'My future is daily': Temporary protection visa holders left in bureaucratic limbo

Isolation, uncertainty and fear of the unknown. For the thousands on Australian temporary protection visas with no surety of their future, these emotions are all too familiar.

Zaki Haidari fled war-torn Afghanistan in search of a better life, but Australia’s visa system is proving that his journey to long-term security is far from over.

Growing up, Mr Haidari's family life was a steadying force, surrounded by a loving mother and siblings, and a father who was among some of the most respected doctors in the country.

Zaki Haidari fled Afghanistan at the age of 17 in search of a better life.
Source: Adam Marsters/SBS News

But as fundamentalist ideology took a firm grip on his homeland under the Taliban and the pursuit of education became a deadly ambition, then-17-year-old Mr Haidari's world would be turned upside down.

“I lost my older brother because (he was) a normal university student, then I lost my father. He was taken away accused of working with international forces. It was my turn to leave the country or I had to pay the price," he told SBS News.

Knowing he faced almost certain death if he refused to join the Taliban, the teen's mother made the decision to send her son abroad.

With limited English skills, next to no money and zero family to confide in, Mr Haidari boarded a people-smuggling boat.

“I was smuggled from many countries. There were days where I didn’t have food for days and nights. I was detained in dark rooms where I didn’t know if it was day or night. Many times I thought this is it…'this is the end of my life'," he said.

After arriving on Christmas Island aboard an overloaded boat and braving strong swells and punishing winds, the teen was held before being transferred to a detention facility in Tasmania.

“I was lucky that I (was then) released into the community on a bridging visa…I don’t know how I ended up being in the community and some of my friends ended up in Nauru and Manus Island," he said.

Mr Haidari went on to study business and marketing at Sydney’s Martin College, securing a full scholarship in the process and vindicating his mother’s belief in education, was awarded the NSW government’s International Student of the Year award in 2015 - just three years after making it to Australia.

For Mr Haidari, the achievement was a bittersweet moment, however.

“My father was the first generation who was allowed to go to school back in Afghanistan. Being Hazara (an ethnic group that opposed the Taliban) we weren’t allowed to go to school or university," he said. 

“I always talk to my mum every night…we go through things that I have achieved in this country…I think have enough education level where I can have a full time job and in a way I’m giving back to the community…I think (my father) would be proud of me if he is alive.”

Now living in Australia under the federal government’s Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) scheme, Mr Haidari works as an admissions officer at the Australian National University in Canberra.

But despite overcoming adversity, he is acutely aware his fight is not over.

“After four years living in the community I was recognised as a refugee…and I was given a SHEV…I do have to reapply and go through the whole process again," he said.

The Refugee Advice and Casework Service warns some Temporary Protection Visa and SHEV holders are now at breaking point, the uncertainty of their future and the difficulty of finding stable, long-term work is grinding away at their will to press on.

Mr Haidari told SBS News that while his story is one of much success, there is no guarantee he will maintain his peaceful life in Australia.

“My future is like daily, I have today and tomorrow, I don’t know what the next day is for me…If I do get another visa I will still be living in Australia temporarily. If I don’t get a visa, this is it for me, I’ll be deported back to Afghanistan and I l think my life will end," he said.

More than 15,000 people are living in Australia on temporary protection visas and more than 8,000 people who arrived by boat are still waiting on the government to determine their refugee status.

RACS principal solicitor Sarah Dale said many vulnerable people are left feeling broken by the system.

“That’s eight years waiting for a decision, for a visa length that may be half of that," she said.

Mr Haidari said many people in his position are not only struggling with the prospect of deportation but the anxiety of already living without their loved ones.

“I know people that are getting to a point where life is pointless for them," he said.

"They’re hopeless. We have been living in Australia for over seven years now.

"Our concern is our loved ones are still back in those places where they are fighting for their life every moment. They’re at the point where they are saying if I can’t live with my family what is the point of living.”

Published 12 August 2019 at 12:11pm, updated 12 August 2019 at 2:33pm
By Adam Marsters