Essa Khan, 45, from Pakistan is seeking protection as a refugee in Australia but on Tuesday, August 18, he rubbed shoulders with Australian Government and opposition politicians at Parliament House.
Essa Khan at the Australian Migration and Settlement Awards dinner in Canberra.
Mr Khan, a soccer coach, was representing the Newington Gunners Soccer Club, along with club secretary Ben Nilsson, at the Australian Migration and Settlement Awards where it was a finalist for it's support of the Australian Human Rights Commission's "Racism. It stops with me” campaign.
The club was nominated for its role in a partnership with Settlement Services International (SSI) that has integrated a group of men seeking asylum into the community through soccer. Mr Khan saw the awards ceremony as an opportunity to tell his and his players’ stories to Australia’s decision-makers.
Mr Khan said he took to Canberra a hand-written letter he hoped to read on stage if the Gunners won the award.
“I wrote about my team, and that I am Afghan Hazara, and that we are all seeking refugee visas, and that we play soccer,” Mr Khan said via interpreter over the phone. “I wrote that the uncertainty of our situations is very difficult for us and our families and that if Australia helped us, we would be valuable citizens.”
Mr Khan didn’t get to read his letter on stage but he did hand it to member for Werriwa Laurie Ferguson, who said he would pass it on to Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton.
Asked what he thought the award nomination was for, Mr Khan said: “it was for the community. Because the Gunners and SSI help a lot with refugees and the community and they bring everyone together.”
Mr Khan receives case management support from SSI while his refugee protection visa application is assessed. The team he coaches at the Gunners is comprised mostly of men from the Hazara ethnic group, from Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are seeking asylum. Until recently, most did not have visas to work in Australia and received only 89 per cent of the Centrelink Special Benefit to live on.
In early 2014, Mr Khan told his case manager that this group of men and teenage boys was passionate about soccer but could not afford to join a club. SSI campaigned to find support for Mr Khan and his players, and community members and organisations, including the Gunners club, threw their support behind the group to get them on the field. The team has since won a championship in 2014 and is on its way to a second in 2015.
A Ben Nilsson and Essa Khan selfie from the plane to Canberra.
Mr Nilsson, who went with Mr Khan to Canberra, said he was surprised at the award nomination.
“Everyone involved has been pretty chuffed at getting recognition for what we have been doing,” he said. “We never went seeking awards.”
“But at the awards I saw that people from organisations like SSI and the Islamic Women's Association of Queensland dedicate their whole lives to helping people and in the grand scheme of things we’re ( people at the Gunners club) just being nice people. Really, that’s all we’ve been doing. We haven’t really gone out of our way. We haven’t treated Essa’s team any different to how we treat any of the other people at our club.”