With an open heart, and open arms

Assadullah Khurrami from Australian Red Cross shares how open arms and open hearts can help enrich the diversity of Australian communities.
Assadullah Khurrami welcoming Afghan women to Perth, WA, shortly after their arrival from Afghanistan.

Over ten years ago, Assadullah Khurrami arrived in Australia on a boat, seeking asylum to escape the conflict and violence in Afghanistan.

After spending a year in detention, Assadullah joined the community on a temporary protection visa, working tirelessly to build a new life in Australia.

Today, Assadullah is the Team Leader at Australian Red Cross Migration Support Program in Perth, Western Australia, where he and his team deliver humanitarian settlement services for newly arrived refugees – helping them feel comfortable and safe to rebuild in a new country and learn about life in Australia.

The Afghan repatriation

When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August last year, many Afghan men, women, and children were trapped at Kabul International airport trying to escape and seek refuge in other countries. It was then, Assadullah and his team of culturally and linguistically diverse staff, were notified of 300 Afghans arriving to Perth for resettlement - with only 48 hours notice.

“It was a massive operation. It was quite a chaotic moment for many of the Afghan arrivals, because it was a bittersweet moment; very happy they arrived on safe shores... But they’re concerned for their remaining family members [in Afghanistan],” recalled Assadullah.

When the newly arrived Afghans stepped foot in Perth International Airport, they were met by Assadullah and his team to welcome them with many Red Cross staff and volunteers having lived experience of seeking refuge themselves.

“When we were there to welcome them - in Dari, Pashto, and Farsi - they were surprised. They said, ‘How do you guys speak the languages?’, and I said ‘We are from the same background. We are from Afghanistan as well. But we came here a bit earlier. And now we work here, and we are here to help.’ That was quite surprising for them, and they were very relieved…It was quite moving, it provided comfort, and they felt safe to talk to us and open their hearts,” said Assadullah.

Amid this gigantic effort, the newly arrived Afghans also had to undergo mandatory COVID-19 isolation, as part of WA’s mandates. Assadullah and his team provided mobile phones to establish communication with their loved ones who had gone missing at the Kabul International Airport or elsewhere. Once they re-established connection with their loved ones, his team provided psychological first aid, food, clothing, and supplies for their arrival, while also navigating the COVID-19 safe measures in place at that time.

“The Australian Red Cross and the local Afghan community came together, opened their arms to welcome these people. And we provided Afghan meals for them when they first arrived. So, it was a good welcome,” said Assadullah.

The bigger picture

It’s been nearly a year now since the Afghan repatriation happened. Assadullah and his team continue to provide case management support to many of the Afghan arrivals today and looks fondly back on Red Cross’ achievements and the hope and inspiration that motivates him every day.

“I’m glad to say we have quite a number of Afghan evacuees that have joined the Australian workforce in here. And some have started higher studies, going to university, and many are going to TAFE. Parents were showing us photos of their children in school uniforms, going to school, with their tears in their eyes saying: ‘We can’t believe we fled that situation. And now our kids are in Australian school uniforms and going to safe schools in here. We’re no longer concerned about their safety, or their basic human rights.’ That is what is motivating me.”

A welcoming community

Assadullah believes Australian communities across the country can provide the most basic, but most important type of support for people who are refugees: an open heart, and open arms.

“Welcome them with an open heart and open arms. Support them. They’re part of this new community. They are going to be your neighbours. They are going to be our children’s friends at schools. They’re going to be your colleagues one day, and they’re going to share the same values as the rest of us in this country. So, the sooner, the better, to welcome them, and treat them just like your fellow Australian that you have known for a while.”

“It is that support that makes a community better, it brings people closer, it makes diversity real, it makes integration real… They have experienced hardship, and loss of identity, and they have experienced how difficult it is to flee your homeland, a place that you had called home for generations. But it has now come to the point that you have to flee and become a displaced person. And they would love to have another country, they would love to have a new identity, and they will embrace that change. So, it is quite important for the community to help and welcome these .”

In 2022, over 100 million people, more than ever before, are forcibly displaced. One third of people displaced are refugees, and almost half of all refugees are children.[1]

With conflicts ongoing in countries across the world, such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan and Myanmar – Red Cross Migration Support Program teams, like Assadullah’s, continue to work tirelessly across the country to support people who are newly arriving. Learn more about our work »

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