As published in the Border Chronicle.
Written by Border Chronicle.
Esmatullah Zadah: His journey to Bordertown
After more than 20 years searching for peace and safety, Esmatullah Ahmad Zadah has finally found a new life in Bordertown.
Although still separated from his family back in Afghanistan, he enjoys a sense of ‘home’ and being able to contribute to the local community.
The following story has been submitted by Tracey Grosser, the multicultural community services coordinator from the Australian Migrant Resource Centre in Bordertown.
“Three years ago I saw a sign in Foodland asking for ambulance volunteers,” Esmatullah said. “I stood in front of that sign for five minutes thinking about it all.
“I wasn’t sure my English was good enough. I didn’t know if I should ring or not. If I rang, what would I say? I thought I would keep trying to improve my English and think about it again in a years’ time. I saw the sign again in one years’ time. Again I did not think I was ready.
“Finally, in 2016 I did feel I was ready and so I went to a meeting that was organised by the Migrant Resource Centre and ambulance staff. There were four other people interested in joining. I applied to become a volunteer.
“When I first came to Bordertown I thought it was really boring and quiet. I felt sad, but I tried to be positive. I however started to understand the town, and now when I go to Adelaide I want to come home to Bordertown.
“I am feeling as though this is my home. I am very much enjoying being an ambulance volunteer, learning lots of new things and making new friends.”
Esmatullah was born in a village called Tamaki in Afghanistan, populated mainly by Hazara people. At the age of 16 he decided to leave Afghanistan. His village was under the control of the Taliban, and Hazara people were persecuted because of their Shia Muslim religion.
Radical Islamists do not consider Shia Muslims to be true Muslims. The Taliban stopped Hazara people from going to school and the roads in and out of the village were very unsafe.
Esmatullah was compelled to leave home when he was 16, travelling through Europe and living in Greece for many years, back to Afghanistan for one year and eventually to Australia. His long journey to freedom has taken 27 years.
This is his story:
There was little protection from the government and I feared for my life. The Taliban wanted to get us men to fight for them or they would just shoot us as we were Hazara. I discussed the situation with my wife and she initially said no to me leaving to try and find a safer place for us. I knew I had to go and try and create a future for my family.
I found a people smuggler and arranged my travel to Australia. I boarded an old boat with 51 other men. I never want to see a boat again. Water came pouring into the boat, it was terrible. The boat had two engines but only one worked, I had one small bag with my clothes in it. In the middle of the night we could finally see Christmas Island after four long days at sea. Once morning broke we made our way to the beach.
Met on beach by police
The Australian Police met us on the beach and directed us all to get back on the boat and made us head back out to sea. A very large navy ship came to us and numerous small boats came from the big ship and came close to us and inspected our boat. The police were very nice to us. Our English was very poor but we knew they wanted us to stay calm. They boarded our boat and checked everything out and gave each of us a wrist band with a number on it. We were then taken to shore to a police station and were processed. When I walked on the land I still felt like I was on a boat. I was swaying and very dizzy.
I lived in the Curtin Detention Centre in the Kimberley for 20 months. There wasn’t a lot to do but I tried to keep busy by studying English and math, playing volleyball and billiards and using the internet room. My family knew that I was safe and I just had to wait for the result of my asylum seeker claim.
I waited for six months for the first result which was a negative claim. I knew it was going to be negative because I was in a small room with my case manager and interpreter and there were two security guards present. When I said I did not need the guards as I wasn’t going to hurt anybody they said that they needed to stay.
‘I was very upset and sad’
I was very upset and sad, I had been waiting for such a long time. I asked to apply again and went through the whole process again. I waited another five months and I attended a second interview.
I tried to explain that I was looking for a safe place, not just wanting a holiday or a good job. I waited another 28 days.
During this time, I was awake every night. I was thinking about my family, my child, my parents. I wanted to help them. I didn’t want to hurt myself so I tried to keep busy. I walked, studied and talked to other people. I spoke with my family every night. The last six months I became very sad because I was unsure.
When I woke up one day I found a small letter next to my bed saying I had an appointment. I went to see my case manager but this time there were no security guards. I knew it was going to be a positive result. The result gave me energy to live and keep going. I knew I needed to stay calm because I didn’t want to make others around me feel bad who were still waiting for their results. I was now a refugee. I waited for another three months for security checks to be finalised and I was then granted a bridging visa and was allowed to join the community.
I flew from Curtin to Perth to Adelaide. I was asked where I wanted to be sent. I didn’t really know much about any of the places in Australia but I had heard about Adelaide in one of my English classes when we were learning about cities.
I thought it was a smaller city and may be easier to find my way around. I am very happy I chose Adelaide. With the help of the Red Cross I was put up in a hotel for one month. I met some friends and found a house to rent with a group of us.
I was looking for work but my English wasn’t great. I met an older man called Gary. He gave me lots of energy. He kept telling me not to be negative, that I was free and to keep practising my English.
I knew people who had worked in Bordertown and I went to an office in Adelaide to enquire about a job but they told me they couldn’t help me because I was on a bridging visa. I tried to fill out the paper work myself. My lack of English was a real problem.
‘I came to Bordertown and went to JBS Meatworks’
In April 2012 I came to Bordertown by car and went to JBS Meatworks and filled in some more paperwork. I had medical examinations and I was lucky enough to get a job. I had a trial period of two weeks and I tried my very best to be good at my job. Seven people started with me and five of us were offered a position. After one month I had a permanent job at JBS.
On September 17, 2012 I was granted a permanent visa to stay in Australia. Sister Liz from the Catholic church helped me get the papers signed. I was very happy. I called my family and told them the amazing news. I now had freedom and I was determined to make the best of my life.
I was going to try and learn English again as my mind was free and there wasn’t so much stress. I really wanted to study. I never really thought about volunteering I just tried reading and learning English. I thought about leaving JBS to go and study full-time and become an electrician. But I decided that it would take too long and that I was too old, and so I decided to stay in Bordertown.
The only part of the puzzle missing is my wife and son. I hope that they can come to live with me and that they can also call Bordertown home. I have lived without my family from the age of 16 to 37. If I can have them with me then everything will be good.