rockets and everything,” he said. “They were so close to me.”

The 13-year-old ran for cover and found his cousin Nino had been killed in the attack.

“They brought him to the hospital and he was dead,” Simon said.

“I saw him in front of me lying down with all his body injured and blood all over his body.

“I’m still living that nightmare.”

‘1000-year-old village bombed into oblivion’

Last month, Simon learned that the ancient Assyrian town where he grew up, was destroyed by the Islamic State militants.

“My 1000-year-old village was bombed into nothing, bombed into oblivion,” he said in the performance.

Two weeks ago, the 16-year-old said he found out on Facebook that his best friend was killed while fighting with Kurdish Peshmerga and Assyrian forces against IS.

“I didn’t believe it, I straight away messaged his brother and he said ‘it’s true’,” he said.

“It was a shock to me to see my best friend, who sat next to me in the school for many years, to see his picture on Facebook, dead.”

Simon said he used the theatre production to share experiences that he previously struggled to express.

“At the beginning, I didn’t tell anyone my story… I wasn’t that brave to tell my story because I’d cry straight away,” he said.

“Now I can control my story and tell it easily to the people.”

Iraqi sisters Athmar, 14, and Asrar Habeb, 16, fled Iraq with their family in 2013 after their cousin was kidnapped.

But they said the Tree of Life theatre production has helped with getting through their trauma.

“I feel good [that] the things that are in my heart, [go] out to people,” Athmar said.

“They know my stories.”

Audience perception of refugees’ plight changed

Audience member Aisha Hawli who is a student at the Australian International Academy said the performance changed her attitude towards refugees.

“It really showed you that refugees go through a lot more than us having been born in Australia and having a better life,” she said.

“I thought ‘it’s easy, they just come here by boat, get a visa’ but no – it’s totally different.”

Other school students praised the performers for their bravery in sharing their stories.

“If that were to be me in those situations, I don’t think I’d be courageous as they were,” Gabriella Prude from Miller Technology High School said.

“I can’t even imagine going through the things they’ve gone through.”

Marcello Ralph from the same school said “it was really emotional” and “it’s just a really eye-opening experience for everyone in this theatre”.

Dr Ken Edge, principal of Miller Technology High School, thanked the performers publicly at the end of the performance.

“Your stories are amazing, they challenge our beliefs,” he said.

Performance helps heal trauma

Ruth Hartcher-O’Brien, artistic director of Treehouse Theatre, said it was difficult for the performers to open up as their experiences are raw and ongoing.

“It’s bad enough telling stories of trauma that have happened previously,” she said.

“Horrible, sad deaths, kidnappings, bombings and you leave it and you come to a new life in Australia.

“But these stories where they’re in Australia and they’re still experiencing [trauma] and their families are still experiencing deaths, kidnappings and the sweep of [the Islamic State].”

Ms Hartcher-O’Brien said the drama program was designed to help the teenagers control their emotions through theatre.

The reaction they get from the audience just feeds their soul.

Catherine Maguire-Donvito, co-directer and counsellor

“They’ve got some control, but the actual telling of it is heartbreaking,” she said.

“They sob and sob in those first sessions when we’re gathering their stories.

“They still tell their stories through their tears to all these audience members and they’re actually crying.”

Co-director and school counsellor Catherine Maguire-Donvito said the teenagers learn to juggle mixed emotions.

“It’s really important for the kids to understand you can be happy and sad at the same time,” she said.

“You don’t have to be scared of the powerful and negative feelings.”

She said the performers’ involvement allowed them to feel a sense of significant accomplishment.

“The reaction they get from the audience just feeds their soul,” Ms Maguire-Donvito said.

“It is just a joyful experience for them and that’s what it’s all about.”



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Hazara artist Khadim Ali joins the board of the Art Gallery of NSW

January 01, 2015 | Daily Telegraph

Sydney artist Khadim Ali has just been announced as a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW. Picture: Google Images

A Hazara artist from Doonside who grew up in the shadow of Taliban persecution will join some of Sydney’s wealthiest movers and shakers on the board of the Art Gallery of NSW.

Khadim Ali, 36, joins high profile AGNSW board members including businessman James Packer’s sister Gretel Packer, art collector Geoff Ainsworth, author and socialite Ashley Dawson-Damer, publisher Eleonora Triguboff and joint managing director of Transfield Holdings, Guido Belgiorno-Nettis who is chairman of the board.

Ali hopes his appointment, announced by NSW Arts Minister Troy Grant, will encourage other young Australian Hazaras to come to art galleries and to pursue art as a career.

“I’ll try my best to make them connected, to find a way to bring them into the galleries and museums, and to give them a way to become well educated Australian citizens of the future,” Ali said.

There were 5000 or 6000 Hazara families living around Auburn, Merrylands, Granville, Guildford and Parramatta, Ali said. Hazaras, as an ethnic and religious minority, have a long history of persecution in Afghanistan.

Some of Ali’s artwork was displayed at the Art Gallery of NSW earlier this year alongside the blockbuster exhibition Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From The National Museum, Kabul.

He is now completing an art commission for the Australian War Memorial at his studio in Woolloomooloo.

“The War Memorial (commission) is on the demonisation and dehumanisation of the ethnic minorities. There are a number of them in Afghanistan and that includes the international troops,” Ali said.

Australian troops were seen as “saviours” by Hazaras in Afghanistan, but the Taliban regarded the Australians as infidels.

Ali’s three-year term as AGNSW board member begins today.

Khadim Ali was raised in exile in Quetta, Pakistan. His grandparents escaped a massacre of Hazaras in Afghanistan in the 1890s, and his parents remained in Pakistan hoping peace would eventually settle on Afghanistan.

Due to Taliban violence against Hazaras, the family never returned.

Ali migrated to Australia in 2009 on a Distinguished Talent Visa.

After Ali’s parents were injured in a suicide bombing in Quetta in 2011, they came to live with him.

“Mr Ali is a contemporary artist whose experience will enhance the Gallery’s programming for the diverse communities of Western Sydney,” NSW Arts Minister Troy Grant said.


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Refugee now helping others acknowledged in Western Australia’s Youth Awards

November 11,  2014 | ABC News

Ehsan Warasi

Ehsan Warasi is working with other trauma survivors after coming to Australia as a refugee

A teenage refugee from Afghanistan who left his family in search of a better life and is now supporting other trauma survivors is a finalist in this year’s WA Youth Awards.

Ehsan Warasi was just 16 when he left his family and fled to Australia after 10 years in a refugee camp in Iran.

He then spent 12 months in an Australian detention centre before being granted permanent residency.

Ehsan, now 19, taught himself English from school books given to him by guards.

“I tried to not think of where I was,” he said.

“I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities available to me.”

I feel obliged to give back to society because Australia basically saved my life.

Ehsan Warasi, youth awards finalist

His nomination recognises his contribution as a youth support worker at the Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors, and his outstanding academic achievements, including a 97.85 ATAR score out of a possible 100.

Ehsan said he was dedicated to helping youth who have a high risk of experiencing negative life outcomes as a way of paying it forward.

“I have this ideology that by helping people you are actually helping yourself,” he said.

“I feel obliged to give back to society because Australia basically saved my life.”

His story is just one out of the many young West Australians who have overcome adversity to do extraordinary work to help others in need.

Craig Comrie, CEO of Youth Affairs Council of WA, said the Youth Awards aimed to recognise the contributions young people make to the community.

He said Ehsan was one of 26 finalists out of more than 100 nominations.

“Many young people in WA are doing great things not only in their local communities but also around the state and nationally, and it’s important that we recognise these positive stories,” he said.

“I’m often surprised by the fantastic work that they’re doing and it makes me feel like I should be doing more for the community.”

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Regional Australia opens its arms to ‘at risk’ women refugees

August 11, 2014

Twelve months ago no Hazara lived in the south-east Queensland town of Toowoomba but now there are 200 women and their dependents starting a new life in Australia.

Twelve months ago no Hazara lived in the south-east Queensland town of Toowoomba but now there are 200 women and their dependents starting a new life in Australia.

Twelve months ago no Hazara lived in the south-east Queensland town of Toowoomba but now there are 200 women and their dependents starting a new life in Australia.

They are among the lucky 1,000 who secured “Women at Risk” refugee visas last year but came with no English, no husbands and no qualifications.

Women from Afghanistan receive about half the visa quota and are flown to Australia from refugee camps in Pakistan.

“All I have been feeling since I got to Australia is joy and happiness,” said Latifa Amini who arrived in March.

“Through this move and the help that I got is here, I feel safe, my children feel safe, we live in a home we know is not going to be attacked by anyone, we know there is nobody that is going to come and take away things from us, we are safe here, that’s the main difference, I feel at ease,” she said.

Since 1989, Australia has issued about 14,000 “At Risk” visas to women from 37 countries. Initially only a few hundred a year were offered.

Many have suffered torture and abuse; lost their husbands, fled war zones and have limited means to provide from themselves.

“These are some of the most vulnerable women and children in the world and we’ve (Australia) really made a strong international commitment to take women through this program. It’s something we can be immensely proud of,” said Kerrin Benson, head of Multicultural Development Australia the organisation that is supporting the Hazara women.

Latifa Amini arrived in March with her two sons and a sister and was brought straight to Toowoomba to start her new life.

“We’re delighted to have them here, we welcomed them when they first arrived, in fact we’ll have a celebration soon of their 12 month stay in Toowoomba,” said Toowoomba mayor Paul Antonoi.

“There was a deliberate move by council to become a Refugee Welcome Zone.

“We’ve had a lot of people coming here for a long time, and even if you look back in our early history, while that immigration was European, there was tremendous cooperation between cultures, the Irish, the Germans, who wouldn’t have known each other.”

Since the first Hazara arrive about a year ago they have been learning English and how to use their cooking and sewing skills to earn an income.

This weekend they put their results of their hard work to the test, with a food and craft stalls at the Toowoomba Cultures and Languages Festival, attended by about 15,000 people.

“My ultimate goal would be that I would not be a burden to the Australian community and government and people, my aim would be to be independent and work and earn enough money to live,” said Latifa Amini.

Toowoomba did make them feel welcome and the Hazara food stall sold out of everything.

“I want it to be like today, full of joy and happiness and we can present our culture through our handiwork or crafts, food or cooking, music. Today was a happy day,” Latifa Amini said.



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Hazaras to celebrate freedom at Omagh festival

June 17, 2014

The Omagh Celebrations will be held Sunday 22 June at Springvale Town Hall from 6pm

The Omagh Celebrations will be held Sunday 22 June at Springvale Town Hall from 6pm

The Hazara community of Melbourne is about to do something they are not used to – celebrate their local Hazaragi culture.

The refugee community is preparing for the inaugural Omagh Celebration, a festival of Hazaragi music, art, theatre and poetry.

Poet Farkhonda Akbari told 774 ABC Melbourne’s Richard Stubbs that the local Hazaras “have to bring back a culture that has been persecuted for 200 years.”

“We are trying to celebrate a culture that has never been celebrated,” said Ms Akbari.

Persecution and discrimination

I experienced a smile for the first time in Australia… This is a place we can actually practice our culture.

Farkhonda Akbari


Around 7 million Hazaras live in the ethnic region of Hazarajat in Afghanistan.

It is estimated more than four million more live as refugees in Iran and Pakistan.

Central Asian in appearance, Hazaras are predominantly from the Shiite Muslim minority and have been openly targeted by the Taliban.

Those living as refugees in Iran face daily discrimination, according to Farkonda Akbari.

“Most of their kids are not allowed to go to school or go to university,” said Ms Akbari.

“There are some schools run by the the Hazaras themselves but they can’t go to university when they finish school, they can’t buy a house.”

Ms Akbari lived in Iran for three years as a child.

“Just walking down the street there are things thrown at you,” she said.

“You had to strip your identity, your cultural identity off to be able to live.”

Freedom and opportunity


Around 20,000 Hazaras now live in Australia, approximately 9000 of whom reside in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs.

“Australia has the biggest Hazara community of any Western country,” said Ms Akbari.

She said in contrast to Iran, her experience of settling in Australia was one of “welcome and warmth.”

“I experienced a smile for the first time in Australia,” she said.

“I call it the golden day.”

She said Hazaras in Australia now have the opportunity to revive their culture.

“You are not discriminated against, you are not bullied or anything when you walk down the street,” she said.

“This is a place we can actually practice our culture.”


Multicultural Arts Victoria ran music, poetry and theatre workshops for the Hazara community in preparation for the Omagh Celebrations.

Ms Akbari teamed up with fellow poet Alia Gabres to run the poetry workshops, which she said fell into two parts.

“One part is for reciting the folklore Hazara poetry that have been passed down for generations from people to people,” said Ms Akbari.

“At the same time there are people who are writing themselves from their own experience.”

Participants in the workshops have written about the political situation in Afghanistan as well as more personal stories.

“We have a lady who’s talking about how to be a Hazara mother.”

Ms Akbari is currently studying a Masters of International Relations with the aim of working “from Canberra to Kabul.”

In 2012 she returned to Afghanistan while working with Human Rights Commission investigating alleged violations of humanitarian law by US troops.

“I have two homelands I have Australia and I have Afghanistan.”

The Omagh Celebrations will be held Sunday 22 June at Springvale Town Hall from 6pm.


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Spotlight on Dandenong’s community of Afghan Hazaras by award-winning photojournalist Barat Ali Batoor

June 09, 2014

WBarat Ali Batoor is never far away from his trusty camera. Picture: Valeriu Campan

Barat Ali Batoor is never far away from his trusty camera. Picture: Valeriu Campan Source: News Limited

Barat Ali Batoor is always focussed on putting the spotlight on his community. Picture: V

Barat Ali Batoor is always focussed on putting the spotlight on his community. Picture: Valeriu Campan Source: News Limited

A WALKLEY-AWARD winning photojournalist will showcase an exhibition on the Afghan Hazara community next month in Dandenong.

Barat Ali Batoor’s work will be on display at the Walker Street Gallery from July 3 to 26 and aims to provide insight into the day-to-day lives of Hazaras in the city and the valuable contributions they make.

Immigration to Australia increased in the late 1990s as attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan rose substantially.

Today, there are an estimated 12,000 Hazaras living in Greater Dandenong and Casey.

Mr Batoor, a Hazara himself, worked as a photojournalist in Afghanistan and has been published in the Washington PostNewsweekand The Wall Street Journal.

The Dandenong local spent four months researching and shooting the exhibit.

“I was thinking about how much they must have changed from when they first arrived and didn’t have any education and English,” Mr Batoor said.

“This story is about that, and in the exhibition I photographed people who started as labourers or working in meat factories, but now have their own businesses.

“It is mostly success stories.”

Mr Batoor said the exhibition would shed light on both the Hazara culture and asylum seeker issues.

“All we get from the media and news is mounting propaganda about asylum seekers and refugees,” he said.

“We have thousands of asylum seekers on bridging visas with no work rights, but if given the opportunity they will also shine and contribute to the community.”


One of Mr Batoor’s images: Najafi Barber Shop in Dandenong Arcade. Picture: Barat Ali Bat

One of Mr Batoor’s images: Najafi Barber Shop in Dandenong Arcade. Picture: Barat Ali Batoor/Supplied Source: Supplied


*A Hazara’s life:

n Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, at about 2.8 million, and have a population of more than 500,000 in neighbouring Pakistan.

n They are mostly Shia Muslims, making them targets for violence by extremist Sunni Muslim groups such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangri.

n Thousands have been killed in recent years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


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Looking for a promised land – the Hazaras of Dandenong

May 15, 2014

Bestway boysDSC0449

Walk into the Bestway Supermarket on Dandenong’s Lonsdale Street and you’ll immediately see 20 litre cans of sunflower oil and 80 litre cooking pots stacked neatly near the entrance.

There are also posters advertising Quran classes, English lessons and home child care.

This simple social accoutrement gives you an oblique insight into Dandenong’s close-knit Afghan Hazara community.

Bestway’s co-owner Mohammad Reza says: “Australians come in and see the big pots and they laugh. But what they don’t realise is that if we have a get-together or a party at someone’s house – and we Hazara have lots of these functions –  there will be 60 or 70 people and they all have to be fed.”

Reza was one of the first Hazaras to settle in Dandenong in the late 1990s. He worked for three years in a slaughterhouse in Pakenham and then opened a small shop on Thomas Street, one block back from the main drag. He sold groceries and other items to an almost exclusive Afghan and Iranian clientèle. In January Reza and his brother and a cousin opened the Bestway Supermarket on a prime spot in central Dandenong opposite the imposing, recently refurbished Drum Theatre. The tidy, well-stocked shop serves as many locals as it does Afghans; you can buy Vegemite and Tim Tams as well as sheep’s brains and Lavash bread.

The Hazara community around Dandenong has grown steadily over the past fifteen-or-so years to the point where there are now an estimated 12,000 living in the area which now extends to Narre Warren, Hampton Park and Cranbourne.

The first Hazaras arrived in the late 1990s as attacks on them in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani city of Quetta, to which many had fled from the Taliban, increased exponentially.

Hazarav protest_DSC0626As mostly Shia Muslims, the Hazara are targets for violence by extremist Sunni Muslim groups such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangri. More than 1500 have been killed and 4000 maimed over the past decade in Pakistan and not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice in that time. It is not known how many more have been killed by the Taliban inside Afghanistan.

Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, at about 2.8 million, the majority of whom are Shiite Muslims. They also have a population approaching 500,000 in neighbouring Pakistan.

The word Hazar means ‘‘thousand’’ in Persian and some experts believe they are descendants of Mongol soldiers left by Genghis Khan in the 13th Century; a theory supported by the Hazaras’ distinctive Asiatic facial features. The Hazara comprise the largest ethnic group seeking asylum in Australia and this exodus from terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan has produced a two tier community among the Hazara in Dandenong.

There are those who have jobs or businesses and relatively settled and comfortable lives. And there are those who arrived after August 2013 – as Australian politics became consumed with the ‘boat people’ issue – who do not have work rights and whose futures are uncertain.

The asylum seekers without work rights are typically single men, sharing cheap housing and existing on benefits payments that are less than the dole. Despite this, the Hazaras have built a vibrant community and sub-economy in Melbourne’s south-east.

Photographer Barat Ali Batoor, who is compiling a photo exhibition on the community, says the Hazara community is defined by its circumstances.

“It’s a very close community because we are all a long way from home and we all know what is happening there – there have been so many Hazaras killed in the past few years and anyone who knows anything about the political situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan will tell you that it is only going to get worse,” he said.

Batoor, who worked as a photojournalist in Afghanistan and whose exposure of the sex slave trade in his home country earned him international recognition and made him a target for the Taliban and conservative interests, says there are strong cultural bonds in the Hazara community.

“Hazaras tend to look out for each other and they’re very social. In Dandenong there is a very strong Hazara cultural scene. There are youth groups, music groups, theatre, sporting groups and other community activities,” he said.

Mohammad Danesh runs a recycling business. He came to Australia in 2005 as a refugee from Ghazani Province in Afghanistan sponsored by family members already living here. Originally, he settled in Sunshine – at the time there were five or six Hazara families living there.

“We stayed about a year,” he said. “Then we moved to Narre Warren South – close to Dandenong – where the majority of Afghans live,” Mohammad said. “It was easier to communicate and connect with the community,” he said. Mohammad opened a supermarket and grocery business with some partners. After two-and-a-half years he left open a recycling business which is still running.

Mohammad’s son Bashir runs a travel agency and money exchange in a Dandenong arcade dominated by Afghan and other immigrant-run businesses. Bashir was 13 when he arrived in Australia and completed his VCE and went on to study international business and aviation.

“Language is one of the main issues for Afghans looking for work here. So it’s very important to learn English,” Bashir said. “Because I was quite young when I came to Australia it was easier for me,” he said.

Bashir says there is a small Hazara-based economy running in the Dandenong area which provides some employment for newly arrived migrants and refugees.

“We have, for example, Hazara businesses which import things you can’t buy in Australian shops. This makes it easier for people in the community to get their traditional goods and it gives some people jobs.”

Not far from Bashir’s arcade, lives a man who does not have a job nor a business to run. ‘Syed’ fled his home in Quetta in fear of his life – leaving behind his wife and children and his elderly mother. As a middle ranking public servant and a Hazara, he attracted the attention of the Taliban.

“I had to leave because there were men with guns looking for me. My colleagues at work told me not to come to work because these men had come to my office looking for me,” Syed said.

Syed arrived in Australia after August 2013 and so does not have the right to work. “It is very difficult for us because we cannot work. We just sit at home with nothing much to do and with very little money,” he said.

Asylum seekers receive 89 per cent of Centrelink benefits – or just over $200 a week for a single adult. “It is very hard. We want to work but we cannot. We would like to work to support ourselves and our families – we do not want to take money from the Australian Government,” Syed said.

Taiba Kiran, an Education Counsellor with refugee and migrant settlement agency AMES, and herself a Hazara, sees her own community from a range of perspectives. “It’s a very close-knit community and people are very helpful toward each other. People already here, are established and working to help new arrivals to settle in,” she said.

Kiran says Dandenong became a magnet for the Hazara because a critical mass of population was achieved. “You had a few Hazara living here and that attracted more and then more,” she said.

“There was also affordable and available housing and all the key services are here,” Kiran said.

“The Hazara are just the most recent wave of immigration that Dandenong has seen over decades. You had the Greeks and Italian in the 1950s, then Albanians and Vietnamese – now its Afghans. Businesses were established here that provided the special requirements – halal meat and other food imported from Afghanistan or surrounding countries.” She said.

Zakia_DSC0916Another prominent Hazara woman is Zakia Baig. She founded the Australian Hazara Women’s Friendship Network (AHWFN)in November 2012, with the aim of helping other Hazara women feel comfortable in Australia by providing them with a social network and building their confidence.

“Friendship is the main focus,” she said. “We want them to feel welcome, accepted, and part of the broader Australian community.”

Her organisation gives women the opportunity to receive regular training as well as free English classes in their own language. They start by building basic skills, such as English, finding friends in the Dandenong community and gaining the knowledge and confidence to access services, use public transport and learn computer skills.

Zakia won SBS’s My Community Matters competition in 2013 – by submitting a story outlining her journey from Pakistan to Australia, speaking about the importance of community and women’s rights – and got the chance to share it with then Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Australia Day.

“We are working especially with newly arrived and older women who suffer isolation and a lack of connection with the broader community,” Zakia said.

“It is alarming for us because we can see that in the future our women might suffer even greater isolation. But we are meeting this challenge by taking them out and helping them mingle in the wider community. A lot of our women are not well educated or literate and this makes for a lot of communication problems.

“The cultural differences are also an issue. Many Afghans, and particularly women, have no understanding of other cultures and so no way of making friends from other cultures.

“One of our strengths though is that we are a close community and everyone tries to help one another – this is because we’ve been living in areas where discrimination and repression of Hazaras is very high.”

Zakia says Hazaras are different from most other ethnic groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

“I think the Hazaras are more enterprising, more open and welcoming. They are secular, accepting and peaceful. Hazaras have the attitude that if you’re going to survive, then you have to find a way to get on with people and make a life,” she said.

Zakia says the newly arrived Hazara asylum seekers who don’t have work rights are accepted and included by more established members of the community but that the longer standing members could do more.

“Newly arrived people are included very much in community events but they still have their challenges,” she said.

“For instance the local community could do more to provide English classes for this group,” she said. But overall, Zakia says the Hazara community is in good shape.

“I’m optimistic, as a community we are making progress. We have students going to uni – including young women – which would never happen in Afghanistan,” she said.

“More women are coming out of their homes and if they’re given opportunities, they are very capable and keen to find ways to make contributions and to shine,” Zakia said.

“These are very positive signs. Despite all the challenges we still face, Dandenong and Australia have been good for the Hazara.”

Bestway Supermarket owner Mohammad Reza is now an Australian citizen. He came here on an asylum seeker boat to escape the dangers he faced in his home city of Kabul.

“I am very happy to be here in Australia – not for myself but for my family. They are safe here and they have good lives,” he said. “My son is studying civil engineering at uni and my daughter is in Year 11. They are both studying hard and want to be successful for themselves and also to help our community.”

“I’m proud of my son and I dream sometimes that he will go back to Afghanistan one day as an engineer and help rebuild the country. My daughter wants to be a scientist and that is something we couldn’t dream of in Afghanistan. They would never let us do these things because we are Hazara.” Reza says many members of the Hazara community have family back home they worry about.

“I remember when I first came here, I would drive my car to a quiet place and cry because I felt bad about being away from my family,” he said.

“I’d love to go back to my country and take my children to show them how people live there – I consider my homeland like my mother. But unfortunately the people there won’t let me go back.”

Reza said Hazara people gravitated to Dandenong after a fledgling community was established.

“The immigration department put us all over the place so we had to find each other. We needed to help each other with learning English, finding work, schooling and even being able to shop for the things we needed.

“Also all the facilities were located here – immigration, Centrelink and doctors and a lot of people don’t have cars so they have to walk.

“Here in Dandenong it’s easy for us to connect with each other and community is very important to us Hazaras.

“Hazaras are very social; we are accepting and we can get on with anyone. We get together a lot in big groups – that’s why we need the big pots,” Reza laughs.



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