One night when the Taliban came they took my father.  I remember crouching on the floor with my mother and my baby brother and sister and crying, my mother sobbing beside me, my baby brother and sister screaming as they dragged him away.  The Taliban didn’t care.  They just took my father.​

Midnight was a time of night that we all learned to fear in my village in Afghanistan, because midnight was when the Taliban would come.

They would harass us and torment us and create a constant atmosphere of fear.

One night when the Taliban came they took my father.  I remember crouching on the floor with my mother and my baby brother and sister and crying, my mother sobbing beside me, my baby brother and sister screaming as they dragged him away.  The Taliban didn’t care.  They just took my father.

It didn’t stop there.  They kept coming.  Every time they came we would ask them where he was: “where’s my father”, “where’s my husband”.  We would cry, and every night they would tell us something different: “we killed him”, “he is with us now”, “we never took him”.

Some nights they would come and scream at us, demanding to know where he was even though they were the ones who took him from us against his will.

Now, three years later, we still don’t know where he is.  We don’t know if he’s alive.

My father was a man who was respected in our village.  He was an unofficial leader.  People would come to him at all hours and ask for his advice and his help on many things.  He was loved and admired, but he was loved most and admired most by us.

My mother and I tried to understand why they would have taken him, and why they kept coming back.  We believe he was taken because he was influential and they wanted to try and use him to convince other people to join in their fight, and my mother was convinced they kept coming back because they wanted me.

My mother was terrified for me.  In our village, many young men and older men of fighting age had been taken.  With her husband now missing she knew her son was going to be next.

My mother sent me to a nearby city to go into hiding.  She told me I could not go home because the Taliban would come back and take me and keep harassing my family until my younger brother was old enough for them to take.  She told me to leave and to find a way to get to Australia.  She gave me everything we had so that I could sell it to gain passage to Australia – a place we had heard about that would give us a chance of having a life.  She gave me the deed to our farm, she gave me our car, our goat and anything of value she had so I could buy passage.  She is the bravest and most selfless human being I know.  I hate thinking of her alone, protecting my brother and sister with no one to help her.  She couldn’t come with me because my brother and sister were so young and they would not have survived the trip.

When I got to the city, friends hid me and helped me to escape.  I cannot put into words what that was like, the feeling of leaving my family as a young person and travelling across the world to a country where I knew no one.  It was not good.  All I can tell you is that sometimes, I still wake up at midnight, at the time they would come for us.  I wake up in tears and I think of my family and I think of my father and I hope they are all alright.

The journey to Australia was hard.  I had to come by boat.  Along that journey I saw people die.  I saw boats sink.  My boat almost sank and if it had not been for our captain we would have died.  He made the decision to strand us on a small island off Bali and that saved our lives.  He was a brave man.  I can still see all of it even though I don’t want to.  I can still see men and women and children crammed into small spaces, I can still see their fear.

I would like to be able to explain my experience better, but my English is not good.  Even if my English was better I do not know how I could make anyone understand it because it was such a big experience that I don’t know if I understand it.

How do you describe seeing people die just because they want to be free, but in trying to be free they lose their lives?

How do you make someone understand the pain of a child trapped on a boat who one day knew only the sound of gunfire and the next knows only the sounds of people crying and sobbing as they are trapped on an old and tiny ship that is falling apart in the middle of the ocean?

How do you make someone understand the terror of armed men running into their home at midnight, night after night after night, yelling at you and waving weapons at you and not caring that your mother is clutching a screaming child and that you are clutching a screaming child, when the people you tell this to have never experienced it?  What words describe that?  I cannot find the words that fit those emotions.

There are so many experiences in a refugee’s journey.  There are so many emotions.  Sometimes they happen so close together – or in the same moment – that pulling them apart from each other and understanding them might send you crazy.

I can’t even describe the good emotions I felt like the joy and the hope that filled me when I first saw Australia.  Those two words seem too small.  Those feelings were at once incredible but at the exact same time sad because my family was not with me to share them.

When I got to Australia I spent many months in different detention centres until they asked me where I wanted to go.  Those months were strange months.  Months where all I could do was think and feel and try and understand what had happened to me.  I felt relief because I was alive.  Fear because so many people around me had already been waiting for so long.  Anger that I was still confronted with men with guns who seemed frightened of us or worried that we would escape and do something when all we wanted was a chance to have what they had – a chance to live a free life.  I felt grief over the people I knew who had died and guilt that I had survived.  Mostly I felt sadness because I was alone.

The detention camps are not horrible, but they are not good.  Most of the guards can be nice.  The immigration people can be nice.  But the waiting is horrible.  The not knowing if you are going to be sent back to your country or given a chance to live in Australia, is horrible.

Getting the chance to live here – getting the chance I was given was wonderful.  I still remember it.

I was processed before many of the rules changed, and I was given a choice of where I wanted to live.  I am so grateful for that.

I chose Melbourne because other people in the camps said Melbourne was the most multicultural city, that it was the most accepting, and that it would be a place where I could find work.  I am so happy to be in Melbourne.  I am so happy and so thankful to live here.  It has been two years and though it has not been easy I have made many good friends and Melbourne people have been kind.  I have found work, and now every cent I have that I do not need to pay my bills goes back to my mother.

Now I can call my mother and my little brother and sister and speak with them.  They do not have a phone, but one of our neighbours does.  I call him and he runs to my mother’s house and lets me speak to them.

My little brother and my little sister are always asking me when I’ll come back and I have to lie because they will not understand that I can’t.  I tell them “soon”, and I tell them I will bring them gifts, but my hope is to bring them all here if I can, if the Australian government will let me – before my brother becomes old enough to be taken by the Taliban.

If I could meet with the government I would ask them to please help my people.  Not with weapons and soldiers because I do not like war and I do not like violence and neither do my people.  I would ask them to help by letting my people be free in this country.  None of us asked to be at war.  We did not ask for the Taliban.  We did not ask to live with the threat of violence every day.  Help us.  Help people who are escaping from wars.  No one should have to experience that.

Australia means so much to me, and even more now that I have lived here.  Australia means opportunity, it means joy, it means peace, it means security and it means safety.  In Australia I found people who would help me.  I found STREAT who helped me get qualifications so I can work and send money to my family.  STREAT made me feel like I was loved and respected.  Through STREAT and through many amazing people I have met in this wonderful country I have found a place to belong and people who care about me.  Australia is special.  It’s people are special.

Back home every day I would think “maybe today I die.  Maybe tomorrow I die.”  I don’t think those thoughts now, but I do think “maybe today my family will be killed.  Maybe tomorrow.”

I miss them so much.  I miss my mother.  I miss my little brother and sister so very deeply.  I miss my father and I want him to be alive.  I want him to be proud of me.  I want him to know I am trying.  That I am doing everything I can for my family.  There is not a moment in any day where I do not think of them, where I do not fear for them, where I do not pray for them.

I have two years until I know if I can stay or if I have to go.  If I have to go, I do not know where I will go or how I will start over again and I do not know what will happen to my family.  All I do know is I cannot go back to Afghanistan because the Taliban will kill me, and the nightmare my family live in every day and every night will not end.  If I can stay, it is my deepest hope and my biggest dream to find a way to save my family so they can know a future where they don’t have to wonder if maybe tomorrow they will die.

I want to see my little brother and my little sister smile, and know that no group of men with a gun will tear that smile from them.  I want them to know what hope is and to know that everything I have done I have done for them, that I did not leave them behind.  That I left them so we could all be together again in a better place. Australia.

Ahmed graduated from STREAT in 2015 and now works in hospitality.