Sixty people listened as refugees gave harrowing accounts of what had led them to seek asylum in Australia at a forum in Parramatta on July 15 organised by People Just Like Us.
Shokufa Tahiri and Ezatullah Salar spoke about the long history of oppression of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan.
In 1890, Abdur Rahman Khan exterminated 63% of the minority group and until the 1930s Hazaras were systematically driven out of cities, and deprived of citizenship and education. Under the Taliban, it became a crime to be Hazara, Turkic or Shia.
Shokufa said she and her family owe their lives to a brave Pushtun driver who risked his life to smuggle them out of Afghanistan. Her father arrived first in Australia and, after eventually becoming a permanent resident, paid for his family to travel from Pakistan.
Ezatullah, a former translator for the Australian army in Afghanistan and later for the US and NZ security forces, first received what he termed a “love letter from the Taliban” in 2010 advising him to leave his job, and the country, if he wanted to stay alive.
Ezatullah used fake passports to get to Dubai, Thailand and Indonesia. He went by boat to Christmas Island, eventually reaching Australia in 2011. He told the forum of the discrimination he faces because he is Muslim.
Murtadha Ebadi and Adam Ahmed are Shia Muslims from Iraq. They were happy to see the overthrow of Sadam Hussein, they said, but life became more difficult afterwards.
Murtadha described how he needed two citizenship papers, one with a fake Sunni name. He said people were killed if they had the “wrong” identity or the “wrong” faith on their ID.
He lived on both sides of the Iran-Iraq border during the Hussein years, fleeing Iraq in 2009 to head to Australia via Iran, Malaysia and Indonesia until he was finally rescued from a reef near Timor.
Yamamah Agha, from Settlement Services International, which helps find accommodation and services for refugees and others on humanitarian visas, also spoke.
Belinda Liddell, from the UNSW Refugee Trauma and Recovery Program said most asylum seekers have suffered from torture and trauma, and their experiences since arriving in Australia have often made this worse.
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