Help amid grief as Afghan refugees begin new life in Melbourne

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Some evacuees lost family members in the rush to board a plane from Afghanistan, arriving in Australia completely alone.

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Others, who could not be identified for security reasons, said Age how they were threatened and beaten at gunpoint by the Taliban as they entered the airport.

Several Afghans have died after trying to cling to a US military plane as it took off from Kabul airport, in heartbreaking scenes projected across the world.

“Entire families have been separated by this,” said Ms. Tauoqooqo, who has worked with the refugees for seven years.

“This is something I have never seen before and it speaks volumes about the urgency of the situation. There was a significant separation from the immediate family; parents and children, husbands and wives separated, which is completely devastating.

Ms Tauoqooqo is helping run a health program for hundreds of Afghan refugees in Melbourne, helping them pair them with medical assessments, trauma counseling, COVID vaccinations and tests while they wait for permanent accommodation.

The program vaccinates over 700 Afghan refugees in Victoria.

“I always tell people, if you drop me off in Kabul tomorrow and say you understand the system, enroll your kids in schools, find a house and get a health card. Where do you start? ” she said.

Knowing how to book a coronavirus vaccine in a foreign country isn’t the top priority when you’ve just fled your home, but Ms Tauoqooqo points out that refugees have arrived in Victoria amid the lockdown, as the virus infects more than 1000 people every day.

“We have to make sure they have the same protections against the virus as everyone else,” she said.

Many of the Afghan women arriving in Australia are pregnant, increasing the urgency to vaccinate them due to the risk of a weakened immune system during pregnancy, which means they are at increased risk of respiratory disease.

The federal government and AMES Australia – which provides settlement assistance for migrants – oversee their resettlement.

“Many asylum seekers spent long periods in refugee camps and were briefed by Home Affairs while they were abroad, and they had time to reflect on what the future, ”said Laurie Nowell, spokesperson for AMES.

“But these people have been catapulted into a new country where there is a level of uncertainty that is made worse by COVID lockdowns.”

Mr Nowell said many refugees needed complex trauma counseling and temporary accommodation in the first place.

Afghan refugees in a temporary camp at the US Army Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Germany.Credit:Getty

AMES was also helping to enroll children in online English schools, to support them before they start school in Australia next year.

But he said in the midst of grief, were moments of elation.

Last month, an Afghan father who had lived in Australia and separated from his child for a decade was reunited with them on the ground floor of a Melbourne hotel.

“It was a beautiful moment,” Mr. Nowell said.

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