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  • SBS Pashto broadcaster Abdullah Alikhil conducting an interview (Supplied/SBS) ((Supplied/SBS))Source: (Supplied/SBS)
Unrest has seen more migrants and refugees arrive from Afghanistan in recent years, including many Pashto speakers.
Peggy Giakoumelos

24 Jul 2015 - 3:27 PM  UPDATED 24 Jul 2015 - 3:55 PM

The Pashto language joined the SBS Radio schedule in 2013, but the community dates back much further than that.

SBS Pashto broadcaster Abdullah Alikhil said the history of the Pashtun community in Australia was closely connected with the contribution made by cameleers.

"The Pashtun community is not new to Australia,” he said.

“We have history of almost 200 hundred years ago where the first cameleers came and they started settling in Australia."


The community's presence dated back to the 1800s, when Afghan cameleers came to Australia and helped explore and transport goods through inland Australia.

The cameleers, mainly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, belonged to four main ethnic groups including the Pashtun who speak the language Pashto.

The community has almost doubled in the last decade, many having arrived in Australia due to ongoing security problems in Afghanistan.

Alikhil was one of those people, arriving in Australia in 2013.

"I've come to Australia almost two years ago,” he said.

“And I've come for security reasons and just got asylum here and have been granted protection."

His job as a journalist for the United Nations in Afghanistan saw him travel across his homeland, documenting the stories of his people.

Danger and risk were part of the job.

"We were holding a press conference and there were suicide attacks, and gunfire just across the street and we could hear it,” he said.

“And when we were like walking towards the press conference room, so we have been told like to cover your head or do not walk there might be bullets coming from the air. But still that was like a normal life."

'We have been told like to cover your head or do not walk there might be bullets coming from the air'

Pashto is one of the new languages broadcasting on SBS Radio. It's also one of the two official languages of Afghanistan and is also spoken in parts of Pakistan and India.

SBS Pashto listener Muhammad Omar Bahin regularly attends Friday prayers at an Australian-Afghan mosque in Blacktown in Sydney's West.

Having lived in Europe before arriving in Australia, Mr Bahin said he was surprised to find that Australia had a national radio program in Pashto.

"I'm a Pashtun background I speak five languages but still when I have information in my own language, it is very enjoyable,” he said.

“Very useful because I can know what is happening in all of the world. What is happening in Australia, what is happening in Afghanistan."

But while Pashto and Dari are the main languages of Afghanistan - the country is home to many other ethnic groups, speaking a variety of languages.

But Afghanistan continued to be devastated by decades of war.

As a former United Nations journalist, Alikhil gave voice to people affected by unrest.

'They got very angry and they said you cannot change my life'

At times he felt their disempowerment and their strength, and was often confronted with the reality that there was only so much the media cold do to help those who suffered.

One incident at an internally displaced person's camp in Afghanistan had stayed with him.

"If I can remember it correctly I've been to an IDP camp where I was filming and reporting on the winterisation and the community there who were intense, they came out and they got very angry and they said you cannot change my life,” he said.

“We have lost four kids in the past few days of the winter and they started arguing and were very harsh. And then since being a professional journalist I know their language and I just show them how I feel about it."

Many descendants of earlier Pashto-speaking arrivals have worked hard to stay connected with their heritage.

SBS listener and employment consultant Diwa Bajawray said for her this connection was important.

"My grandparents first came here in the 1980s,” she said.

“Now even then the community was a tight-knit community so there was a few families that did come to Australia at the time. Later on my parents did come after my grandparents to flee from the Soviet Afghan war.

'A lot of maybe you could say refugees or immigrants who have come from Afghanistan because of the wars'

“Now since that time our community has increased greatly. There is a lot of numbers, and a lot of maybe you could say refugees or immigrants who have come from Afghanistan because of the wars."

Ms Bajawray said she was fortunate her parents had made the effort to help her learn their language.             

"As I was born and raised within Australia within, Melbourne, holding on to our native language is of great importance to us,” she said.

“Now basically even when we were kids we were told by our parents that we were to speak Pashto at home and to speak English outside of the home. There's a lot of program for the Pashtun community, we are a tight knit community.

“Each couple of weeks there are a lot of function, there are a lot of events, there a lot of programs, basically to keep the youth engaged and basically other programs to that we can hold on to our native tongue."

As for his new life in Australia, Alikhil said this country had a place for everyone.

"I could see people from any part of the world just being here which is amazing,” he said.

“I mean this is a place where it is a home for everyone. You won't feel strange, you won't feel, weird. So you just feel home. That's why I loved it and I'm loving it." 

Listen to SBS Pashto Radio