An Afghan asylum seeker who is visiting Eden for two weeks as part of a refugee home hospitality program has described his stay as “the best time of my life”.
Reza and Qasim (we are unable to print surnames) travelled to Eden from their home in Melbourne for the visit, organised through a partnership between Bega Valley Rural Australians for Refugees and Melbourne-based refugee support group, Home Among the Gum Trees.
The pair say they have learnt a lot about Australian culture, as well as sharing their culture and traditional Afghan food with hosts Peter and Pam Skelton, a Year 11 class at Eden Marine High School, and guests at a civic reception at Bega Valley Shire Council chambers on Friday.
“This is the best time of my life; visiting this area and meeting people in Eden,” Reza said.
“Many people in Eden have been very kind and welcoming, and I would like to say thank you.
“Everywhere we have been, people have been very happy to talk to us and say ‘hello’ and ‘welcome to Eden’.”
Reza and Qasim have lived in Melbourne for a year, since arriving in Australia by boat.
Reza says he left his family home in Ghazni Province, near the Afghan capital of Kabul, because of the oppression of the Hazara people.
He says the Taliban prevents Hazara girls from enrolling in school and finding employment, meaning his five sisters have a bleak outlook in their home country.
The oppression of the Hazaras also makes it difficult for them to travel or move to different parts of the country.
He hopes to receive permanent residency so that his family, which also includes his parents and three brothers, will one day be able to join him in Australia, where he is already planning his future.
“We only have bridging visas, so we cannot get jobs or study yet, but I want to go to TAFE,” he said.
“We are going to a class for refugee people to learn English, and I am always reading and studying famous people, like Shakespeare.
“I especially like studying sport; I was in the national taekwondo team for four years, and I would like to teach people in Australia.”
The refugees’ host for the two weeks, Peter Skelton, said he would highly recommend other families to put their hand up to be involved in future visits.
He said people can learn a lot from the experience of getting to know an asylum seeker.
“Everything you read in terms of statistics and so on doesn’t mean anything when it comes down to a human life, and what they’re trying to escape from and go towards,” Peter said.
“They are an oppressed minority, the Hazaras, and the chance of finding jobs for themselves and their children is most unlikely, so they end up leaving the community they love.
“If they could go back to the community they love and it was safe, they would be there now.
“It’s been wonderful learning their stories and their culture; they are hard workers and very willing to chip in and share not only their stories, but their culture, food and their labour.”
Reza and Qasim are not the only refugees to visit the Bega Valley this month, with a further three Afghan men and a five-year old boy also welcomed into homes across Tilba, Bega and Kalaru.
It follows on from the visit of six Sri Lankan asylum seekers last September, which a Bega Valley Rural Australians for Refugees spokesperson said has resulted in the forging of lifelong friendships.
“Home hosting is a great opportunity to show compassion for asylum seekers, providing much-needed respite in a beautiful rural setting,” the spokesperson said.
“It helps to build friendships, cultural understanding and improve English skills, and is a clear demonstration of the compassion and goodwill in abundance in our local community,
“A walk in the bush or the beach, experiencing life on the farm or in a township, and sharing smiles around the kitchen table help to foster joy in the otherwise difficult circumstances asylum seekers face long after they have been released from detention.”