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Salem Askari and Minister Paul Papalia

“My name is Salem and I am from Afghanistan. I came here by boat in 2013. After three months in detention I was released into the community on a Bridging Visa E. I have been living in Perth ever since.”

In Afghanistan, Salem was a student and part-time educator teaching children basic English. After the US intervention, the situation deteriorated. As Hazaras, Salem and his family were particularly threatened and Salem left to find a way to keep himself and his family safe.

“Now, after living almost eight years in Australia I am still on a temporary visa, which does not allow me to sponsor my family. It is hard living such a precarious life, especially now that the situation in Afghanistan has recently become even worse. Every day I wake up to horrible news unfolding from around where my family lives.

“The years of hopelessness and despair have moulded and shaped my thoughts and eventually my character, which has impacted my social life enormously. However, I still do wake up every day to go to work, study at TAFE and participate in community events and gatherings to talk about what has happened to me and others who have been forgotten for the last 10 years.

“There are thousands of people in the same situation as me in the community, and no-one knows about it. Why? Because there is not enough fair discussion around refugees and people seeking asylum. It has become such a divisive topic that people do not even want to talk about it. It needs to change.

“Three years ago, I decided to join advocates to meet with MPs, hold community events, raise awareness and educate people about the difficult situation that these people suffer on daily basis.”

Salem now works as a research assistant at the Centre for Human Rights and Education at Curtin University so that he can contribute more effectively in terms of advocacy and lobbying.

“I help people with interpreting, organising meetings for temporary visa holders to share their stories, and make sure they get the help they need.

“Despite all the negative perceptions of refugees and people seeking asylum, it is extremely empowering to see communities come together to celebrate and advocate for justice and fairness during Refugee Week.

“It not only gives us hope and motivation, but also reminds us that there are still good people who have compassion and who care about humanity.

“What I am advocating for is not easy to get. However, if I could manage to change one person’s perspective about refugees from a negative to a positive, I am happy with that. Because that one person may influence another person in the community.”

Salem Askari was awarded the Judges Choice Award in the WA Multicultural Awards 2021.

Page reviewed 20 October 2020