Arefa Hassani

I am a bird without wings, unlock the cage I beg with a sigh
I have been wounded by unkindness, I cannot fly.

My name is Arefa Hassani.

Being born in Afghanistan I fell victim to the unfortunate communist reforms and subsequent rejection of progressive thinking that primed Afghanistan for revolution and Civil War, resulting in the rise and fall of various political groups and leaders with the devastation and hardship of the Soviet invasion influencing Taliban ideology. The road to war in Afghanistan was not a straight one as it had for nearly half a century been one of the most stable countries in Asia, something often overlooked, and perhaps as a result, the potential warning bells went unobserved.

The Soviet-Afghan War was in no sense inevitable: it came about as a result of gross misunderstanding of Afghan society on the part both of Afghan communists and their Soviet backers. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, any semblance of functional central government evaporated in Afghanistan. At the same time it became clear that decades of state monopoly on coercion and distribution had undermined local communities and especially the essential linkages amongst them. Not just the polity but the entire society appeared to be fragmented. The core problem for Afghanistan is now not reassembling a government but rebuilding a basic consensual framework in its society. This intrusion by the Soviets just seemed to prove a bit much for the country, obliquely conceding to the preposterous Taliban regime. The point of that torture on your senses; the paragraph you just read, was to paint a vague picture of why people like myself have to leave Countries like Afghanistan. A problem of this magnitude cannot be overcome in a matter of days, so people fail to see the point in waiting around and instead look for an escape.

The saying ‘ One man’s collateral damage is another man’s son’ truly hits home for me because my two brothers and other members of my extended family became that damage. How can you stay put after going through something like that?
My father arrived in Australia by boat back in 2000, and yes that did make him subject to a lot of criticism. He has been referred to as illegal, a queue jumper and the whole shebang, but coming from someone that has been on the other hand, for countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, I can safely say that no legal channels exist.

So my father came to Australia, staying in detention for about eight months, then on a Temporary Protection Visa for about three years. Soon after, the rest of what was left of my family moved to Pakistan until we got sponsored by my father. Unfortunately, the news that awaited us was bittersweet – a parcel from the embassy with visas for only two family members out of the four of us. My brothers were rejected as they were over 18 and, according to the immigration department, no longer dependent on my father. The day came when my mother and I had to board the plane to Australia and say goodbye to my brothers, walking to the departure area looking back after every step – real Hollywood style.

I vividly remember the day I entered the grounds of Waikerie High School back in June 2006. Nothing can erase the image of heads sticking out from the classroom windows, I was alien to them and likewise they were alien to me. It took me an extremely and distressingly long time to understand and take in the enormity of what had just happened. It felt like I literally just got sucked into a black hole and emerged to the other side of the Universe, like I had travelled through space.

Not only did I start at a new school, which is difficult enough, but in a different country; with a different culture, language, set of regulations, everything. The first few years were probably the hardest years of my life. Not only did I have to fit in to a new school and make a few new friends, I was back to square one. Not being able to speak English was a huge barrier, which knocked me back emotionally, academically and socially. Because I was simply unable to communicate, I kind of disappeared into a universe of my own, which probably gave some people the wrong impression. Many probably assumed that I liked being alone and thus stayed away and the few that did try to get to know me failed because it must have been like talking to cardboard cut-out seeing as how I could not understand or respond. Ah jolly years!

As I started to get a bit more comfortable with my surroundings and the new life I had to lead, my time came to shine, but unfortunately life hasn’t been all that merciful to me. My life is and always has been a constant roller coaster of emotions, sloping up and down the track with patches where nothing at all happens and I just admire the scenery. Put simply, my life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows not even as a child.
My brothers were rejected yet again 🙁 It has been five years since our first appeal and two years since our last appeal, so far to no avail. To this day, we are still trying to bring them to Australia, to safety, as they are family 🙂

My time in Australia so far has been hard yet necessary in order for me to grow as a person. If it wasn’t for Australia giving me the opportunity, and my school for accepting me and providing me with my education, I would not have been much different from many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Afghanistan; probably collecting wood for the fire, and assisting my parents in the fields wondering whether life outside the valley existed or not. I am also grateful for the opportunities and blessings bestowed upon me. There are aspects of my life that I obviously dislike but in all honesty, I do have to admit the fact that it is a blessed one. I say that quite sincerely; I wake up every morning with a sense of purpose, how fortunate is that? And you know what? I am not trying to be sappy here but I am a refugee in Australia, and everyday I thank God that I have wound up in a country where as a Muslim girl and now as a Muslim woman I can dream big dreams and tap into much if not most of my potential. How privileged is that and how irresponsible would it be for me to turn my back on that? I am now determined to take what I learned here back to those innocent eyes crying out for help, all the while still contributing to Australian society as a faithful citizen. Right from the first day that I stepped on to the soil of this country, every day, every hour, every minute and every second, I have wished that everyone I left behind could one day have the opportunities that I have. It has been a long journey indeed, and one that has shaped me into the individual that I am today, and formed some indelible memories, that will shine through no matter where I go or who I become.

Photo from Arefa’s time in Pakistan