Helping Afghan Refugees

Helping Afghan Refugees
By BEV JORDAN
Tamkin Hakim was seven when she fled Afghanistan with her family in the 1980s during the Russian occupation.
Sabrine teaching young refugees English

The perilous journey from the capital Kabul included four days travelling by horseback to the Pakistan border with Russian planes bombing overhead. There were bodies at the side of the track they were taking and she was terrified.

The Castle Hill mother-of-two said the trauma of leaving secretly in the middle of the night without saying goodbye to family, grandparents and friends was so shocking.

Her parents took their documents with them and could show their credentials when crossing into Pakistan.

Her father, who studied Architecture at Prague University, found a job immediately and her mother, a trained nurse and midwife, found work with the UNHCR working in the refugee camps.

The family, Tamkin and her brother and sister, stayed for two years before being accepted as migrants into Australia.

The trauma she endured as a young child has never left her and made her determined to help other young women escape the darkening situation of her former homeland. Her efforts have helped 27 young women flee Afghanistan.

Tamkin Hakim with former Socceroo and volunteer Craig Foster
As troops pulled out of Afghanistan Tamkin watched with horror the images of desperate crowds flocking to the airport and started calling Afghan people she knew in Sydney to find out if their families were okay.

“One woman was quite traumatised because she said there were 15 young women hidden in her family’s house in Kabul,” said Tamkin.

“They were all young Tajik women (an ethnic group from the North of Afghanistan), they were university students studying business, law, psychology… all different subjects.

“They were frightened. Their parents had told them not to return home as it was too dangerous. I didn’t know what I could do but I made some contacts.”

One of her calls was to the CEO of the Addison Road Community Centre at Marrickville Rosanna Barbero who invited her to meet with some well-connected volunteers.

“I told the people helping there my story and what was happening now.”

At the time she asked for help completing 842 forms for Refugee and Humanitarian Visa Applications for the young women which they did. They also created the WhatsApp group: Afghan Women Rescue Task Force.

“Initially it was 15 and then we filled more forms, we have so far filled out 350 forms,” she said. “It was all done by Whatsapp and email. It was a huge operation, we did everything by phone.”

The last of the group of 27 university students Tamkin and the other volunteers helped get out arrived this week via Pakistan and Dubai and she is now in quarantine in Darwin. The 18-year-old was taken to the Pakistan border by her parents.

“It was very dangeros when she crossed the border,” said Tamkin. “She was crying … the guards wouldn’t let her through. I was here on the phone at 3am in the morning and I had to say to her, you have to keep pushing through, you have an Australian Visa, you have a gate pass from Pakistan.

You have to say you are not going back. The Australian High Commission diplomat was on the phone to her. We were talking three-way on Whatsapp.

“After about two hours she got through because of the intervention of the High Commission. I used all my language skills, it really helped. There are so many still left behind with an Australian Visa but the borders are closed. My person was the last one to cross and I am very grateful. The High Commission was fabulous.”

After getting the young women out Tamkin, who works with refugees as an Enterprise and Employment Officer with the Community Migrant Resource Centre, is juggling work with providing support for more than 300 Afghan refugees who were lucky to escape Kabul and have been staying in the Hills area before they are resettled.

Tamkin aged 7 after fleeing Afghanistan

Her 16-year-old daughter Sabrine Nasri, a Year 11 student at Model Farms High School has been spending time teaching a group of young Afghans English (see photo) while her mother has been collecting clothing, toiletries and anything they might need to make the readjustment to their new situation easier.

“Sabrine has been my rock,” said Tamkin. “She has done so much for these young people, visiting them every day and making them welcome.”

Local businesses groups have also collected items to donate. Sewing machines, laptops and mobile phones are also needed. To find out more email [email protected] or [email protected]

PETITION DELIVERED
Earlier this month Tamkin helped deliver a petition of 189,140 signatures to Federal Immigration Minister Alex Hawke at his Castle Hill office.

The petition was organised by the Afghanistan-Australian Advocacy Network, and is calling for the following 4 immediate steps:
1. Committing to an additional humanitarian intake of at least 20,000 Afghan people, prioritising the most vulnerable persecuted, similar to Australia’s response to the Syrian conflict in 2015 in accepting 12,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees.

2. Granting permanent protection to more than 5,100 refugees from Afghanistan currently on temporary protection visas in Australia.

3. Prioritising the family reunification visas of people from Afghanistan in Australia.

4. Lifting the ban on resettlement of refugees to Australia through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia, a ban which has been in place since 2014.

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