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Anu Hasbold on one refugee’s journey from Afghanistan to Australia, and the uncertainty they now face.

A temporary stay in a ‘land of fairytales’



When Afghanistan fell back under Taliban control earlier this year, the Australian government announced it would evacuate more than 4000 people. 

 

Most of them arrived in cities in the middle of Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdowns, unsure about what happens next and how to navigate their lives in a new and unfamiliar country.

 

But despite being promised safety here, some are concerned they could be sent back to the country they fled. 

Today, 7am producer Anu Hasbold on one refugee’s journey from Afghanistan to Australia, and the uncertainty they now face.

 

Guest: Producer for 7am, Anu Hasbold

Show Transcript

[THEME MUSIC IN]

 

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am

 

When Afghanistan fell back under Taliban control earlier this year, the Australian government announced it would evacuate over 4,000 people seeking to flee the country. Most of them arrived in cities in the middle of Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdowns, unsure about what happens next and how to navigate their lives in a new and unfamiliar country. But despite being promised safety here, some are concerned they could be sent back to the country they fled. 

 

Today, 7am producer Anu Hasbold on one refugee’s journey from Afghanistan to Australia, and the uncertainty they now face.

 

It’s Monday October 18. 

 

[THEME MUSIC OUT]

 

RUBY:

Hey Anu...

 

ANU:

Hey!

 

RUBY:

How are you?

 

ANU:

I’m good!

 

RUBY:

Welcome to the *7am* studio...

 

ANU:

Thank you, it’s weird being on this side of the mic.

 

RUBY:

You’re going to be great! Maybe we could start by you telling me a bit about why you wanted to do this story?

 

ANU:

So when Kabul fell to the Taliban in August, I'd been speaking to people on the ground in Afghanistan who are desperately trying to flee and evacuate. And I knew that the Australian government had evacuated about four thousand people. And I'd been wondering where they were at and wanted to speak with them about what it was like to resettle here in Melbourne. So I got in touch with one person who had just gotten out of hotel quarantine around the corner from our office.

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“My name is Noor Mohammed Ramazan. Ramazan is my last name...”

 

ANU:

And his name is Noor.

 

RUBY:

OK, so can you tell me a bit about who Noor is? What do we know about his life up to this point? 

 

ANU:

Noor grew up in Mazar e Sharif in northern Afghanistan, and he's from the Hazara ethnic group. And when I asked him how old he was, he actually said that he doesn't know. He doesn't know when his birth date is or what year he was born, so he estimates he's probably about thirty four or thirty five years old. 

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“Normally...like I said earlier...if you ask my mom about my birth date, she only knows that it was a Soviet war going on everywhere in Afghanistan, and she remembers that it was cold and she remembers that she had pain in her body and I was born.” 

 

ANU:

And now he's married. He has a five year old son and a five month old daughter and all his life he’s seen conflict in Afghanistan.

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“It was a very difficult and tough childhood. Unfortunately, since I remember... since I was born, I remember every time there's something happening in Afghanistan.” 

 

ANU:

He told me that as a kid, he worked some really tough jobs and one of them was working in the poppy fields, producing opium.

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“And working at the opium field goes back to 1998, when I was like 11 or 12 years old, when Taliban took over Mazar e Sharif, my city.”

 

ANU:

And in 2001 when the US invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban were taken from power and Noor was able to learn English and he then started working as a tour guide.  

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“Basically, I was a very patriotic person. I really liked my country and I was feeling honoured to show the beauties of Afghanistan.”

 

ANU:

And as a tour guide Noor was working with foreigners quite regularly, which wasn’t something that the Taliban looked upon favourably.

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“So I was not believing the Taliban is going to take over Afghanistan, but unfortunately they took over all the gates of Mazar e Sharif.”

ANU:

And so when the Taliban returned to power, he was in trouble and he knew that his family needed to get out. 

 

RUBY:

Hmm. So that was back in August, when the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. It was this very swift takeover. A lot of people were taken by surprise, and there were many people who worked out that they needed to leave the country immediately and were trying to get out. Can you tell me about how Noor went about this? How did he approach trying to escape with his family? 

 

ANU:

I mean, it was a mad scramble at that time. I think, Noor was definitely like everyone else in Afghanistan getting in touch with foreign friends. 

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“And all of my international friends were very worried about me, especially the clients that I guided them in Afghanistan.”

 

ANU:

But it was actually an Australian woman named Sharon who had been a tourist in Afghanistan in 2019 who helped him out. 

 

Archival Tape -- Sharon

“But I started thinking, Well, you know, there's some way I could help. And, you know, Noor and his family get to Australia.”

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“Sharon was worried, and she said Noor, like everywhere, has fallen into the hands of Taliban. When are you going to get out? Do you need help? What should I do?” 

 

Archival Tape -- Sharon

“And so I thought to contact my friend, Senator Janet Rice, that I've known for, like, 30 years or something. I used to work with her many years ago to see if she knew what the Australian government was doing and was there any way she could help?” 

 

ANU:

It just so crazily happened to be that Sharon was good friends with Greens Senator Janet Rice. 

 

Archival Tape -- Sharon

“Both myself and her were talking to the crisis centre that had been set up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

 

ANU:

And within about a day, she was able to get him a confirmation letter that said to go to Kabul, go to the northern gate and he'll be able to get on an evacuation flight. 

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“It took just a day for everything to get confirmed. Very soon, everything happened very quick. So with the last ever flight from Mazar to Kabul, I flew to Kabul.”

 

ANU:

But when he got there, it was just absolute chaos. There were thousands of people all trying to get to the northern gate. He told me that people were dying from dehydration, just sheer force of humans pushing... 

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“I thought, we're going to lose our children here. And then I mean, a feeling of fear just rushed through me. And then I thought that I know. And I thought, I cannot go into the airport. I was trying to keep myself motivated because I was losing hope. So I just wanted to be on the other side of the world, just on the other side of the world. And I was just telling myself, on the other side of the world, it's Australia out there. It's safety and and it's it's peace out there.”

 

ANU:

And after two days of trying and trying, they finally got to the gate. 

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“All the time when I think of this point, I automatically remember the government of Australia and the soldiers. How hard they were working out there to help people.”

 

ANU:

So he spoke to the Australian soldier who was at the gate. He was very luckily on that list that the Australian government had, and the following night at midnight, they were able to get on the evacuation flight.

 

RUBY:

OK, so Noor and his family, they managed to get on this flight with the Australian Army. They're en route to Melbourne at this moment in time. How much do they actually know about where they're going? What do they imagine Australia is like? 

 

ANU:

Yeah. So when I asked Noor  what he knew about Australia, he didn't know that much. In fact, he thought it was a bit of a fantasy land. 

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“Australia, to me, looked more like a fairy tale, a land of fairy tales.”

 

ANU:

And it was a place that kind of didn't exist because people died trying to get there. 

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“Tons of people from Afghanistan, they lost their life. They sell.. they sold all their belongings. They started migrating, they crossed the borders illegally to come to Australia. It was a land of happiness and luck of chances and luck for people, but almost none of them made it to Australia.”

 

ANU:

And so he really never, ever thought in his life that he would make it to Australia this fairy tale land. 

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“They were stuck in India. There were stuck in Indonesia. Some of my friends that I know, some of my neighbours, some of my relatives. I heard lots of stories about people dying between the waters, between Indonesia and Australia. I know lots of people from my village who died on the way to Australia.”

 

RUBY:

So what happened to him then when he did manage to get here along with his family when they landed in Melbourne? 

 

ANU:

Yeah. As soon as they arrived at Melbourne airport, they were told about Covid-19 and they were told that they had to do a two week hotel quarantine. So there were a lot of things that would have been quite shocking to him and his family, not only Covid-19 and this new world that they were in. But also at that time, they didn't really know how long their visa was for or what their future looked like in Australia. And it was, in fact, in hotel quarantine that he saw on the news that this temporary visa that he was on was only for three months.

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“I'm not sure what's going to happen next. It's after three months now. Almost one month is over.”

 

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment. 

 

[ADVERTISEMENT]

 

RUBY:

Anu you’ve been talking to Noor - he recently arrived from Afghanistan, but discovered the visa that he's been granted is short term at the moment only allows him to stay here in Australia for three months. Why is that? 

 

ANU:

Yeah. When Noor told me that he was on this very short term visa. I wanted to figure out what the visa entails and what were the opportunities for him to stay longer.  

 

I spoke with Arif Hussein, a lawyer at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service.

 

Archival Tape -- Arif Hussien

“After Kabul fell, we were getting in the first week, you know, close to a few hundred calls a day or up to one hundred calls in the first week every single day.”

 

ANU:

And he's been working in the front line, speaking with people on the ground in Afghanistan and people who just arrived from Afghanistan.

 

Archival Tape -- Arif Hussien

“Right now I'm not sure why the government hasn't provided more information about how they will continue treating this cohort, that they're evacuated on 449 visas.”

 

ANU:

As Arif actually told me that this isn't the first time that this visa’s been used. 

 

Archival Tape -- Arif Hussien

“This visa was used to evacuate people from Kosovo during that crisis.”

 

ANU:

This visa was introduced by Howard when they had a similar evacuation where they evacuated Kosovars from Kosovo which was a civil war in 1998 and ended in 1999. 

 

RUBY:

And so what happened to those people, the ones who came to Australia back in the 90s on the same visa that these current refugees from Afghanistan are on. 

 

ANU:

So at that time, the Howard government appeared to be magnanimous in that they allowed 3,900 refugees to come to Australia, but it was very temporary. At the time there was a lack of legal provisions around whether they could be prevented from going back to Kosovo, and so the Kosovars were repatriated back to their country after two months.  Some fought to stay in Australia, and the case went up to the High Court. And you know, the UNHCR described it as an induced repatriation, and at least twenty one of those people were then sent to Port Hedland, which was a detention centre back then. It got to the point where, you know, security guards at the detention centre were guarding them off. There were hunger strikes. It was a real struggle, and a lot of these refugees didn't want to go back. Ultimately, only about one hundred and twenty one were permitted to stay, but that was citing medical conditions. 

 

RUBY:

So - is there a fear that something similar to that could happen now? That these people, these Afghan refugees who were accepted in a moment of crisis when the Taliban took over, that they could end up not being allowed to stay in Australia? That like the Kosvars - they might be “repatriated” back, just a few months after managing to escape? 

 

ANU:

Yeah, pretty much at the moment, because the Australian government hasn't made any announcement about what's going to happen to these people. There's the risk that they're within their grounds to repatriate them back unless they're given permanent residency. But Afghanistan is absolutely not safe to go back to, especially for people like Noor, who have shown the Taliban that they're willing to evacuate and that they’re willing to go to Australia. For them to be sent back, they would definitely be targeted, and especially as a Hazara person, he will be even further persecuted. 

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“When I was here in Australia, I found the Taliban are looking for me and my brother. My brother was working for my company out there as a tour guide. Now Taliban are looking for us.”

 

ANU:

So you know by evacuating people like Noor the Australian government has acknowledged that they are in great danger. So now they have a moral obligation is to provide permanent protection.

 

RUBY:

And how are Noor and his family feeling about all of this and how are they going? I suppose more generally, they've probably left quarantine now they're in Melbourne, how are they finding it? 

 

ANU:

I mean, Noor and his family are so grateful to be here. And you know, Noah's dream is to study English literature at university, and he has dreams for his kids to be educated here and to go to kindergarten and to find a permanent home. They have all the hope in the world and they hope that they can celebrate his birthday in Melbourne.

 

Archival Tape -- Noor Ramazan

“I also tell my son that we are in a nice country and we need to appreciate Australia all the time, that Australia gave us home. Australia gave us safety here, gave us food here, you know, accommodation here. In general, Australia give us a new life and they will come to us into its beautiful big arm, and I'm trying to explain all of this to my son.” 

 

RUBY:

Thanks Anu for talking to me all about this 

 

ANU:

Thanks Ruby

 

[ADVERTISEMENT]

 

OSMAN:

Also in the news today…

 

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews has announced Melbourne’s lockdown will end at midnight this Thursday.

Restrictions will ease earlier than planned as the state looks set to hit the 70 % vaccination target later this week.

 

Households will be able to host up to 10 visitors per day, while 15 people will be allowed to gather outdoors.

 

The travel limit and curfew will be scrapped, and hospitality venues will be able to open for indoor service, but only for up to 20 fully vaccinated customers.

 

And the federal health minister Greg Hunt has announced that the federal government is in discussions with Singapore about opening a travel bubble between the two countries.

 

I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am, see ya tomorrow for the headlines.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am