This is the story of Azar, an Afghani refugee. This is not his real name – he could be deported if his identity is revealed.
AZAR knows that if he is sent home, it will mean certain death.
He lives in a suburban house under community detention awaiting an interview by Immigration Department officials, which could determine whether he is allowed to stay in Australia or is sent home.
While he waits for his life-defining interview, Azar is not allowed to take paid work, or study in university – he simply has to wait.
This is frustrating and degrading for a smart young man, but for Azar it is just the latest chapter in a harrowing story.
Azar is a member of Afghanistan’s ethnic minority Hazara population.
“When the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, being Hazara put my family in real danger. It meant we had no rights,” he said.
“My father was the first educated man in our entire family. He strived to become a doctor and stop people in our town dying because we didn’t have any medical facilities.
“My father overcame great hardship to go through university and became a doctor, and set up his own clinic.
“He saved many lives and was the most respected man in the town.
“His dream was to see one of his sons or daughters graduate as a doctor, the same as he had – to give back to the community and change people’s lives.
“My older brother managed to go to university, he was in his second year and my father was dreaming he would graduate one day.”
But one day on his way home, Azar’s brother was stopped at a Taliban checkpoint, and when he was identified as an Hazara, he was murdered on the spot.
“For my father it was the painful loss of his first son. At the same time he lost the dream he was seeing in us,” he said.
One day after travelling to Kabul to collect medicine for his clinic, Azar’s father was also set upon by the Taliban.
He had English documents with him because the medical orders were in English. The Taliban took him away.
“For five years we have not heard anything from him. Normally when they take people they kill them,” he said. “But we are still hoping he is alive. After that I was the oldest in the family and the Taliban now knew everything about our family.”
Azar was 17.
His mother decided to send him away and, after failing to obtain a visa for her son, she contacted a people smuggler.
“My mother told me, ‘I know it is not safe and I could lose you on the way, but if you stay here, one day they will come for you and kill you’,” he said. “She said if there is a little chance for life you must take it.
“For me it was not an easy choice – going with people I don’t know, not knowing where I was going, and I knew it was very risky.
“And leaving behind my mum and my siblings and my country – but I had to live.”
Escaping Afghanistan with a people smuggler was the start of a five-month journey to Australia that nearly broke Azar’s spirit and nearly claimed his life.
“It was totally a nightmare,” Azar said.
“I don’t know how I survived and how I am standing here today.
“But I knew my mum was praying for me.”
The last part of Azar’s journey was on a fishing boat bound for Australia.
It took all of his courage to remain calm amidst more than 80 would-be refugees on board.
“It was midnight. It was dark. I don’t swim at all because I grew up in Afghanistan where we have mountains, but no sea,” he said.
“I was told it would be a 24-hour journey. But it took five days and five nights because the boat was broken, and we didn’t have food or water. We were lost in the middle of the sea.”
On the fifth day the fishing boat with Azar on board was picked up by the Australia navy and escorted to Christmas Island.
“That sea journey actually destroyed my life,” he said. “I can’t sleep at night. I try so hard, but I can’t sleep.”
Azar could have been dispatched to Nauru or Manus Island, but instead he was sent to the Australian mainland and given a bridging visa allowing him to live in a suburban community, under tight restrictions.
“I wasn’t allowed to work and I wasn’t allowed to go to school,” he said.
Azar’s luck changed when he wrote about his family, his escape and journey to Australia.
His talent was spotted and he received a scholarship to study, first improving his English skills and then studying and completing a college diploma in IT.
“The graduation ceremony was the best day of my life,” he said. “I called my mother and I said I am wearing this graduation cloak that my father had been dreaming about his entire life.
“My mother was so happy when I phoned. She was crying tears of joy for minutes.”
Azar didn’t want his study to end there.
With his diploma he received the documentation to apply for university studies, but with only a two-year bridging visa, his university application was knocked back.
Instead, after winning another scholarship he continued college studies and completed an undergraduate degree in business and marketing.
Azar’s future in Australia remains uncertain, but he’s making the best of it.
“I know the system is cruel and I know Immigration could send me back, but what I like about Australia is I can count on the support ordinary people have offered me,” he said.
“People have made me feel I am a human, that I am someone, and they gave me an opportunity.”
In the absence of paid employment, Azar does voluntary work, something he said enriched his life, precarious as it was.
“I want to give back, and I will keep doing that during my life,” he said.
“I know that if I am sent back to Afghanistan that it will be the end of my life.”