A refugee’s very hard road to Canberra and freedom | Refugee Week 2023

Steve Evans

By Steve Evans

June 19 2023 – 5:30am


Zerghona Jawadi knows about struggle.

She arrived in Canberra just under 20 years ago, a refugee from the horrors of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan when people were being hanged before crowds in the football stadium and women risked stoning if they asserted any sort of right.

She was married at the age of 14. When the Taliban were at the height of their power, her father, a judge, was in the sights of the hard-liners.

“My husband had a grocery shop and all the time they came and he had to give them money. All the time. All the time, we had to pay them money.”

So they fled. They stayed in Iran for a couple of months but life was impossible without permits or ID. They risked being sent back to Afghanistan. Malaysia for a week followed and then Indonesia for two months. And then Australia – or at least a rickety fishing boat to Christmas Island, followed by three years on Nauru where her second son was born.

“It was a very small boat for eight days. There was no space to put my feet. We had to sit very close together. Very tight.” She reckons there were 100 people on the boat. The price the traffickers demanded was around $10,000.

And finally after the three years on Nauru, approval of a visa – a night in Brisbane and a lifetime ahead in Canberra.

The rule was that people without a family elsewhere in Australia had to move to the capital. “I had never heard of Canberra. I thought it was like the countryside.” And cold. “In Nauru, it was always hot. We had never had cold weather. In Canberra, it was the middle of winter. It was freezing for us.”

Zerghona is now studying at the Canberra Institute of Technology in Bruce. She’s passed a series of exams in English after starting from scratch and is learning how to work with those in need in the community.

The son she came out of Afghanistan with at the age of seven is now a mechanic who owns his own business. The son born in Nauru is studying psychology at the University of Canberra. She is divorced from the husband she married at 14.

She is a new woman.

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