DANDENONG businesswoman Nida Iqbal has constantly sought more from life and wants other refugees to have the chance to do the same.
Her father was executed without knowing his daughter existed.
Her mother wasn’t even aware of the life they had created when she lost the man she loved – targeted because he supported education and was born a Hazara.
“Hazara killings have always been very common in Afghanistan,” Nida said.
“They want ethnic cleansing and in ethnic cleansing Hazaras always come first because they’re the minority.”
Nida’s mother – a Pashtun, married her late husband’s younger brother, breaking social expectations for a second time.
“In 1989 we fled Afghanistan because we just couldn’t be there anymore and the war was getting pretty bad,” Nida said.
“My stepdad fled first, to Pakistan, and then after that we came.”
“We” included Nida, her dad’s sister, her mum, and her 40-day-old sister.
“We fled in the back of trucks full of bombs and hand grenades,” the Cranbourne resdient said.
“I was eight years old.
“It took us about two and a half weeks to get through to Pakistan because we could only journey through the night.”
They had to start their lives from zero, with a new language and culture.
“My mum and dad were both teachers in Pakistan in local schools, schools for Afghan refugees in Quetta,” Nida said.
“Life started settling a little bit but we always knew that it was not home and worried ‘what will happen when the Pakistan Government actually starts pushing Afghans to go back home?’
“We knew that we would never be able to go back to Afghanistan.
“I have never been back.
“When you’re very traumatised like my family is, it’s not home anymore.
“Apart from a very big fear you don’t have any other attachment.”
Nida and her family lived in Pakistan until 1998.
“Our life was pretty normal. It had ups and downs of poverty and living below the line, but it was OK,” she said.
“When the Taliban came into power in Afghanistan they, basically, stopped education and work for girls and women in Afghanistan.
“Being from a family that really valued education, it really affected me.”
She made a presentation on the issue at her school.
“It was published in the media and then I was threatened to be killed with my family,” she said.
“I was just 18.
“We left everything behind and went to Islamabad, which is the capital city of Pakistan.”
They told the United Nations their story. The organisation moved them from hotel to hotel and lodged applications for refuge with Canada and Australia.
“Of course we had heard of Canada but never Australia,” Nida said.
“We landed in Melbourne on 26 November 1998.
“I remember one of the first things I said to mum was ‘what if there was a war there? Where would we go? We can’t even swim’.
“I was so used to fleeing from one border to another border, never having consistency in life.”
They again started from zero staying with an Afghan family.
They moved into their own home on Warrigal Road in Cheltenham, “in the middle of nowhere”.
“We had no transport. We had no English whatsoever,” she said.
“Those were very hard times.“
Nida was 19 but enrolled in Year 10 at South Oakleigh Secondary College.
“I finished Year 12 with a 71 ENTER score which wasn’t a lot, but considering I’d only been in school for three years it was pretty good.”
Nida started a Bachelor of International Trade at university in 2002 and met her husband, accountant Shahid.
“I suck at economics and maths and I failed maths in Year 12,” she said.
“I was in our economics class and we had a test the following day. He always sat at the front of the class.”
So Nida and a friend asked him for help at lunchtime.
“He helped us and the following morning I sat next to him and I copied everything in his test,” she said.
“I got better marks than him in that test!”
She started a diploma in community development after completing her degree in 2005 and has been involved in the sector since.
“Then I was very interested in assisting families because I could see they were being charged a lot of money to be reunited with their families,” she said.
“In 2009 I decided to do my graduate certificate in migration law and practice to be able to help them. In 2010 I got my licence as a migration agent.”
Nida gave birth to her daughter, Arooj, in 2011 and just two years later started a law degree with a desire to be able to better represent her clients at her Dandenong agency.
“I only study part-time, I’m only – I can’t even say half way there, but getting there slowly,” she said.
“I haven’t stopped struggling to make something and I don’t think I will stop.
“It makes me so sad that I am so proud of being here and there are so many opportunities that you can grab, yet the current government does not give refugees like myself a chance.
“We are not a burden.
“We are shattered, we are absolutely broken, but we can do things.
“My mum works as a hand-finisher in a bridal gown company. My dad works as a chef in a restaurant.
“My sister has just finished university and she’s a beautician, the young one is studying law.
“This is a family of five that came to Australia with nothing.”
Nida said the immigration system left refugees and asylum seekers hanging, creating depression and anxiety.
“In Afghanistan they just get shot or hanged, but in Australia we’re killing them slowly,” she said.
“It makes me very angry.
“I’m so disappointed that I had this opportunity, my family had this opportunity, yet I am sitting in front of a client who did not have the opportunity.
“Sometimes all I can do is cry.”
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