Eleven years ago Mohammad Azad made the heartbreaking decision to leave his family in Afghanistan and seek the safety of Australian shores by boat. Since moving to Rockhampton in Central Queensland, he has flourished, helping to settle hundreds of his fellow refugees and migrants into the Central Queensland area. He is also on a mission to reunite with more of his own family in Australia.
“I used to work with the American, French, Canadian forces in Afghanistan for nearly 8 years. But due to my job I couldn’t relocate my family back to Afghanistan because it was dangerous for them, so my family was living as refugees in Pakistan and I was working in Afghanistan. When I was trying to visit my family in Pakistan I was often under attack so that’s why I decided to leave Afghanistan and to try to come to Australia by boat. On the 5th June 2009, I left my family in Pakistan and headed towards Australia and on the 13th of October (2009) I landed in WA. I’m lucky that Australia was accepting refugees otherwise I don’t know what would have happened to me! I stayed for a few months in WA and then I moved to Rockhampton and thought I would be here for 3 months and it’s nearly been 10 years now, I’m still in Rocky.
“But when I was new in Australia, there were a lot of challenges for me, even someone who spoke English. Coming to Australia with a totally different language, different people, it was a challenge. You know, you come here and you need housing and you know that for housing you have to have a rental history. Employment as well, we have people who come here with a lot of knowledge but finding employment can be hard because you need accreditation, but you also have to support your family.
“My wife and my kids are here for the last few years now. They’ve resettled well, my kids are in school, but I still have my sister and my brother back in Pakistan at the moment. I’ve been trying to apply for them to come to Australia through the community sponsorship program for the last three years. But there have been so many challenges. For two people, I will spend about $40,000. $40,000 for two people is big money. In some circumstances I know people are happy to pay but still there is a lot of stuff in between the way to stop them from sponsoring their family members. Providing documents has proved to be a really difficult part of the community sponsorship process. I belong to a Hazara community, which is facing a lot of hardships in Afghanistan, so a lot of our people are refugee people in other countries so we do not have documents.”
“For the last eight years I have been working with Multicultural Australia assisting with resettling refugees in Rockhampton and Central Queensland. I try my best to support between maybe 600-700 people because I’m the only person working with refugees and migrants in Central Queensland. It is a challenge but I love to do it.
“A big number of my clients have part time jobs as well, so they are doing hard work, like taxi or house work, or these kinds of jobs as second jobs. Because of Coronavirus, there are a lot of people who have lost their job and a lot of them are getting less hours and they need support. They are saying ‘what are we meant to do, we have to support our families as well’. So I have been working around the clock to help these people to apply for government programs where possible or getting them the support they need.
“We have a lot of clients who come to us and they know they have the issue but they don't actually understand the issue itself. So we should help them to understand and at the same time we help them to understand the issue. Doing this makes them independent in the future, because we can’t help the same client with the same problem ten times!
“For me, at the end of the day seeing a smile on my clients face is a big gift and that is the thing that helps me to restart again the next day. Seeing people who have started from zero and with our support, now they have got a house and a family and their kids are at school and there are very many positive stories around how we can help them be helpful too.
“When I came I was the first Afghani Hazara person in Rockhampton, we didn't have Hazara here before! When we started settling here, we were on the first page of the newspaper, people were talking about us. I remember when we applied for our housing here, the first thing that happened was we were given a real estate agent. The agent asked where we were from and we explained we were from Afghanistan and all they had to say was something about Osama bin Laden! Today, the same real estate company is sending me emails saying we have a house with an opportunity for another one of your clients. They give us the first opportunity to apply for them. Because now they know that these are people that they can trust. We also have clients who are working in construction, who are working in nursery, working in farming. We send local employers some clients for job interviews and two months later the companies call us asking if we can send them more workers!
“It's a good feeling for me, that I know that the work that we do is positive, we know that it has an outcome, it has a benefit, not just for refugee communities, also for all of the local communities as well. The community knows now, that when the refugee comes here they don’t bring problem, they also bring a lot of benefit as well but interestingly they can support accommodate, in Rockhampton, plus they also support local businesses
“I do a part time taxi job. I pick up passengers, and when I explain that I’m from Afghanistan, the majority of customers that I deal with, they shake hands and they say welcome to Australia. That is giving me hope that we are getting somewhere.”