A brave change

Sajida is 20-years-old and came to New Zealand as a refugee. This is her story, in her words.

I want to write about a beautiful, kind and merciful woman, my mum. I know everyone thinks their mother is the best in the world but my mum is very brave. It was very hard for her without a husband or anyone to help her in a country where there is always fighting and war. My mum lived in that country with us five children.

When my dad died, my mum's father said we should leave Afghanistan. We went at night and ran away from the war. We went by bus half way to Pakistan and then by taxi. It is very dangerous because of the Taliban. If they see you they kill you with guns. The Taliban is very dangerous and they are very bad people. They don’t care about children or old people. If they see a bus full of people they stop and take the women’s jewellery and money. They line up all the people in the bus and shoot them or cut their throats. It is very sad and terrible and we were very scared when we left that night. Nothing bad happened on our journey to Pakistan; we went through desert and fields and it was very boring. My seat was bad and I wasn’t comfortable. We arrived in Pakistan in the evening and my mum’s cousin picked us up and took us to his house. I was surprised when I saw my cousins who were small when I last saw them in Afghanistan. We went inside and had drink and food.

We started a new life without my father, living like guests with my mum’s cousin’s family. My mum said she didn’t want to be a guest, she wanted somewhere where she could start a new life with her children. Her cousin’s wife said they had a free room we could have and share the kitchen and bathroom, so we started our new life in Pakistan. We lived with our cousins for a year. They were very kind to us and I love them a lot. We worked and went to madrasa to learn the Quran Karem and how to read and write in Dari.

"We went at night and ran away from the war."

For a long time Pakistan was safe and there was peace. We forgot Afghanistan's war and all the terrible things that happened to us in Afghanistan. One day my brother Ali and cousins were going to the park when there was a bomb explosion near the park where there is a lot of shops and people. Someone brought the bomb in a water tanker. We were living in Quetta and there isn’t enough water so it is brought in by tanker and sold. Over 300 hundred people were injured in the bomb blast and a lot of people died. My uncle’s mum was very worried and left the house to look for the boys. My cousins and I were very scared. Ali and my cousins came home safe with my cousin’s mum and we were so happy they were safe and nothing had happened to them. After that everyone was scared and no one wanted to go to the park or shops. After a week people went back to school and work but we were still scared and worried about what would happen next. When people, especially men, go to the city the Taliban kill them with guns. For a while they just killed the men then they started to kill women and children.

One day we were sitting together with our neighbour and we talked about the terrible things that were happening. She said to my mum that we should go to the United Nations and tell them we have no husband to look after us and we are refugees. She said they would ask us questions about her life and send the interview notes to Australia, New Zealand and America. They used to send the interviews to all countries but when we went to the United Nations there were only three countries accepting refugees from Afghanistan. Our neighbour said it is a good and safe way rather than going by sea where it is illegal and dangerous. We heard about other families who went to the United Nations and from there they went to Australia or America. We had a cousin who came back to Pakistan for a visit from Australia. He told mum we should go to the United Nations and try to go to another country.

"We heard about other families who went to the United Nations and from there they went to Australia or America."

My uncle phoned Immigration at the United Nations to make an appointment. It took a long time for them to answer the phone. When they did they asked mum about her husband and children and said they would phone back. We waited for six months. My cousin went back to Australia. Mum called the Immigration people and they said they wanted to see her and gave her the address, date and time. Their office is in the city of Quetta which is very dangerous especially for refugees. Mum and Ali went and I prayed everything would be all right. They came back at lunchtime and said they were asked questions about why they had left Afghanistan and how they came to Pakistan.

We were waiting for them to phone us and we all ran to the phone when it rang. They didn't phone and after another six months mum phoned them again. They wanted to see mum again. Every time mum went to Immigration they always asked the same questions because they wanted to make sure mum was telling the truth. They asked the same questions in different ways. The last two times we all went. It was winter and very cold and we went in a rickshaw. There were lots of security people and we were asked our name and for the paper they gave mum the last time she had been there. Inside there was a room full of women and children and we had to wait there. A man came and called a name every half hour. We waited two or three hours before our name was called and we all followed the man to the next building.

In that building they took our photos. We were told to go home and that they would call us. We went to the immigration place four or five times but the last time it was a different place and different people. A man asked questions about my father and then told us we had to do the last interview in Islamabad the capital city of Pakistan. My uncle said Islamabad is a beautiful place but it not safe to go there without a man. In Afghanistan and Pakistan it is not safe for women to go somewhere without a man.

My uncle got his friend Juma Khan to drive us and they picked us up with all our clothes and everything we needed at 4am and dark. The driver came with his car which had five seats. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, they do not use seat belts and sit as many people in the car as they can. My uncle sat in the front with the driver. I sat with Ali, Mum and Mahnaz in the back and Habib and Aziz were in the boot with the bags. We were excited to see Islamabad but it was a long trip and all the children vomited especially Habib. There wasn't much room and our legs were painful. The driver stopped at 8am for breakfast and to use the washroom. We stopped again for lunch and to use the car wash because it was very hot. Pakistan is very hot especially Islamabad and Karachi. I wanted to open the window to get fresh air but it was very windy and a very hot wind. We finally got to Islamabad at 6pm. My uncle booked a room and we all had showers. Mum had brought chicken from home which was yummy. We didn’t buy food at the hotel because it was too expensive.

Next day was our interview with a woman from New Zealand. We got the address from the United Nations in Quetta. There were there other Afghan families also having interviews. We went by bus to the United Nations building in Islamabad where there was a guard by the door who called our names. He looked at our refugee card and let us in. There was the woman from New Zealand and a man from Australia. He interviewed the families who were to go to Australia.

"I wished one day we would go to New Zealand."

The New Zealand woman was Maori and she had a translator. She said hello and introduced herself. She said she had all the papers from our interviews with the United Nations people and the New Zealand government accepted our case. She asked us if we would like to go to New Zealand and mum said of course we would, but where is New Zealand? I don't know anything about New Zealand and when the woman said we would go there soon I was surprised. A long time ago when we were in Afghanistan and my father was alive he had a friend who went to Zaland Naw (which is what we call New Zealand in Afghanistan). Zaland means bright, clear, and shiny. My father thought his friend was very lucky to go to New Zealand and have a safe and good life there. My father said he wished he had the money to go there. I wished one day we would go to New Zealand so I was very surprised when the New Zealand woman said we would be going there soon and gave us information about New Zealand.

When we first went to the United Nations we thought we would go to Australia because a lot of Afghan people go there. The people asked us why we left Afghanistan for Pakistan and why we wanted to leave Pakistan. My mum said her husband was killed in Afghanistan and every day there are bombs and explosions. We came to Pakistan to save our lives but people are killed here to. Because we are Afghans and Hazara and refugees it is not safe for us and we don’t have a future here. I was asked what I want to be in the future and I said I wanted to go to school and when I finish my education I want to be a doctor. When I was seven years old I saw a TV programme about a doctor called Sajida. My father called me Dr Sajida and I cried because I didn’t go to school and how could I be a doctor. They asked the rest of the family what they want to be. Ali said he wants to be an engineer. Mahnaz wants to be a teacher. Habib said he wants to be a doctor. Aziz said he wanted to be an interpreter.

When they were finished taking our photos we went back to the hotel and the next day we went shopping. There was a big mall where we bought shoes, scarves and dresses which we enjoyed a lot. The weather was very hot and the next day we went home.

"I thought we would all die."

The United Nations people phoned and said we had to go back to Islamabad the next week for blood tests. We were happy and sad because it seemed nearer to when we would go to New Zealand but sad because it is very hot and a long way to Islamabad. No one wanted to go but my uncle called his friend the driver who said he would take us to Islamabad again. In the early morning when the driver came he was very sleepy. My uncle told him to go and sleep and we would go later but the driver said he was fine and that it was his job to drive. This time Mahnaz and Aziz were in the boot. The driver stopped several times and washed his face because he was sleepy. My uncle told him it was dangerous to drive when he had sleepy eyes but the driver ignored my uncle.

A big truck came towards us. On one side was a mountain and on the other very deep jungle. The driver had his eyes closed and kept going closer to the truck and my uncle shouted at him. He opened his eyes and suddenly he saw the truck and turned the car to the left and saw the deep bank and turned back to the other side. Our speed was more than 100 kph. The car rolled three times and hit the mountain. The boot and the front windows broke and for a second everything was quiet. I thought we would all die but I pushed the door that opened and got out. Mum, Ali and everyone got out but Mahnaz was in the boot and the glass went into her face and hand. She was crying and calling my mum. We were very scared and tried to get her out of the car. Aziz's tshirt was full of blood from his face and hand. The car was completely wrecked and everyone who saw it said we were very lucky and they thought we would all be dead. A man told us there is a clinic where they dress the wounds before you go to the hospital. The nurses dressed Mahnaz’s face and Aziz’s hand.

Mum was very scared and wanted to go back to Quetta but my uncle told her to calm down and that we must go to Islamabad. He got another car and this time Habib sat with Uncle and the driver and we all sat in the back seat. The driver had to stop the car because there was a police check for passports. My uncle said we don’t have passports but we have refugee cards. The police took the cards and said we couldn’t got to Islamabad. We called our case manager at United Nations who talked to the police. Uncle talked with one of the police and asked why they let us go last time but not this time. The policeman said if we gave him money he would let us go. Uncle said, "Okay, the problem is not the refugee card, you want money". The police said, “Excellent, good man, you understand”. Uncle talked with mum who said okay, give them money, I can’t stand here any longer in the hot sun and Mahnaz and Aziz are wounded. Uncle said they don’t want just one or two thousand, they want a lot of money and we don’t have that much money. My mum cried and said she didn’t want to go to Islamabad or New Zealand or anywhere, she wanted to go home. My uncle said he understood and please don’t cry. We were there four hours in the hot sun until finally the police let us go and it was dark. The driver said he didn’t know how to get to Islamabad and my uncle was angry with him. The driver stopped many times when he lost the way but finally we arrived in Islamabad at 5am. It was a very, very bad trip and we were all very tired.

The next day we did the blood tests and went back to Quetta. Our case manager phoned mum and said everything is done and now you have to wait for your visa to come from New Zealand. When my mum asked how long that would be, he said six months to a year! The next week was Eid. After Ramadan we have Eid which is like Christmas celebrations. We have two Eid, one called Eid Ramadan and other called Eid Qorban two months after Eid Ramadan. At Eid Qorban our case manager called mum and said our visas would come next week and our flights to New Zealand were booked! We were shocked and surprised because we thought we had to wait a year and it was only two months. The case manager said we were lucky.

The next week we had a flights from Quetta to Islamabad, from Islamabad to Thailand and from Thailand to New Zealand! Now we are in New Zealand!

Learn more about refugee resettlement in New Zealand by visiting our website.