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Freedom calls for refugee couple

1 May 20230 comments

The words ‘freelass’ form part of Iranian refugee ‘Kamelah’s* email address.

The moniker is appropriate because she is one – after escaping the tyrannical and repressive regime in her homeland and making a new life in Australia.

But her journey is not complete. As an LGBTQ woman, Kamelah was forced to leave behind her partner and the love of her life.

“I am from an Afghan family and so as an LGBTQ woman I was able to come to Australia through the UNHCR. But my partner is Iranian and the UN could not help her,” Kamelah said.

Now settled in a regional Victorian city of Mildura and with a job and training course almost competed, Kamelah’s priority is to bring her partner ‘Sara’* to Australia.

“In Iran because of the religious restrictions and even because of our families, we could never marry but here in Australia, we can be a couple and share our lives together,” she said.

Kamelah’s family arrived in Iran from Afghanistan in 1987 fleeing the rise of the Taliban and the nation’s interminable civil strife.

“The security situation in general was not safe for my family after the Taliban came to power and my father could not find a job and earn enough money to support the family,” she said.

Kamelah, 33, was born and grew up in Iran’s capital Tehran under the Islamic Republic’s repressive and often brutal dictatorship.

“As Afghans, the government made it difficult for us. We had no formal identification, just a card that said we were eligible to live in Iran. But we had to renew that every year,” she said.

“For years my parents had to pay the government for me to be able to go to a public school and get an education.

“My father worked four shifts from 6am to midnight every day to be able to earn enough money to educate us.”

Kamelah also spent four years studying English and translation at university, paying thousands of dollars to the Iranian government for an education that is free for most Iranians

Her opportunities as an outstanding sportswoman were also curtailed by the Iranian regime’s draconian policies.

“I was a good futsal player, a goalkeeper, but it was difficult to follow that path in Iran. Because I was Afghan, I couldn’t take part in organised competitions against other teams,” Kamelah said.

“The only way I could play was to use the name and identity documents of Iranian friends.

“My team needed me, so we found a way to be able to play and compete,” she said.

Also a black belt in karate, Kamelah struggled to follow that pathway.

“When I was younger I was a black belt and a karate coach. But as an Afghan, I was never allowed to establish and gym and coach young people – which I would love to have done,” she said.

After completing university, Kamaleh was able to find work but only on her employers’ terms.

“Often, when I tried to find work, my boss would find out I was Afghan and I would lose my job,” she said.

“When an employer did give me a job it would be on a low wage and there would be no insurance and no pension or superannuation that other workers received,” Kamelah said.

The protests that rocked Iran after the death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the nation’s morality police have reminded Kamelah of the precariousness of life in her former homeland.

“Unfortunately, in Iran, for all people – Afghans and Iranian – there are lots of problems, including a lack of freedom,” she said.

“As a woman, you have to wear a long dress and if there is a little hair showing under your scarf you can be arrested – as Mahsa was.”

Following the incident thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest against the obligations of Hijab, and the dictatorship that has been ruling Iran over the past 44 years.

“It was frightening to see what was happening and even though they weren’t directly involved I made me worry about Sara and my family,” Kamelah said

Kamelah arrived in Australia, in January 2021 on a ‘woman at risk’ visa issued to protect females who have been subjected to harassment, persecution, abuse or victimisation on the basis of gender.

And her arrival in Mildura, under a regional settlement initiative, came as something as a culture shock.

“I arrived in Melbourne in January, last year, and spent a night in a hotel near the airport. Less than 24 hours later, I was on a flight to Mildura,” Kamelah said.

“It was a big surprise to me because I have always lived in cities. I told my AMES case manager that I wanted to move to Melbourne.

“But he said it was better for me to stay here and get my driver’s licence, to study and to learn about Australian culture. He said Melbourne was very busy and that I would have a better opportunity to improve my English and learn about Australia here in Mildura.

“This was good advice and it was good for me. Sometimes Mildura can be a little boring but I understand now that it was important to take some time to settle in Australia,” Kamelah said.

Now, her priority is to be reunited with Sara, whom she met through futsal 17 years ago.

“We met through our love of futsal and we became a couple 12 years ago. Sara is an amazing futsal player and she would live to play football more seriously. For now, she works as a clerk and accountant in a shop,” Kamelah said.       

“I went to Iran two months ago to see her but only for three weeks because that was all the annual leave I had,” Kamelah said.

“She was grieving because her brother passed away in a fire recently. She needs me and I need her.

“We have employed a migration lawyer and lodged an application for a visa. We received notification that the visa application is valid, so now we just have to wait to be able to be together.”

*Names have been changed to protect loved ones still living in Iran.