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September 22, 2023

Thinking of the children in Afghanistan, acting locally in Ballina

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An Afghan man carries a girl who was injured in a suicide bomb blast that targeted the Ministry of Defense, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2016. EPA/Hedayatullah Amid

Imagine a family with four children, shuffling from home to home, none of them theirs, and sometimes trekking up the hills behind town just to get phone reception.

Sadly, families on the Northern Rivers experienced homelessness and essential communication outages when climate catastrophes happened earlier this year.

But imagine the family is hiding from authorities and fearing for their lives.

That’s life right now for a family of six in Afghanistan receiving support from Northern Rivers locals.

On the run from violence

The family, who The Echo has chosen not to publicly name or depict via a photo received, has four children aged between three and thirteen.

‘They are Hazaras, which are an ethnic minority group in Afghanistan with a very long history of being persecuted by the Taliban,’ says Ballina Region for Refugees [BR4R] Vice President Stanley Yeo.

Ballina Region for Refugees Vice-President Stanley Yeo. Photo supplied.

Mr Yeo says there have been alarming reports of increased atrocities against Hazara people in Afghanistan since the Taliban resumed power in August last year.

‘Since then, many have been displaced with no jobs, land seized from them, there have been disappearances and the like,’ Mr Yeo says.

‘This particular family, the husband and wife were employees of a organisation that was promoting the rights of women in Afghanistan, and the protection of women and girls from violence,’ Mr Yeo continues, ‘so as a result of the Taliban taking over, this couple had to go into hiding, because of fear of reprisals by the abusers and others who were affected by their work and are now looking out for them’.

Only 5,000 Afghan refugee visas processed since Taliban take-over

BR4R has been supporting the family financially and emotionally for the past ten months and trying to arrange their migration to Australia under the government’s Special Humanitarian Visa scheme.

Around 170,000 Afghanis are said to be applying to the scheme but Mr Yeo says the Department of Home Affairs has only processed around 5,000 such Visa applications and it’s unclear how many have been successful.

The refugee advocate is hoping the recent change in federal power from the conservative Liberals and Nationals government to Labor’s supposedly progressive one will be a positive one for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Labor has promised to double the previous government’s quota for refugees; end a controversial temporary protection visa scheme that left refugees in Australia without official access to job and health support; and expand a community resettlement scheme.

It’s the third promise Mr Yeo is hoping to see enacted quickly, as BR4R and another refugee support group in Uki have been raising money and are ready to help welcome two families of up to five people each if needed.

A similar community scheme happened in Lismore years ago, Mr Yeo says, and was successful in helping refugees from the African continent settle.

Uki residents help Afghan Aussie ally forced to flee for his life

It’s National Refugee Week next week and while the plight of asylum-seekers in far-flung war-torn places overseas might seem beyond the power of people living on the Northern Rivers, Mr Yeo’s story suggests otherwise.

In the Tweed Shire village of Uki, he says, a group of refugee supporters is sponsoring two Afghan individuals, one of whom reportedly helped Australian authorities during the war against the Taliban.

Mr Yeo says the man has recently had to make a dangerous escape to Pakistan.

The family in hiding, meanwhile, is described as ‘stoic’ and managing to get by in terms of food and clothes.

But Mr Yeo says communication is scant and sketchy, with the family having to constantly use different phone numbers and messaging apps since the Taliban have reportedly gained access to data tracking technology.

Remembering Afghanistan in Ballina: a speech

To find out more about what BR4R does and to hear more about the situation in Afghanistan for asylum-seekers, you can hear Stanley Yeo in person when he delivers a speech at the Ballina Library this coming Monday 20 June from 10 AM.

Mr Yeo’s speech, Remembering Afghanistan, is to officially launch celebrations of National Refugee Week next week at the Ballina Library.

BR4R is also organising a poetry prize in honour of National Refugee Week, in partnership with publication Social Alternatives.

The competition has a theme of A Turning Point.

There are cash prizes and entrants can submit up to three poems of up to fifty lines each by 14 August.

‘The poems will be judged by poet Juan Garrido-Salgado,’ information from BR4R about the competition says.

‘Juan immigrated to Australia from Chile in 1990, fleeing the regime that burned his poetry and imprisoned and tortured him for his political activism.

‘He has published three books of poetry, and his poems have been widely translated.’

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  1. So they are fugitives running from the law that could flee to Pakistan but you trying to bring them here instead. No thanks.

    • Christian, your outspoken view would see you running from the law in Afghanistan, which has slipped into sectarian islamofaschism. Unfortunately Pakistan has also gone that same way, and Afghan refugees there cant work and have to stay very low key. While the aprox 100 million displaced persons world wide need management both for their humanitarian needs and the capacity of countries to accept some of such numbers, with many business here unable to find workers, there is room for refugees to fill needed jobs, including jobs such as dishwashing and cleaning toilets, that I , and I suspect you Christian, dont want to do.


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