Bashir Yousufi was just 13 when he set out on the long journey from Pakistan through Asia to Australia.
His father had been killed in Afghanistan by Taliban extremists, Bashir said, because he was of the Hazara ethnic group, and his mother had died from cancer
Bashir fled Afghanistan, where war was still raging, after his parents died. He lived for eight months in Pakistan with an aunt but conditions there, where Hazaras also risk murder or torture by other groups, compelled him to leave.
So Bashir travelled with no family or adult guardian, but was accompanied by young friends of a similar age who he had met in Pakistan. Bashir speaks of his young friends like they have known one another for a lifetime.
“I’m still in contact with some of them and we talk always; we talk of the struggle,” he said.
From Indonesia, Bashir and his friends took the perilous boat trip to Christmas Island where they arrived safely to claim refugee protection from Australia in 2010. The new arrivals were then kept in detention on the island for about three months.
Bashir spoke no English and had little understanding of the country he was asking to accept him as a refugee. He had only heard that it was safe, he said.
“I had come from a third world country to a first world country,” the now 17-year-old said. “As a young man, a young boy, at age 13, coming to Australia it was very difficult. I didn’t even know where Australia was. I had not heard of Australia before coming here.”
Bashir was sent from Christmas Island to a detention centre in Melbourne, where he spent another three months before being granted a permanent protection visa. Free to live in Australia, Bashir faced new barriers to integrate.
“The most difficult thing was the barrier of English, because every single minute of your life you need it,” Bashir, who is now fluent in English, said. “When I first came here, in detention, I could not even ask the guard for a bottle of water. I learnt about 15 words a day. And when I was released from detention, I told my guardian ‘you must enroll me in school straight away’. I had no schooling in Afghanistan.”
Bashir now lives with two friends in Merrylands, western Sydney, and is vice-captain at Holroyd High School, where he will finish his HSC exams this month.
“It is a great honour,” he said, “that you can come all the way from Afghanistan and with no schooling or English and today be able to finish the HSC, and to be able to share my story with people. It’s absolutely incredible, where I have come from; I think I have done very well.
“There are a lot of positives, but also many negatives. My father being killed, my mother dying from cancer, but I try to focus on the positives.”
Bashir has applied to study at the University of Western Sydney and University of Technology Sydney. He hopes to one day be an accountant.
On November 11, Bashir will tell his story in detail at SSI’s Speakers’ Series, titled The strength of youth: young people and their refugee experiences. He will be joined by two other speakers with similar, but unique, backgrounds before the three speakers join a panel discussion.
Date: Tuesday November 11, 2014
Location: SSI Auditorium, Level 2, 158 Liverpool Road, Ashfield
Admission by donation. RSVP: refugeeyouth.eventbrite.com.au
SSI Online Communications Coordinator, Callan Lawrence, 0478 156 491 or 02 8799 6746
SSI Communications Officer, Rekha Sanghi 0422 304 578
Thursday, October 30, 2014