Year 7 student Tomi has written a fictional piece about a friendship with a twelve year old Hazara refugee, giving the background of the refugee girl. She wrote it in response to an activity in Module C of year 7 English where the students are examining the themes of courage and freedom.
Nelofar Hazara – An Asylum Seeker Story
I first made contact with Nelofar about a year ago. A friend I visit in an immigration detention centre in Melbourne gave me her Skype address and asked me to “please say Hi” to her. My friend at MITA told me that Nelofar, her mother and little brother are being held on Manus Island, and that she was feeling very sad and lonely. He thought it might cheer her up a little if she could ‘meet up and chat’ with an Australian girl around her own age. As soon as I got home that night I contacted Nelofar, and we have been chatting to each other ever since. Language isn’t much of a problem, because her mother and father have been teaching her English ever since she was really little, and Nelofar is teaching me some Urdu and Persian. I tell her about my life, and she talks about hers.
Image from Asylum seeker resource centre http://www.championsofchange.org.au/?p=192 18/07/2014
This is Nelofar’s story:
Nelofar comes from a small rural town in Afghanistan. She says she misses running around amongst her grandfather’s Apricot trees and Almond trees and playing in the hills and along the river near her hometown. She, her mum and brother were visiting her dad in Kabul when the Taliban came into the village looking for her father. They had found out that her dad was working as an interpreter for the Australian soldiers, and demanded for the “Hazara traitor” to be handed over. They beat up her granddad and took away her father’s 16 year old brother.
After Nelofar’s grandfather phones her dad in Kabul to tell him what has happened, he decides there and then that it is no longer safe for any of them to return to the village, or stay in Afghanistan.
The next month, the family sets off from Kabul and they walk for four nights through villages, fields and mountains, while hiding from Talibans and robbers during the day, before sneaking across the border into Pakistan. They find a small flat near Alamdar Road in Mari Abad, a suburb of Quetta where many other Hazara refugees from Afghanistan have escaped to over the many years of war and unrest. Nelofar’s father finds a job, the two children go back to school, and all seems well.
But then the Taliban start appearing in the street, attacking school buses and kidnapping members of the Hazara community as well as other Shia Muslims. Nelofar’s father decides that Quetta too is no longer safe enough and he gives a people smuggler most of the family’s savings to take him to Australia. The plan Nelofar’s parents make, is that they will follow as soon as he arrives and has settled in.
Two months later the family gets a phone call from the people smuggler saying that dad has safely arrived in Australia, followed by a phone call from Nelofar’s dad telling them that he is in a detention centre on Christmas Island, but assuring them he’d get their journey organised the moment the Australian officials have finished processing him and he is released.
Three years after his first phone call from Christmas Island, Nelofar’s father is still locked up in a detention centre, while the situation in Quetta is getting worse by the day. There have been several bomb attacks on Shia schools, shops, markets and other places where Hazaras hang out. Every day carries news of more kidnappings and drive-by shootings, so Nelofar’s grandfather makes arrangements for mum, Nelofar and her brother to join his son in Australia. The grandparents, uncles and aunties sell land, jewellery and other valuables to pay a people smuggler to take the three to Australia.
A man working for the people smugglers organises plane tickets and fake travel documents to get them to Malaysia. In Malaysia they have to share a tiny room with other asylum seekers while they wait for the phone call from the people smuggler that will tell them where to go next. When their visas run out they can no longer freely move about the streets for fear of being found out and jailed. Eight weeks later the people smuggler finally calls and tells them to get into the back of a waiting truck. It takes them to a secret beach location where an old fishing boat is waiting to take them across the ocean to Indonesia.
It takes all night of hiding away below deck and being thrown about by the seas before they arrive on an isolated beach in Indonesia. A man meets them there and they walk for hours up hills and through jungle before arriving in Cisuara. This large hill town is where Nelofar, her mum and brother will have to ‘hide away’ for the next weeks, or even months, while they wait for ‘their turn’ on a boat to Australia. Here in Cisuara are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of other asylum seekers from troubled places such as Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, Burma and Somalia. Cisuara is a lovely, lush-looking place, but steamy hot, and can be dangerous to asylum seekers. Nelofar’s mum is often stopped by corrupt police and local gangs, but as soon she pays the ‘bribe’ demanded she is allowed to leave. After a while, Nelofar starts going to a ‘school’ run by an Australian aid organisation. There are lots of other refugee and asylum seeker children at this school, from all over the world, many also waiting for a people smuggler’s phone call to tell them what to do next, though no-one talks about that, because no-one wants to get caught. Her English teacher Mykal is a young man from Australia, who doesn’t seem to speak much Indonesian, and Nelofar likes this foreigner. He is funny and has kind eyes. She wonders if all Australian people are friendly and caring like Mr Mykal.
Nelofar’s mother’s stash of money is rapidly dwindling away, and the family can barely afford to buy food, but Nelofar’s grandparents and relatives back in Afghanistan do not have any more valuables to sell.
Then one day, eight months after first arriving in Indonesia, mum tells Nelofar to pack her things. The phone call from the people smuggler came through. It is time to leave. They make their way back through the jungle and down the hills to a beach near Jakarta where they climb onto an old and rickety fishing boat. About fifty other asylum seekers are on board, all looking terribly scared, but also relieved that they are finally leaving for Australia. The boat is small and very cramped, and at times it gets thrown about by the big, wild waves so much, that it looks like capsizing. Everyone uses buckets, pans and cups to throw the mass of water that keeps spilling over the sides back into the sea, desperately trying to stop the vessel from sinking. Nelofar is terrified and clings on to her mum and little brother, and is sure they will not make it to Australia; that they will be swallowed by this fierce sea; that she will never hug her father again, that she will never go to university, that she will never become a doctor…
After five long days, a big, heavy boat comes into view on the horizon and turns to slowly move towards the asylum seeker boat. As it comes closer Nelofar sees that it is an Australian Navy boat, and she excitedly hugs her mother and brother and their hearts jump with joy. They WILL NOT drown; she WILL hug her father soon; she WILL go to university one day; she WILL become a doctor. SHE IS ALIVE!
The group is taken to the Christmas Island Detention Centre, the same place her father stayed at when he first arrived in Australia. Before being taken to their rooms they are given food and hot drinks, are checked by doctors, and asked many questions by an Australian official. The next day an asylum seeker from Afghanistan, who arrived many months ago, gives his phone to Nelofar’s mum saying there is a call for her. It is Nelofar’s dad, who is still locked up in a detention centre on the mainland, but has heard about their arrival. Nelofar watches as her mother’s face lights up when she hears the familiar voice of her husband, but then wonders why soon after it changes, and why tears of pain are starting to roll heavily down her mother’s cheek. What is happening, she wonders. Why is mother crying? We are here, in Australia. We are safe. We will soon see father, won’t we?
Nowadays Nelofar knows the answers to the questions that were left unanswered at the time.
Within a fortnight of arriving on Christmas Island, Nelofar, her mum and brother are put on a plane and taken to a detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Not long after she finds out, that in the time it took for them to travel from Indonesia to Australia, the government of Australia brought in a new law. A law that says, that any person arriving by boat will NOT EVER be allowed to live in Australia. She hears that those found to be “genuine refugees” will be resettled in Papua New Guinea, or some other country willing to accept them, but it WILL NOT be Australia.
Nowadays Nelofar knows, that she will not hug her father anytime soon, if ever. She knows, that she, her brother and parents will not live as a family anytime soon, if ever. Going to university and becoming a doctor is no longer important to her…
Every now and again Nelofar asks me the following questions: “What is wrong with us? What wrong has my father done to be locked in a prison? What wrong has my mother done to be locked in a prison? What wrong has my brother done to be locked in a prison? What wrong have I done to be locked in a prison? Why are we dangerous? Why are Australian people scared of us?”
I give her the same response every time, because I don’t know what else to say, “Nelofar, there is nothing wrong with any of YOU! What your father did, MY father would do if he were in your father’s shoes. What your mother did, MY mother would do if she were in your mother’s shoes. What you did, I would do if I were in your shoes. No, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Your father, your mother, your brother and you have done no wrong. It is the Australian government that is doing wrong. It is the Australian people that are doing wrong. Please don’t give up hope, Nelofar, because some day, perhaps soon, the good people of this country will find the courage to defeat the bad people of this country, and then we will all be free.”
…but will we?