Home » This refugee is a beloved SES volunteer. His family could be forced back to Afghanistan

This refugee is a beloved SES volunteer. His family could be forced back to Afghanistan

Standing among fellow volunteers at the small State Emergency Service (SES) station in Swan Hill, Rohullah Hussaini looks like a man at ease.
He’s laughing with his friends, sharing jokes punctuated by Australian slang and swear words.
But this has been on a long journey since he left his home city of Ghazni, 11 years ago.
He arrived in Indonesia in 2010 and spent 14 months waiting for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to grant him refugee status.
After attempting to reach Australia on a fishing boat in 2012, Hussaini was locked up in Darwin and then Perth.
He was granted government housing in Adelaide, before moving to the northwest Victorian town of Swan Hill in 2013.

It's a town on the bank of the Murray River bordering NSW, which is home to migrant communities from Indonesia, Malaysia, Fiji, Sri Lanka and India.

Rohullah Hussaini and his friend Mahnooz Siddiqi smiling together.

Rohullah Hussaini and his friend Mahnooz Siddiqi both took the same boat to reach Australia. Source: SBS News

For the last seven years, Hussaini has been a volunteer with the local SES station.
"This is a second family," he tells SBS News.
"With this limbo life I’ve been through for 11 years, waiting to get a piece of paper, a permanent visa, if I didn’t have the SES around me, I might not be here right now and standing here talking to you."
When last year, Hussaini was on hand for months, working through Christmas and New Year's Eve to not only provide flood assistance but also information to the local refugee community.
Hussaini driving in the SES truck wearing an orange SES uniform.

Hussaini says he benefited from both the training and sense of belonging provided by the SES. Source: SBS News

He speaks five languages and takes pride in being a liaison between emergency services and Hazara refugees.
The SES unit controller for Swan Hill, Damian Howison, remembers the first night Hussaini showed up to volunteer.

"He introduced himself and said he was keen to be involved," Howison says.

"I think everyone took a liking to him. He had that larrikinism about him, that sense of humour that everybody enjoyed, so yeah, he fit right into our unit."
Swan Hill mayor Les McPhee calls Hussaini a "great example" of what the multicultural community can offer Swan Hill.

"The amount he’s put back into the community, Rohullah is well worthy of becoming an Australian citizen. I actually wrote him a reference to that effect," McPhee says.

Swan Hill Mayor Les McPhee smiling and looking at the camera

Swan Hill mayor Les McPhee says Hussaini has done "amazing things" since arriving in town. Source: SBS News

Permanent protection after 11 years

In late September this year, Hussaini was granted a permanent protection visa.
He describes how the call from his immigration lawyer came out of nowhere.
When he put the phone down, he ran out into his backyard and screamed.
But the joy was short-lived.

In Tehran, Hussaini’s wife Nooria and three-year-old daughter Jasmine have three months remaining on their Iranian visas.

Hussaini lying next to his daughter sleeping.

Hussaini met his daughter Jasmine for the first time earlier this year. Credit: Supplied

Hussaini only met his daughter for the first time earlier this year, and fears what will happen to his family if they have to return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is run by international terrorists," he said.

"Women are not even allowed to go out for shopping, let alone leave the country … Women’s life in Afghanistan is an absolute hell."

Swan Hill local David Hackett runs a weekly meeting for newly arrived migrants in town.
He describes the situation for Hussaini and his family as “physically and mentally exhausting”.
"We’ve already applied for humanitarian visas [for Nooria and Jasmine] … but to be sure, and keep progressing his situation, we’ve got to cover it with a humanitarian family reunion visas. That’s costing around $11,000 just for two people."

Hackett fears Nooria and Jasmine may have to wait up to 18 months before their visa applications will be assessed by the Department of Home Affairs.

David Hackett standing next to a sign reading 'OPEN: Multicultural Community Centre'

David Hackett runs weekly welcome meetings for newly arrived migrants in town. Source: SBS News

SES unit controller Damian Howison says it’s time for the family to be reunited.
"I think everybody needs to have a family. He’s been an integral part of our community, and he’s certainly given as much as he’s received from the community of Swan Hill," Howison said.
"I think he has every right to have his family with him."
"There are things we just take for granted," McPhee says.

"We can see our family every day, but he has to wait three years before he can even meet his daughter."

Hussaini, his three-year-old daughter Jasmine and wife Noori taking a selfie together.

Hussaini visiting his family earlier this year. Source: Supplied

But, as Hussaini himself concedes, there are "thousands of people waiting".

"I’m praying for those other people, other refugees, to get their visa as soon as possible, so they can be reunited with their families as all human beings should."

Response from the Department of Home Affairs

In response to a request from SBS News, the Department of Home Affairs said it "does not comment on individual cases due to privacy obligations".
"The time taken to process Family stream visa applications can vary according to the individual circumstances of each case," it said.

It added that the government had revoked and replaced a previous ministerial direction "so that family visa applications where the sponsor or proposer entered Australia as an unauthorised maritime arrival (UMA) no longer receive the lowest processing priority in the Family visa stream of the Migration Program."

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