# Najeeba Wazefadost # From: Herald Sun

Dreaming of freedom: A boatload of refugees arrive in Australian waters. Picture: Colin Murty Source: Herald Sun

Dreaming of freedom: A boatload of refugees arrive in Australian waters. Picture: Colin Murty Source: Herald Sun

I WAS 12 years old when I arrived in Australia, by boat, as a refugee from Afghanistan in September 2000.

It was December when my family and I were released from Curtin Detention Centre and sent to Tasmania. Needless to say, it was a real culture shock. After a childhood filled with dark and frightening memories of war, for the first time in life my younger sister, brothers and I were seeing Christmas.

We were amazed by the beauty of the decorations we saw, both indoors and outdoors, and were curious to explore more about Australian culture.

After learning about Santa Claus, I waited impatiently to see him and tell him what I really wanted. I discovered that I could write him a letter, and was told that Anglicare would deliver it. I didn’t have access to much education or schooling in Afghanistan and couldn’t speak much English, but I was stubborn enough to put those few words I knew into a letter.
I asked Santa Claus to go and free my friend, whom I met in the detention centre, and bring her to Tasmania so she could also be involved in sharing the experience of the Christmas and new year celebration with us.

When I left Afghanistan, I didn’t only leave my war-torn homeland. I also left relatives, grandfathers, cousins and my lovely friends. So I said in the letter: “Dear Santa, I have no one to buy gifts for. I want to buy chocolates for my friend if she gets freedom.”

After 10 years, I still remember life in the detention centre, although it no longer defines who I am. I am no longer just a statistic. The refugees who have recently arrived on the shores of Australia still continue to be numbers, to be statistics, to be overlooked. There are more than 700 children in detention.

I will never forget that first Christmas and first new year in Australia. I could see the laughter in my family’s faces after so much suffering. It was the joy, happiness and excitement of Christmas and new year that helped us to forget about our pain and washed away all those dreadful and sorrowful memories of Afghanistan, suffering in detention centres, and the hardship of living on temporary protection visas.

Sometimes I get asked by people why I celebrate Christmas when I’m a Muslim girl. The answer is that for me it doesn’t matter if I’m Muslim or Christian, I celebrate Christmas because it is a time for family bonding.

I celebrate Christmas because it is a time when we can all share each other’s happiness, as well as our sadness.

For me, Christmas and new year is about spreading good cheer, spending time with family, sharing, and about the giving of love and compassion. We have just brought in yet another new year, bringing with it another chance for each of us to begin our lives anew.

Looking back on the months that have gone by my family and I will be contemplating the things that have brought us joy and happiness, and it is our loved ones and friends who come into our thoughts.

ACROSS Australia, the new year was celebrated by everyone with their families and friends, but for many refugees they haven’t only lost the chance to do just that close to their livelihoods and homes, but also near their loved ones, their friends and in the embrace of their communities.

Australians have built a beautiful country with a good reputation. It is a nation that gives a chance to refugees from all parts of the world to experience life, liberty and security. Refugees are, after all, human beings. When we talk about the influx of refugees, we are talking about the lives of real men, women, families and children.

I am now a proud Australian citizen. I love Australia. I am very thankful to the Australian people and Government for giving me the opportunity to be safe and secure, and it has always been my goal to contribute to Australia and make it, in turn, proud of me.

Since I arrived in Australia, Christmas and the new year have always been a great celebration for me, but I am still hoping that one day Santa will come to me with the reply to that letter I wrote all those years ago – to tell me that he has finally abolished detention centres and freed all the children. This festive season, it would have been amazing if those children in detention were just as free as other children to run and to grab their presents from under the tree.

– Najeeba Wazefadost graduated from the University of Western Sydney in 2009

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