The wars in Afghanistan began in 1979, forcing many people to flee the country to safety. As the wars escalated through the 1980’s, families found safety in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran, although the likelihood of returning to Afghanistan slowly diminished. With little chance of ever being granted citizenship in Iran, refugee families found hope of a future in Australia. Three young Afghan men in their 20’s, Bashir Mirzaie, Mahdi Hosseini and Hamid Khairi, shared their stories of being refugees from Iran and how they are overcoming their challenges of settling into Australian society.
Mirzaie, Hosseini and Khairi have become great friends since arriving in Melbourne in 2016, supporting each other through the whirlwind of settling in Australia. The pressure to learn English quickly, find ongoing work and to feel a sense of belonging have led to feelings of exclusion. They each feared they were not contributing meaningfully to society, leading to feelings of depression and anxiety. Mirzaie said, “I had to find something that made me confident and made me happy”. Khairi added, “Every day was hard and I needed to meet new people, Bashir and Mahdi put me on the right path”.
The young men joined a local Afghan community group, playing soccer every Friday evening in Dandenong, and soon found new friends and a new place to belong. Hosseini said, “We are 20 people who play, we make our friendships stronger each week”. The importance of a regular weekly activity can be an incredibly simple and powerful tool for social inclusion, with the aim to reach out to the broader community “We are happy to meet Afghan people but we also want to meet non-Afghan people” said Hosseini.
With increased confidence and their English improving, the young men aim to develop their job prospects. Mirzaie is an engraver and masonry specialist, Hosseini is looking for work as a panel beater and Khairi wants to be a mechanic. Participating in a regular community-based sports has increased their ability to be included in all aspects of society.
Thank you to Atiq Abed for assisting with interpretation. Also, a special thank you to Chobani Australia for their support of Centre for Multicultural Youth programs and for encouraging social inclusion of new and emerging communities through sport.