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Hard work pays off for refugee businessman

14 April 20156 comments

Khan Hazara, owner of halal supermarket Dandy Mart.

Through perseverance and determination, a young Afghani refugee has built a successful business up from the ground.

Twenty-two year old Khan Hazara is the owner and manager of a burgeoning halal supermarket in Hampton Park, in Melbourne’s south east.

His journey is a fascinating one, which has taken him from his native Afghanistan to Pakistan and finally Australia.

Born in Afghanistan, Khan belongs to a minority ethnic group known as the Hazaras, the third largest in his home country.

When the Taliban seized control of the country in 1996, the Hazara people were persecuted and forced to flee. Young Hazara men found by the Taliban were given a choice – fight for them or be killed.

“I was a young boy at the time and when my family fled across the border to Pakistan, I was left with another family,” he said.

“When I was old enough, I too fled to Pakistan but it took me five years to find my family.”

While growing up with his family in the town of Quetta was safer than living in Afghanistan, the Hazara people were still being persecuted and treated as outsiders.

Khan was never awarded Pakistani citizenship, unlike most others in his situation.

While in Quetta Khan studied and taught English, while running a small shop.

“The trip to school was through an area where the extremists were targeting the Hazara and bombing buses. It became very dangerous for me,” he said.

At 17, Khan decided to sell his shop and seek asylum in Australia, a decision that he says was a very tough one to make.

He had to leave behind his mother and his wife, with whom he has two daughters and a son.

From Pakistan he travelled to Malaysia and then on to Indonesia, where he stayed for a couple of months trying to find a smuggler to take him into Australia.

“They told us we would be four hours on a boat to get from Malaysia to Indonesia but it took 27 hours. We were sunburned, we had no water and no food,” Khan said.

While staying at a hotel in Jakarta, himself and other asylum seekers were brought to the attention of the authorities, who arrested them and took them to a holding facility.

Khan was able to escape the facility one day while being moved from his cell to the lunch area.

Finally, he was able to start his journey toward Australia.

With little money left, Khan languished in Indonesia for two months before finally finding a boat prepared to take him for the relatively paltry sum of $US4000.

“I had no choice but to get on that boat because otherwise they would send me back to Afghanistan or Pakistan where my life would be in danger,” Khan said.

“On the boat I was fearful but happy. I knew lots of people had been lost on these journeys but there was no other choice for me,” he said.

The boat he was on was intercepted and taken to Christmas Island.

After spending three months in detention he was released and granted permanent residency, where he made his way to Melbourne without a dollar to his name.

Once he arrived he began studying a diploma in business management while working night shifts as a courier, and within a year he was able to buy a small wholesale bakery in Doveton.

To get his bakery off the ground, Khan started working hours that most of us would think unimaginable.

“I worked at the bakery at night baking bread. From there I would deliver the bread in the early hours of the morning, and would then continue with my studies learning English with AMES in the day time,” he said.

“For more than a year, I was only getting three to four hours of sleep each day.

“But the hard work paid off, as my business at the bakery increased substantially,” Khan said.

After the completion of his diploma, Khan decided to extend the bakery business into a full supermarket.

After an extensive search for an ideal location, he settled on the current location in Hampton Park.

Works on the location began in July 2012, before opening its doors in September that year.

The name of the shop, Dandy Mart, was borrowed from Khan’s uncle, who owns the original Dandy Mart, located in nearby Dandenong.

Khan credits his uncle and the brand for giving the business a head start, as the Dandy Mart name is held in high regard in the local community.

Khan said he faced a number of difficulties in getting the business off the ground, sometimes having to work for 24 hours at a time.

Since opening, Dandy Mart has proved to be successful, and now offers a much wider range of products to customers compared to when it first opened.

Khan now employs four full time staff including himself, and has plans to extend the supermarket to accommodate the increased range of goods that he now sells.

Currently living with his brother-in-law, he also plans to one day bring his sister to Australia, as well as his wife and children.

Khan’s experience as an asylum seeker is a shining example for other refugees.

“My secret is a simple one,” Khan says. “Hard work, confidence and trust in myself to be able to achieve what I set out to do.”

“If you work hard and persevere, it is possible to become successful no matter what odds are against you,” he said.

Robbie Wallis
AMES Staff Writer