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Refugee couple seizing opportunities

5 July 20220 comments

Afghan refugee Sayed Burhani has wasted no time in starting his settlement journey in Australia.

Six months after arriving in Melbourne, he has a job and a house and is looking forward to the future and raising their new baby girl with his wife Roya.

Staff from refugee and migrant settlement agency AMES Australia worked with social enterprise real estate agency HomeGround to find Sayed and Roya a house; and he then gained a job through his new landlord Phil Endersbee.

Mr Endersbee reached out to manufacturing contacts and fellow Rotarians and helped find Sayed a job with Scalzo Foods.

Sayed accepted a production job with Scalzo Foods, before quickly moving into shipping and quality assurance positions.

He is now working, paying rent and building a new life and the Burhanis had their first child in March.

“A lot of good things happened – the pregnancy, meeting such kind people like Philip. A lot of kind things happened. We were not expecting it. We want to thank everyone, AMES and the Australian government and people,” Sayed said.

The Burhanis were among the 4100 people who safely made it out of Afghanistan on one of the 32 Australian evacuation flights, arriving in Melbourne last August and spending a fortnight in hotel quarantine with hundreds of other evacuees.

Before getting on the flight they were trapped inside Kabul’s international airport, for ten days unsure if they would ever make it to safety.

“We didn’t have any food, any water, nothing,” Sayed said. 

Like thousands of others, they were desperately trying to flee Afghanistan following the Taliban offensive that lasted from May through to August in 2021. 

While leaving his home country and extended family behind was a tough decision, Sayed said that if he and his wife hadn’t taken the opportunity to get out, they might not have survived. 

“I left my Mum, Dad and brothers behind and I did not feel good about that. I still pray every day that they stay safe,” he said.

The Burhanis were among 130,000 people evacuated from Kabul by allied military aircraft – all of them desperately trying to flee Afghanistan following the takeover.

When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, everything suddenly changed for Sayed.

He had applied for a spouse visa to move to Australia with Roya, who had a permanent visa to live here.

But they hadn’t planned to leave the country so soon and were not sure that, amid the chaos, they would even be able to leave.

“We were not believing that we could make it out of the country but thought we had to try,” Sayed said.

An email from the Australian government advised they would be helped to leave if the couple could get into Kabul’s international airport.

This meant a dangerous and tricky trip through the chaos and crowds surrounding the airport.

“Getting into the airport was the most difficult part for a person than going anywhere in the world,” Mr Burhani said.

“Hundreds, thousands of people were around there and people were getting shot by the Taliban. Still they were struggling to get in.

“It took us something like five days – for 24 hours we were around the airport, for five days, around shooting, killing.

“I left the country but I left everyone behind, everything behind. That’s the hardest part. I’m the only person out of the family to get out,” he said.

After arriving in Australia, Sayed was told it could take up to a year to find a house and a job.

But AMES Australia staff connected him with the social enterprise HomeGround Real Estate through which he met Phil Endersbee.

“I was told there was a house – and even if you don’t have income the landlord was willing to give you a house until you get income. I was not expecting to get something like that,” he said.

Keen to get out of temporary accommodation, the Burhanis moved in two days after seeing the home.

“I said: ‘We don’t need anything, just a blanket.’ We didn’t have any luggage when we came here,” Sayed said.

HomeGround supporter Mr Endersbee already had all four two-bedroom units in his Kew East property managed by the HomeGround, wanting to help people in need.

When one of the units became available last year, he wanted to help a family fleeing Afghanistan.

“I said to myself, I know we’ve got a lot of people with needs here but we’re flying these people out if they can get on a plane in Afghanistan and they’re coming to Australia, just walking away from everything and have not got anything,” Mr Endersbee said.

Mr Endersbee was happy to have the Afghan evacuees live in the unit rent-free while they waited for Centrelink payments or to find a job.

AMES and HomeGround arranged donations of household items and Mr Endersbee also gave the Burhanis kitchen items, some furniture and whatever else he could find that they needed.

“He was too kind – more than my expectations,” Sayed said.

Their relationship started one day when Sayed started talking to the man mowing the lawns at the property, not initially realising it was his landlord.

He asked where to buy a bicycle and Mr Endersbee gave him an unused one from his shed at home.

Sayed also told Mr Endersbee he was keen to find work in Australia.

After completing an economics degree and a master’s degree, Sayed had worked as a lecturer at a Kabul university as well as with non-government organisations, including the US Agency for International Development.

He also worked as an interpreter and financial project adviser with US-led coalition forces and then joined his brother’s construction and logistics business.

Mr Endersbee reached out to his manufacturing contacts and helped Sayed secure his first job in Australia.

“Although I am settled down here and all things that happened are good for me, I’m always feeling guilty for my family who I left behind and I couldn’t do anything for them.”

Mr Burhani fears for two of his brothers, one of whom was a provincial council member standing against the Taliban. He has applied for emergency visas for them, hoping the Australian government can help.

Since moving into their new home, Sayed and his wife have welcomed their first child, daughter Bebe Haajar.