Students and staff at the University of Canberra came together on World Refugee Day to recognise those whose lives have been affected by conflict and violence. At a morning tea on campus, Muhammad Yasin Hamraz, one of 48 students at the University studying on a humanitarian visa, moved guests with the story of his journey from Afghanistan to Australia.
20 June 2018: Canberra is a long way from the Afghanistan countryside where Muhammad Yasin Hamraz grew up, but geographic separation – no matter how great – can’t erase the memory of his past.
Mr Hamraz belongs to the Hazara ethnic group, native to the region of Hazarajat in central Afghanistan and long persecuted at the hands of extremist groups including the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Hazara people have few safe havens in Afghanistan, the central Ghor province, where Mr Hamraz was raised and most of his family still resides, is more parlous than most.
“My brother was taken by the Taliban recently,” Mr Hamraz said. ”They kept him for several days and tortured him, harmed him beyond belief. He was persecuted for who he is, who we are as people. Who I am.”
Living in constant fear of being abducted, tortured or killed, Mr Hamraz, then a teenager, fled to Kabul, the capital, where he attended university and later worked as a primary school principal for three years. But it wasn’t sustainable.
“Trouble was brewing in my region and I was being targeted and threatened by the Taliban and other terrorist groups,” he said. “Inevitably, my wife and I were forced to leave and immigrate to Pakistan.”
The persecution of Hazara people in Afghanistan dates back to the 16th century. During the reign of Abdur Rahman Khan (1880 – 1901), thousands of Hazaras were reportedly killed, expelled and enslaved.
In neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, where thousands of Hazaras live, the danger is just as real, and many continue to be persecuted by extremist groups. But Mr Hamraz and his wife weren’t only concerned by the threat of violence or death.
“Even while we were in Pakistan we encountered very difficult situations,” he said. “Our language, our cultural practices, everything changed. Our future was unknown. We were jobless and had no prospects. There was fear in our hearts.”
Afghan people have been coming to Australia since 1859, the first of them camel drivers. Since then, more than 30,000 have emigrated from Afghanistan, Mr Hamraz and his wife among them.
The couple applied for refugee status through the United Nations Refugee Agency and arrived in Australia in 2015. Mr Hamraz undertook government-run English language courses and continued his learning at the Canberra Institute of Technology.
He enrolled to study at the University of Canberra this year. “I hope by studying at the University I can change my family’s life,” he said. He completed his first semester of a Bachelor of Information Technology last month.
Mr Hamraz is one of 48 students at the University studying on a humanitarian visa. Like Mr Hamraz, many of them have fled their homes under tragic circumstances, leaving family and friends behind.
The University is committed to improving the lives of individuals who have been forced to flee their homes in search of freedom and safety. Acknowledging the hardship these students face in moving to an unfamiliar location, the Student Welfare office provides support and opportunities for them to thrive.
“I have received assistance with my study fees and with purchasing textbooks,” Mr Hamraz said. “The University has also provided me with tutors who are trained to specifically mentor humanitarian visa students.
“Most importantly, with the support services I can access, I have never felt isolated or persecuted.”
The fear and uncertainty Mr Hamraz felt as a Hazara man living in Afghanistan and Pakistan has given way to a life of freedom and safety.
“I have faced many challenges in my life, but deep down I always believed in a bright future,” Mr Hamraz said. “Now I’m studying at the University of Canberra and I’m enjoying life.”