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From Afghanistan to Australia – a rite of passage

2 November 20230 comments

A young Afghan refugee has written about his epic journey to Australia. His story is part of AMES Australia’s 2023 Heartlands Arts Project, which invited young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds to submit written or spoken word pieces reflecting the themes of ‘homeland’ and ‘belonging’.

I am Ramez Nazam from Afghanistan. I now live in Australia and I’m going to tell you about my journey from Afghanistan.

Let’s start. It was a new academic year and I was 12 years old and in 9 class.

At the time we started playing football matches with other schools. I was the best goalkeeper and all of my classmates asked me to be part of the team.

I said I couldn’t because we were moving to another city. I couldn’t tell them I was really going to India and leaving Afghanistan permanently.

On my last day of school my three best friends happened to come late, and I left early to pack for our journey. So I didn’t see them.

They came to my house after school and asked what was happening. ‘Why are you leaving this city, why are you leaving us?’ they said.

I didn’t have any answers for them and I couldn’t say anything because of security issues.

I just said ‘don’t worry, we will meet again one day if we are still alive’.

The next day, at night time, we arrived in Kabul. The next morning we took a flight to India. Our difficulties started when we set foot in India.

My first impression of India was so bad – it was so hot with lots of traffic and spoke differently.

I knew nothing and everyone seemed to take money from us. My elder brother spoke English and a little Hindi.

My brother found a house but it had no yard or windows and it was four storeys up. My grandfather was with us and struggled to go up four floors but we had no choice.

After a month my brother left us and all the responsibilities came to me.

I started learning Hindi but I had problems going to school because I was a refugee with no Indian ID and I couldn’t open a bank account.

My sister became sick after drinking dirty water and I was the only person in the family who spoke Hindi. I took her to three hospitals but we could not afford the fees they were asking.

They asked us for 50,000 rupees ($970) and they were very rude to us.

My sister became worse. I heard about a hospital that might help her so I took there. I spent 14 days at the hospital with my mum and dad until my sister improved.

At this time there were changes in Indian currency regulations and it became very hard to change money.

My elder sister and I queued up at the bank every morning at 4am. We waited till 10am when the bank staff started work. Sometimes they would only change 1000 rupees.

Eventually I left the Indian school and went to an Afghan school that opened in Delhi. It was good to make Afghan friends and I was able to finish my schooling up to Year 12 and I was able to complete some computer and English classes.

Just before COVID came, my father became sick with a heart problem. He had a blockage and needed a bypass operation. I phoned my brothers and uncles but they couldn’t come because of visas so it was left to me to look after him.

My brother, who we hadn’t seen for four years came to Delhi but he couldn’t leave the airport because of COVID restrictions. They sent him back to Germany and I have still not see him.

I felt very lonely and sad. My father asked about my brother but I couldn’t tell him what had happened because of his heart condition.

After 16 days we all came home from the hospital. During this time I lost 9kgs. Then the lockdown started and I became ill. I had developed a small stone in my left kidney because I had not been drinking enough water when in hospital with my father.

But during the lockdown I was able to finish Year 12 online.

Before my father became ill we got our resettlement papers from UNHCR and before the pandemic started we did our medical checks.

But the pandemic stopped that. Everyday my grandfather asked me if I had received a visa from Australia Embassy. Every day I said ‘no’.

My grandfather became sick again and we took him to the hospital. Things in the hospital were horrific. We saw people bring in their sick relatives and watch them die before they could get treatment. We saw 30 or 40 people die.

And after 19 days my grandfather died and I broke down. I miss him and I will never forget him. My grandfather was a kind man. He helped me in my school days and in my studies. He advised us in every situation and he was teacher in Kabul University

It was hard to find a grave for my grandfather so I asked the hospital staff to put my grandfather in a mortuary refrigerator for some days until my brother and my father’s cousin came, but they refused and gave us just one day.

I called my friend to come and help and we both took my grandfather’s body and we went inside refrigerator. I saw many dead bodies. It was so scary. We found a place we put my grandfather and went home. My father and I went and found a grave and the next day my friend and I went to mortuary and took my grandfather’s body to the burial ground.

My father and I and some Afghan people that were my father’s friends came and helped us.

My grandfather died shortly after my brother had his wedding party in the US. I was in hospital with my grandfather. He was alive and I went home to set up the computer for my dad and my mum. After that I came back to the hospital.

I didn’t see the wedding party and the next day in the evening my grandfather died.

Later, my brother called and we congratulated him on the wedding. He asked to see my grandfather and we had to tell him what had happened.

I have no words to explain the pain we felt that day. We changed our home because everything in the house reminded of my grandfather.

By this time we had been in Indian eight years and I had started my BSc in Computer Science. The Australian embassy told us to want and there was no fixed time to process our visas.

I am 19-years-old and I don’t think many people my age have face the problems I have seen.

But thanks to Allah those hard days are behind us and we now have good life in Australia and I have the opportunity to continue to study and achieve my goals.