Hazara Refugee in Australia Sultan Hussein. (Photo: Jarni Blakkarly)

Hazara Refugee in Australia Sultan Hussein. (Photo: Jarni Blakkarly)

Over the last few weeks our three-part series has delved into the lives of the persecuted Hazara minority group in Pakistan and those who have fled as refugees. 

From death threats in Pakistan to years in limbo, for most it’s a tumultous ride. 

In the final installation Jarni Blakkarly takes us to Melbourne, Australia, where a Hazara refugee community has grown and flourished. 

Sultan Hussein lives in a sparsely furnished apartment in an outer suburb of Melbourne. 

In the living room there is just one couch, a TV and a lone picture on the wall – a drawing of a Hazara leader who was assassinated by the Taliban. 

As he plays the Tanpura, a long-necked sitar-type instrument, he tells what life has been like since moving Dandedong. 

At 26, Sultan has spent almost his entire adult life as a refugee. 

I first met him more than a year ago, when he was living in Swan Hill, a farming town a few hours drive from Melbourne.

After being released from detention many Hazaras pass through there. Waiting for their work permits, the cheap rent and off-the-books fruit picking jobs of town appeal.

But over the past few months, a lot has changed for Sultan.

“In Swan Hill it was hard. Meat, we had buy a whole lamb then we have to halal that, then keep it, freeze it, the whole lamb. We can get Halal food, anything we need in Dandenong, that’s the good thing here,” he says. 

Earlier this year Sultan’s work permit was granted and he moved to Dandenong, a suburb that has become home to a community of around 5,000 Hazara refugees. 

He now works six days a week at a BBQ chicken shop – run by an older Hazara man and former refugee. 

After work he often stops by a nearby Hazara restaurant – he says the curry is as good as back home and many other Hazaras hang out there.

When he first arrived in 2012, Sultan wasn’t allowed to work for three years – forcing him to survive on charity and welfare.

He is relieved that now he can finlly send some money back home to his family.

“That’s very good, that way we can become independent we can live the life we want. It all depends on yourself,” he says.

“Lots of Hazaras are happy here. Here you can do whatever you want you can build your life, we can think about what we can do in the future, we see lots of people who are doing good with their own business. Wherever we Hazara’s go we are building something, not destroying.”

Like many ethnic Hazara, a minority in Pakistan, Sultan grew up in Quetta. He decided to flee after members of Hazaras were increasingly targeted and killed on his route to work.

A year before Australia hardened its refugee policy to turn boats around at sea, Sultan was one of the thousands that managed to get through on boats.

He is one of more than 30 thousand refugees who have been accepted by the Australian government but his temporary status means his visa could be revoked at any time...

In the past decade the question of how to deal with asylum seekers arriving by boat has become politically divisive.

Australia’s refugee policy has also drawn international criticism – this year a UN report said the country’s treatment of refugees amounted to torture.

(Also read: Life in limbo for ethnic Hazaras in Indonesia)

When John Gulzari first arrived in Australia in 1999 – on a boat from Indonesia – he was one of few Afghans in town.

“The country was very new, It was tough I was worried, I was worried I was going to forget my language because there was no one to speak to,” says John. 

I meet him in a cafe in central Dandenong, on a street that has been officially named the ‘Afghan Bazaar’. 

“This street where we are sitting right now, Afghan Bazaar was like a ghost town, it was very rough, there was no shops,” he says, “Now our people are here there is more than one hundred shops and all of it flourishing.”

The bazaar is lined with Hazara restaurants and groceries, fabric shops and bakeries.

John was 17 when he first arrived, but has since become a sucessful businessman, running a taxi and dry cleaning company and even serving on the local council. 

But in the early days it was a rough ride.

“People didn’t know, we were looking alien to them, lots of people were saying they are coming to take our jobs away,” he says, “It was very negative sentiments, i know there was lots of people were abused here on this street, even a friend of mine he got stabbed here”.

However, he says that sentiment ahs dissipated as the Hazaras have made a positive contribution to the community. 

“Our people are a very hard working people, they come here not for begging, not for hand-outs,” he says.

Despite all the progress, John says it is hard to watch the government turn away new Hazara refugees who are trying to reach safety in Australia. 

“Even the old people that came in the 2000s they are doing fantastic work, they are contributing to society, they are becoming great role models they are paying their taxes. While the other new people are being punished for coming here. I think our people have been very good citizens here, law abiding, paying their dues,” he says, “What more do you want?”


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