We are honoured to announce RACS’ inaugural Ambassador, Zaki Haidari, an extraordinary young man, who came to Australia from Afghanistan to seek asylum. He received critical legal support from RACS and was granted a visa.
Zaki Haidari: “With the support from RACS, I am now safe”
Zaki Haidari left his mother and siblings behind in Afghanistan in 2011. He had no choice. Leaving was the only way to escape from being pursued by the Taliban, who first took his father and then killed his elder brother. As the Taliban found English documents with his father, they accused him of working with the international forces.
As the eldest remaining son of the family, Zaki’s life was seen by the extremist group as the price his family had to pay as punishment for belonging to the Hazara ethnic group and to the Shi’a branch of Islam, a minority group in Afghanistan.
After four months of travel through several countries and landing in Indonesia, Zaki, once again put his life at risk. Like many other people seeking asylum, he got on a boat in Jakarta expecting to land in Australia, a safe harbour, the next day. However, the fishing boat, overflowing with 90 people on board, was intercepted by the Australian Navy. Everyone on board was sent to a detention centre on Christmas Island, including 17-year-old Zaki.
Six years have passed since that time. Thanks to the legal support provided by RACS, Zaki was finally granted a five-year protection visa. Temporary visas being the only option for people who came by boat.
How did you find out about RACS?
I could have been sent to Nauru or Manus Island but one day an immigration officer came to Christmas Island and told us that facilities in both places were at full capacity. So I was sent to a community centre in Sydney on a bridging visa. Looking back on this now I realise how fortunate it was that I wasn’t sent to Nauru or Manus.
As I didn’t have the right to work in the community. I started to volunteer for a lot of local organisations. That is how I met Tanya (Executive Director of RACS). She told me that regardless of the way I had arrived, by boat or by plane, it was legal for me to seek asylum. RACS provided me with free legal assistance to help me be recognised as a refugee and apply for a visa.
What was it like going into RACS?
People at RACS were amazing. Walking into the office of RACS feels like there are a bunch of beautiful people that work towards protecting you. My relationship is closer to a friendship, full of joy, as they provided support when I most needed it. You feel they are at your side to protect you.
What services did RACS provide?
RACS helped me with every legal issue that I had in the past six years. Isobel McGarity was my lawyer. She helped me with all my written statements, as well as organising for my documents to be translated. My English was very limited back then. She helped me to get everything ready before we went to the Department for my interview.
Do you remember the day of your interview at the Department?
Yes, my lawyer Isobel and I were invited to the Parramatta office. Isobel was amazing. She is a very strong woman. She told me that I would be okay. I trusted her, she had written everything so clearly, and she had collected all the documents I needed.
I was very nervous before the interview. I remember I was sitting there, doing my interview and thinking how good it was to have someone who by my side. She was a very strong support for me. Once the interview finished, we came out and we got a positive result. I was so happy, and she was so happy for me. We were both crying. I’ll never forget that moment. It was a big thing in my life to know I could stay in Australia for another five years. And she was a massive part of that.
Could a person seeking asylum go through the process without legal support?
They could, but it is so hard. People need to know the law. You need to provide the correct documents and statements. Without legal support, it is very, very hard to get a protection visa. Because the legal system is very complex. And it is not easy even for someone who speaks English to put everything together, to write a statement. You can’t write a statement with broken English and to fill all those forms. It’s not easy to understand the questions if you don’t understand the legal system. I think it would be very difficult to go through this without legal support.
Zaki, you have been in Australia almost 6 years. What is your situation now?
After being in Australia for four years, I was allowed to apply for a temporary protection visa. I have been granted a 5 year visa, thanks to RACS. My current visa is expiring in 2021. After that, I don’t know what will happen. I will have to apply again for another protection visa to avoid being deported. I am kind of living in the moment. I can’t really plan my life. So far, I know I am safe here but it kills me the pain of knowing that it is just temporary. I wish it would be permanent but I don’t know my future.
Do you know about your family? Are they safe?
I call my mother every night before I go to bed to make sure she and my brother and my sisters are ok because the place where they live is not safe. Anything could happen to them at any day, any moment. Knowing that they are not safe is very hard. I can’t sleep if I don’t speak with them. The hardest part of my life is knowing they aren’t safe and I cannot do anything to protect them.
“People at RACS were amazing. Walking into the office of RACS feels like there are a bunch of beautiful people that work towards protecting you. My relationship is closer to a friendship, full of joy, as they provided support when I most needed it. You feel they are at your side to protect you” – Zaki Haidari, RACS Ambassador.
People seeking asylum can’t do this alone.
Your generous donation will help men, women and children apply for protection in Australia.