As hundreds of Afghan families fled captured Kabul in August and September, the diaspora community was waiting with open arms. One Melbourne-based community member, Nasser Yawari, works for our Jobs Victoria Advocates Program. Here, he tells how he coordinated within different Jesuit Social Services programs to link families with food and services – demonstrating what true welcome looks like.
Hi, Nasser. Could you tell us a bit about your background and experience?
My background is from Afghanistan. I am part of the minority group, Hazara. In 2012 I moved to Australia. I studied my diploma in liberal arts and my bachelor’s degree in politics and sociology, and then worked as a marketing officer, then multicultural officer, then applied for the Jobs Advocates role. I established a not-for-profit organisation, Nasle Baba Foundation, in 2019. We help the Afghan Hazara community in Dandenong – filling out forms, interpreting and translating general information; messages and emails. We planned to also help students in Afghanistan [this year], but because of the situation [with the Taliban], everything is stopped.
My family is there. My mum, sister, brother… they’re in Afghanistan. Everything is completely changed; not just for my family, for the whole people. Especially for minorities, who experience discrimination.
Nasle Baba Foundation was already supporting families in Afghanistan before the fall of Kabul. Can you tell us more about your work here?
Everything was new for everyone once COVID came. We collected donations from volunteers to help 115 families in Afghanistan, with food and basic items.
Once I heard they [refugee families] had arrived in Melbourne – the thing is, everything that is new for them, I’ve experienced it myself. When I arrived, I couldn’t speak English fluently. The culture, environment; everything is different. Once I heard about the newly arrived families I knew they didn’t know about employment, the education system, the environment. They approached me – they needed urgent help.
You coordinated with another Jesuit Social Services program, the Ecological Justice Hub, to have culturally appropriate meals and groceries delivered to 30 families in three quarantine hotels in Melbourne. How did that start?
My team really helped me in that process. I shared in our team meeting that new arrivals had contacted me. Bianca [Barbarisi, Jobs Advocate Program Manager] said, that’s great, we can support them. We organised with Stuart [Muir Wilson, from the Ecological Justice Hub]. We started in September. We worked with AMES, and sent around 240 food packages per week.
The families are now out of quarantine, but I am still helping them. Before you called I was helping one family get food support from Salvation Army. There’s a language barrier – we speak Dari language; Hazaragi dialect. Last week we had an informational session for families, in Hazaragi. It was really good, especially for new arrivals. We had about 55 participants. That sessions was on employment, education, financial support, the humanitarian support available through the organisations around Melbourne.
What are the families telling you?
One big, important thing for the majority of them is the language. For the younger generation it might be fine; the majority of them know basic English. For parents it’s going to be very hard. Everything is new for them. It’s completely different – I know. These experiences exist especially among minority groups.
Australian people – I really like the way they help refugees and migrants. I’ve attended a couple of meetings with different organisations; they’ve always showed their support if families need support. For the government, we’ve advocated a lot to get the twenty thousand [humanitarian] visas; exactly the same as Canada. We haven’t been successful yet. At least the can help the family reunification – this is another thing for the majority of people, like me. We are living in Australia but our parents and siblings are in Afghanistan. It’s really hard.
Tell us about the Afghan diaspora community in Melbourne.
The majority of people coming to Australia are Hazara background. Eighty to eighty-five per cent I think. Based on the last census, previously there were fifty thousand here; the majority around the Dandenong area. There are businesses, shops, everything; we can see each other and meet each other. It’s good to discuss issues and have community support.
I am [also] referring job-seekers to the JVES program [Jobs Victoria Employment Services]. Usually you have to be unemployed for six months to be eligible for the program, but at the moment they have changed the criteria for new arrivals, so most are eligible for that program.
Is there anything else you’d like to say before we finish up?
Just thank you to my team. They were really helpful when I mentioned the new arrivals. They tried their best to help them out; referring them to other organisations – they were really helpful.