Maryam - The Refugee


Maryam came to Australia as a 16 year old from Quetta, Pakistan. She and her family fled Afghanistan when she was 8 years old due to the persecution they faced as Hazaras.


One day, she was at school when her mother rushed up to her and said “Quick , Maryam! We have to run, the Taliban are coming, we must run!”. Maryam knew that she had to run harder than she had ever run before to escape the Taliban. She had already lost two brothers, taken by the Taliban and never seen again. So little Maryam with her two remaining brothers, two sisters, her mum and dad ran and ran until they reached Quetta, in Pakistan, 800 kilometres away.


Maryam and her remaining brothers and sisters studied hard at school in Quetta, learning English. Meanwhile their parents tried to organise asylum, as Quetta is a dangerous place for Hazaras.


Eventually one of her uncles organised asylum for them in Australia. The family were flown to Sydney airport where they were greeted by a settlement worker. Maryam’s English was so good the family didn’t even need an interpreter.


By this stage, Maryam was 16. She realised that her dream was to help people in her community to settle in Australia. She studied hard and despite years of no formal education managed to get a place at University to study law. Whilst she studied, she helped fellow Hazara refugees by interpreting, filling in forms and explaining how things worked in Australia.



Maryam applied to RACS to do her practical legal training as she recognised the importance of RACS’ work helping asylum seekers and wanted to give back to Australia. Maryam was able to complete her legal training, become a migration agent and is now working at the organisation helping asylum seekers and refugees. She speaks 5 languages fluently, understands the difficulties faced by clients as she has experienced them too and can now give legal advice!


Maryam is a shining of example of the strength, determination and generosity shown by refugees in Australia. She has overcome the tragedy of family loss, survived years waiting for asylum and is now giving back to her new country by helping the most disadvantaged.


Mohamma – The Asylum Seeker


Many arrive in Australia as unaccompanied minors - young boys who set off on epic journeys in the hope of seeking safety away from the violence of their home country and an opportunity to start a new, safer life. Mohammad’s story shows how difficult that journey can be.


The first time Mohammad came to our office for help, he was so traumatised he could barely speak. He was one of the 35 survivors of a boat that had sunk in Australian waters.


Mohammad is the eldest son in his family. He was 16 when he arrived in Australia. He has three sisters and two disabled brothers, one is deaf and the other has a spinal injury. His father had been a farmer in Afghanistan, but the family had fled to Pakistan after the death of their grandfather resulted in violent land disputes.


His father found work in the coal mines in Pakistan but had an accident and could not get out of bed for two years due to his injuries. Once Mohammad’s father recovered, he opened a shop selling groceries and Mohammad worked alongside him to help support the family. But times were tough, Pakistan is not a safe place for Hazaras, so the family made a difficult decision. Mohammad was to try and seek asylum in Australia.


Mohammad ended up on a boat on his way to Australia when at 3am the boat started sinking. 130 people were on that boat. It was pitch black. People were screaming as massive waves crashed down on the boat. The boat started to fall apart, those who could clung on to pieces of debris and tried to keep their heads above the freezing cold water.


As the sun came up, the survivors could see that they were in the middle of nowhere. They kept looking out to the horizon, hoping to see a boat that might rescue them. The waves slowly calmed down but the tropical sun reflected off the water and Mohammad’s skin started to blister. There was no respite from the sun, no water to drink and no food.


Mohammad was 16, alone and had never seen open water before this journey. He couldn’t swim. He just prayed that the bit of wood he clung to would keep him above the water long enough to be rescued. It is hard to imagine how he kept his hopes of rescue alive with the sun beating down and his fellow passengers sinking down into the ocean, one by one, as they gave up hope and drowned.


The Australian Navy finally arrived at 7pm that night – 16 hours after the boat sank. Only 35 people survived and Mohammad one was one of them!


Sadly, his parents called people in Australia to find out if their son had arrived safely and heard that the boat Mohammad was on had not arrived in Australia having sunk en route.


On hearing this news, Mohammad’s father had a heart attack and died. His mother and younger siblings were now alone in Pakistan.


Happily, Mohammad was granted a protection visa in 2 months. He is going to school. But now his main focus is trying to bring his surviving parent, his mother, his sisters and his two disabled brothers to Australia. As he says:


 “Pakistan is also very dangerous for Hazaras. The Taliban and other groups have openly said they want to make Pakistan a graveyard for Hazaras. There are bomb blasts and killings of Hazaras on a regular basis. It is so dangerous that Hazaras do not leave their house unless it is absolutely necessary.”


For a widowed woman with a young dependent family Quetta is even more dangerous.


RACS’ family reunion project has helped him with his family’s application for a humanitarian visa but the wait for a visa can be up to two years. Let’s hope his family survive this wait.


With over 25 years’ experience, RACS is an independent community legal centre whose purpose is to provide a free, specialist legal service for asylum seekers and refugees. RACS strives to ensure that individuals and families, at risk and fair representation before the law, and are granted protection by Australia, and opportunities to seek family unity, in accordance with Australia’s international obligations.


We believe asylum seekers and refugees should be able to live their lives with dignity, security, family unity and freedom. Our work is premised on a commitment to fundamental human rights, human dignity and international protection.


Organisation Details
Level 12, 173-175 Phillip St, Sydney NSW 2000
Contact details: 

+61 2 9114 1600