Ray Of Hope For Three Refugees In Pakistan

Ray of hope for three refugees in Pakistan

Amanda Hodge, Islamabad
Article from: The Australian
May 09, 2009

HABIBA Hosseini has been a refugee for all but six of her 32 years. Her parents fled the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with their young children in the early 1980s for Iran, where they lived an uneasy existence as refugees in a hostile host country.

Now the single mother of two is again seeking refuge, this time in Australia – an ocean away from the incessant violence and upheaval of her South Asian home.

Habiba says she is desperate to get her daughters out of Pakistan, where they face constant harassment and fear of reprisals from the husband she ran from, and back into school in a country where they can live freely.

But she has neither the money nor the will to imperil her children's lives further by attempting the illegal boat passage taken by an increasing number of her compatriots.

“I think the people who are making their mind to go abroad through smugglers, their problems are very serious and they're not concerned about their safety,” she said through an interpreter this week.

“I could not take this risk to hand myself and my daughters over to a smuggler. After that I know many things can happen. My idea was to rescue my daughters, not put them more at risk.”

She also feels her case is as strong as any, and that consideration of her plight should not be delayed because others have the money to jump the immigration queue. “If it makes a difference for the people like me who are going legally, then I say this is unfair,” she says.

“If you compare the daily problems I face I think my problems would not be less than those of the people who go through smugglers.”

At great risk Habiba (not her real name) fled a forced and abusive marriage in Iran with her teenage daughters for her brother's home in Herat, Afghanistan, only to be told her daughters must return to their father.

A month later, in September 2006, the three arrived, penniless and terrified, in Pakistan and have been waiting in a queue ever since for an offshore humanitarian visa to Australia. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has classified Habiba and her daughters Romila, 17 and Nazila, 14, as women at risk.

But the wheels of bureaucracy have turned agonisingly slowly. They spend most of their day hiding in a rented room in a conservative Islamic quarter of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.

Despite her own predicament, Habiba says she understands the desperation that leads many to sell everything they have and borrow more besides to pay the standard $US10,000 ($13,200) fee Pakistani people smugglers charge to transport a family through southeast Asian ports and into Australia.

One Afghan asylum seeker in detention said this week that many refugees had been motivated to attempt the dangerous journey after hearing that Australia had relaxed its previously draconian policy on illegal immigration.

Habiba and her children are among a long queue of refugees living in hiding and penury across Pakistan as they go through the long process required by countries such as Australia, Canada and the US for asylum-seeker visas.

After 12 months of waiting, countless form-filling, medicals, interviews and sleepless nights, Habiba and her daughters' case looks positive. “I cannot express to you how much I hope to get settled in Australia,” she says.

“My children are very excited about going. They know they have a chance to get education and (live a life where) no-one creates problems for them.

“I want to live in a country where there is justice.”