Mohammad Reza Froogh has been through a lot more than most other 19-year-olds in his short life so far.
From being shot at by the Taliban, doing time in a Bali jail and then escaping, to being rescued from a sinking boat, the Naracoorte resident’s story is nothing short of amazing.
An Afghanistani refugee, Mohammad Reza came to Australia illegally, but as he tells it he had little choice.
Back in Afghanistan he was well educated, studying sociology at Kabul University, and curious about the ways of the world.
But that attitude nearly cost Mohammad Reza his life around two years ago.
“In Afghanistan we can’t talk easily about other religions like Christianity and Buddhism,” he told the Herald.
“We can’t talk about anything else except Islam, if anyone says something about another religion they have to die.”
Mohammad Reza persisted with his thirst for knowledge despite the threat from the Taliban.
“I spoke about every religion because I want to inform them,” he said.
“We have to know about everyone who lives in the world, not just Islamic people – we have to learn about all of humanity.”
Also making him a target for the violent Taliban was his ethnicity.
“I am Hazara, we are an ethnic group who have long lived in Afghanistan,” Mohammad Reza explained.
“Our history says we were first in Afghanistan but the Taliban says ‘you are Hazara, you must die’.”
The Taliban do not care that the Hazara are Afghani and are really not that much different to them.
“We are also Muslim but we are Shia (a sect of Islam persecuted by the Taliban, who are Sunni),” Mohammad Reza said.
“The Taliban says if you are Shia, you have to die.”
Then came a fateful day where Mohammad Reza’s differences in the eyes of the Taliban nearly cost him his life.
“I was at university, I had worked in the morning as I have to support my family but in the afternoon I went to university,” he remembered.
“About 4pm we finished class and went outside. It was a bike with two people, they were wearing masks.
“They shot at me but they couldn’t kill me because of the crowd.”
Efforts to track down the gunmen were futile, as they were unidentifiable.
“Security said ‘We don’t know who shot you, it could be someone you had an argument with, it could be Taliban, we don’t know’,” Mohammad Reza said.
Later he was kidnapped by men working for the Taliban who warned him not to keep speaking as he did.
“They picked me up in a car with black windows,” he said.
“They said you are young, we don’t want to kill you but if you say anything, next time we will kill you.”
That was it: Mohammad Reza had to flee, leaving behind his mother and three brothers.
“My mother said ‘You have to go, you cannot stay here’,” he said. “I had no choice, they would kill me.”
And so started a 10-month journey out of Afghanistan.
“I spoke to a person, Ali. He was a smuggler,” Mohammad Reza said. “I paid him $500 and he made a passport for me.”
From there the young asylum seeker spent time in Dubai and then Thailand and then Malaysia and Bali.
“I tried to come to Australia by boat, I paid a smuggler named Anwar $2500 to get to Australia,” Mohammad Reza said.
“But the boat was stopped by Indonesian authorities, police and navy.”
Mohammad Reza spent three months in a Bali jail before escaping with a group of others by climbing two large fences and running through the jungle.
He then paid another smuggler $4000 to get on a boat, which ended up needing to be rescued.
From the rescue Mohammad Reza and his countrymen were taken to Christmas Island on October 24, 2012 to be processed.
They moved to a detention centre on the Australian mainland in Darwin, then it was on to Perth until a temporary visa came through.
“I got a bridging visa and was released to Queensland,” Mohammad Reza said.
“From there a cousin in Naracoorte called me and I came here.”
And for the past six months Mohammad Reza has been in Naracoorte, the place he now calls home.
“I like it here, I like the people,” he smiled. “They are really friendly.”
As he is on a bridging visa which means he cannot work, Mohammad Reza’s future is still in limbo, although while here he has proven to be very useful to the local Afghan community.
His English, although understandably broken, is more than competent and this is a huge advantage.
“Most of the Afghani can’t speak English,” he said. “I help them, with the migrant resource centre, with Centrelink.
“English is my second language, but I like to speak it.”
And he is even getting used to the Australian way of life.
“I go to Murray (Burdett) and Julie’s house,” he said. “I am trying to learn Australian traditions.”
Mohammad Reza wants to get permanent residency, fearing for his life in his home country.
“I can’t go back,” he said. “I want to stay here, I will die here before going back.
“If I go back I will be killed.”