In 2006 Ahmad Hakim fled Iran into Syria, was interviewed by the UNHCR and Australian Immigration and was accepted as a genuine refugee, as were others who were from the persecuted Arab Ahwaz minority group. He was approved, however heard nothing from the Australian embassy for at least a year. At that time, John Howard was in power and unfortunately, he wasn’t really sympathising with the refugees. It wasn’t a good situation — he couldn’t legally work in Syria, and didn’t have any money. He and his fellow refugees survived by selling clothes in the streets and because they spoke Arabic, they could sometimes work as interpreters for Iranian tourists. It wasn’t an easy existence.
This was just the beginning of the story of his harrowing journey to freedom.
Safely in Australia since 2008, we asked Ahmad about the love he has for both homes — Iran and Australia — we share that with you here.
How do you feel about Iran as your homeland? Like any human being I love my country. It’s the place I grew up in, I love my family and the community around me. But unfortunately my life and culture was dictated by the theocratic regime of Iran and my place in the country was oppressed. There wasn’t room for me to grow up and live freely. I have just returned from giving a speech at an international conference in Brussels where these kinds of issues and human rights violations were discussed and how the world can better support positive change in Iran.
What do you miss about Iran and what don’t you miss? Firstly I miss my family and my community. I have seven brothers and one sister, they all have their own families too so I miss being surrounded by loved ones and playing with nieces and nephews. I miss the deep history, the food, the everyday life of people. Life is lived at a different pace. Every day you buy fresh produce for meals, nothing needs to be stored in the fridge. I especially miss the clotted cream on top of the fresh milk that’s sold by the local farmer. My mum would cook flat bread and we’d eat this hot with the thick cream. I miss my childhood (as tough as it was) and the place where I grew up. I use to help my uncle on his farm in the school holidays. I use to help him pick the watermelons, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants and rockmelons. Then we’d sell it in the market. My Aunty would come to the field and cook us lunch. She’d cook fish caught fresh from the river nearby or an organic chicken with the veg we’d freshly picked.
But!I don’t miss the theocratic culture that’s been imposed on the people, lack of transparency, women oppressed because of their gender, people being executed on the street and I don’t miss seeing children begging on the streets to help generate income so the family can eat and missing out on going to school.
Can you give an insight to what Iran was like before you needed to flee.
Life is very difficult for many people. People sell their organs to make money. Society has broken down and the government cares about spending the money on terrorist groups in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. It was a tough life for me to see people living like this. Despite all the difficulties during my childhood and the Iraq-Iran war, my parents did their best to keep me safe and send me to school and provide food and love and happy times in between the turmoil.
How you feel about Australia as your new home?
I love it. Love the fairness, the people, the opportunities it has given me and the government to support my capabilities and ability to develop myself on the scale of education and also building my family and future. What has amazed me about Australia it’s such a young country with first class world human rights and human development, which compared to Iran — an old country with an old history, it hasn’t achieved these things yet.
What were/are the challenges for you and what are some of the things you love about your adopted country? It was a challenge to learn the language and adapt to the culture. I came from a place where they live there lives differently to here and some things like building friendships took longer to develop. Because I have limited work experience in Australia pursuing the career I would like has been difficult until now. I have just won a coordinator position with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre so now I don’t feel like the time I invested in my education has been wasted.