Get Real: Talking mental health & disability

Refugee mental health and settling into Australia with Abuzar Mazoori

October 17, 2023 The team at ermha365 & Abuzar Mazoori Season 4 Episode 89
Get Real: Talking mental health & disability
Refugee mental health and settling into Australia with Abuzar Mazoori
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Our guest for this episode is Abuzar Mazoori, who came to Australia from Afghanistan as a refugee in 2017.
Abuzar, who has a law degree and worked as an advocate for human rights in Afghanistan, currently works for Foundation House in Melbourne. Foundation House is a specialist refugee trauma agency supporting survivors of torture and other traumatic events.
Abuzar speaks with us about his experience coming to Australia, starting a new life and the challenges that refugees face in their new home.

MORE INFO:
Foundation House - The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture
Refugee Council of Australia - the national umbrella body for refugees and the organisations and individuals who support them.
 Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre - a for-purpose community-based agency providing services to migrants and refugees living in the southern region of Melbourne.

ermha365 provides mental health and disability support for people in Victoria and the Northern Territory. Find out more about our services at our website.

If you have been affected by anything discussed in this episode you can contact:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
13 YARN on 13 92 76 (24/7 crisis support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples)

ermha365 acknowledges that our work in the community takes place on the Traditional Lands of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and therefore respectfully recognise their Elders, past and present, and the ongoing Custodianship of the Land and Water by all Members of these Communities.

We recognise people with lived experience who contribute to GET REAL podcast, and those who love, support and care for them. We recognise their strength, courage and unique perspective as a vital contribution so that we can learn, grow and achieve better outcomes together.
 



ermha365 team:

Get Real is recorded on the unseeded lands of the and Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation. We acknowledge and pay our respects to their elders, past and present. We also acknowledge that the first peoples of Australia are the first storytellers, the first artists and the first creators of culture, and we celebrate their enduring connections to country, knowledge and stories.

ermha365 team:

Welcome to Get Real Talking Mental Health and Disability brought to you by the team at ermha365.

ermha365 team:

Join our hosts, emily Webb and Karenza Louis Smith, as we have frank and fearless conversations with special guests about all things mental health and complexity.

ermha365 team:

We recognise people with lived experience of mental health and disability, as well as their families and carers. We recognise their strength, courage and unique perspective as a vital contribution to this podcast so we can learn, grow and achieve better outcomes together.

Abuzar Mazoori:

Living in Afghanistan on daily basis, hearing like the sounds of like explosion, gun fires, and that was not much affecting myself when I came over here especially when you find your security, the safety and that those experiences started to impact me. And then I went out for asking assistance from my GP and then referred to like a psychologist and that was great help.

Emily Webb:

Our guest for this episode is Abuzar Mazoori, who came to Australia from Afghanistan as a refugee in 2017. Abuzar, who had a law degree and worked as an advocate for human rights in Afghanistan, currently works for Foundation House in Melbourne. Foundation House is a specialist refugee trauma agency, supporting survivors of torture and other traumatic events. I first met Abuzar at the World Refugee Festival Week event in Pakenham in southeast Melbourne in June this year, and after hearing him speak about his experiences, we knew we had to have him on as a guest for this podcast.

Abuzar Mazoori:

Thank you so much, Emily. My name is Abuzar and I'm currently working as a community project worker with Foundation House.

Emily Webb:

And we first met at an event I think it was back in June or July and it was out at Pakenham, at Cardinia cultural centre, and it was for World Refugee Week and it was a festival and I heard you talking on stage about your experience coming to Australia as a refugee and what you do now and it was really powerful and I thought you'd be great to talk to. So when did you come to Australia and what were the circumstances that you came to this country?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Yeah, actually the World Refugee Week was a great event and it was a nice meeting you too as well there. Yeah, my stay in Australia has been like seven and a half years now, but it was like a whole difficult journey. Coming from Afghanistan to Australia, especially like your age makes a lot of differences when you come to any environment. I came here like when I was like at my mid-twenties, and that kind of make it more difficult, other than if someone is coming younger ages. Yeah, for me, it took me like more time than someone younger than me to settle in Australian context.

Emily Webb:

So with the difficulty you say in being a bit older, is that to do with learning the language or is it actually the process to get to Australia from you know, in your case, afghanistan?

Abuzar Mazoori:

It's both. Actually, when we arrived in Australia, the law for someone who's been counted as dependent to their parents was like 25, and I was lucky enough that I was like 24 when I came here. If it was like a year later, I was not even being able to come to Australia and I was left behind and my family will come to Australia. And then, once you are here, your age also makes a lot of difference in how you pick the language. So now I can compare myself to my younger brother when he put we all came together and now when he speaks English and then I speak. So I can see a lot of differences. Because he went through mainstream school, contracted with, like other kids at school or outside. I've ever been in the environment, in the wider community, but I was not able to pick the languages flowing as he does now. So yeah, that makes an. You can like take that to different experiences which make a huge difference.

Emily Webb:

Yeah well, I didn't know that you were considered dependent of your parents until you're 24. So this is stuff that I think people who are born in Australia like I'm a white Anglo woman you know we don't understand about the experiences of refugees, and that's why, when I heard you speak, it was so interesting and powerful. And so who did you come over to Australia with?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Like our family. We are a big family actually so we had nine siblings. My family came to Australia like throughout, like that time. So my eldest brother arrived in 2001 in Australia and two of them ended in 2000, late 2011. And then my dad took the journey to come to Australia and once he got granted visa and he came over and then he submitted the application for the rest of the family, which was two of my sister, my mom and three other siblings. So then we all of all together came to Australia.

Emily Webb:

And so people listening who may not understand the process know about it. How long does that process take and what do you go to the Australian High Commission in Afghanistan, or how does it work?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Ours like through the humanitarian intake, and so you had no other option other than waiting for the Australian authorities response. So for us it took like almost three years that our application got processed. They usually, so far which I've been engaged with the community at the getting for the rights of the refugees, it's quite an amount of time for refugees from, mostly from like the, the thirld world countries, though there is the law which says that the application should have processed in a specific amount of time. But application from not only for Afghanistan, for other refugee backgrounds, has been delayed, but intentionally and unintentionally due to the barriers which exist. Yeah, it's a huge amount of time.

Emily Webb:

A lot of time to be waiting, especially when you want to start a new life. It must be really difficult to sort of maintain hope, or I guess things can get quite scary if the situation in your home country gets worse. And what was life like for you in Afghanistan and what? Why did you move?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Life was like obviously hard for everyone in Afghanistan. There was like this international coalition in Afghanistan providing like this really relative security for the people of Afghanistan, but they still like there was like places which was dominated for these like terrorist groups and even in big cities you could see like at least two, three explosions on daily basis, which they were targeting government officials, foreigners, as well as like civil society activists, journalists and whoever which was like putting their efforts to promote like democracy, human rights, all this kind of thing. But from the Taliban perspective, or other militia groups said this was something not being that acceptable for their core values, which they said their foundations, ideological foundations. But yeah, there was like this target killings For us.

Abuzar Mazoori:

Yeah, so we also like there is this ethnic tensions in Afghanistan and unfortunately, which it's been a long time that this is happening and we came from an ethnic background which we have been discriminated throughout, like the history, at least like in the past 200 years in Afghanistan, which so we have been kept all away from, all the sufferers of like social life, political life in, like economic and what so for, and that makes, yeah, makes made it harder for us. And then, obviously, when there was this terrorist groups getting dominance in certain places, afghanistan, making the circumstance worse for us, and then, obviously, like when your family members live in western country, that even makes harder for for families remaining there because of living in a foreign country. Some to an extent is not acceptable for like these people who believes in terms of like this division of like Islam and non-Islam. Right, this is, yeah, one makes the thing even harder. Yeah, that was the cause, so we were able to come to Australia.

Emily Webb:

And what were you doing in Afghanistan before you came over? What did you leave behind in terms of your life?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Actually, I left there at the whole of my career in Afghanistan, though obviously you get certain skills which you can transfer. I did, yeah, my degree back home. I started law and I was working as a human right and civil society activist. Especially, I was working in regards particularly for advocating for women's right in Afghanistan, which it was very crucial and significant topic back then. Other like now, taliban has absolutely prohibited women from even getting out of their houses. Yeah, when I come over, language obviously was a barriers and then to an extent, prevented me, like to like quickly integrated into the new environment.

Emily Webb:

You're working at Foundation House and we'll talk about the kind of work that you're doing soon. So you come to Australia. Did you come straight to Melbourne?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Yeah, because once we granted the Australian visa, and then we have got calls from the IOM office in Kabul that, okay, your visa has been issued, but you have to wait for the tickets to be purchased and it might take like two to three months. And then I like random questions that just came to my mind and said, look, can we buy our own tickets to travel? Is this, is that like any procedure in place which is like someone can does? And they said, of course you can do, but we like recommend to to go through the IOM process because it like the situation was getting worse and worse and I have been myself in one of the the suicide bombing in 2014.

Abuzar Mazoori:

like before we leave to Australia, and we just purchased our own tickets and that's what we did. So I went like, got the visas and I, straight from the IOM office, went to a ticket shop and and looked for like like a very convenient flight to get to to Australia. And then, yeah, we straight landed to like from Kabul to Dubai and then to Bangkok and then straight to Melbourne, and I since then been in Melbourne enjoying a love Melbourne.

Emily Webb:

You mentioned, you were caught up in a suicide bombing. If you don't mind me asking what happened? Were you injured? What was the consequence of that?

Abuzar Mazoori:

I didn't get injured. I was the lucky ones that of that we have been protected by people who was like between the suicide bomber and us. So their people like kind of made this a shell for us that to be alive, but they have lost their lives. We were like watching a theater show. Interestingly, the title, the theme for the theater which they were playing was silence after the explosion.

Abuzar Mazoori:

People got injured, they like some people screaming and then like 20 minutes probably passed at the show that like a real explosion happened and for a few seconds everyone was like thinking that this is part of like the show, but once, like we realized that it's the body parts, the blood, the smoke, because you know, like theater is always like the soundproof and you don't hear like much if you do.

Abuzar Mazoori:

It was like a big explosion.

Abuzar Mazoori:

It was very much a traumatic event and the worst part was for me like witnessing the scene from this stage, because I was the first one finding the emergency exit and then I was nearly shot to death by the police officer, because you know what was happening back then when there was like a suicide or a bomb blast, there was always gunshots afterwards.

Abuzar Mazoori:

And then this and this was like trained to the military stuff, whenever there is something happen, be prepared that there would be like gunshot afterwards. And I was like running out and then they thought I might be one of like those people like, and then they were like shooting me and I didn't skip back inside Living in Afghanistan with that kind of like circumstances. It was quite normal because we on daily basis hearing like that, the sounds of like explosion, gunfires, and that was not much affecting myself. But when I come over here, especially when you find your safety zone, security, the safety, and that there's experiences started to impacting me. And then I went out for asking assistance on my GP and then referred to like a psychologist and that was quite helpful.

Emily Webb:

Yeah, that's really, really interesting what you say, and I have heard other people talk about experiences of trauma coming up when they are more settled and not in a like hyper vigilant state. And yeah, that is full on and it does make you think that people coming to Australia because it's a lot of the time it's so different to what they're from that there really needs to be services that can actually help people, not to say, hey, welcome to Australia, here you go. You know it's not that simple, wow. And you know you worked in advocacy and human rights law for women and and girls and it is heartbreaking what is going on in Afghanistan. I mean, it's horrendous and I imagine that even when you were doing it, there would have been a level of danger. But now, yeah, girls can't go to school, can they at all?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Not at all. Girls until year six, like primary school, are allowed to go to like public schools or private schools, but, like from year seven on, which is the start of like the secondary school in Afghanistan. So they're not allowed to to go to school. And education is not the only rights which the girls has been prevented.

Abuzar Mazoori:

And there is. There is a lot of like other areas, which is, which is the very basic human needs, and but girls because of their gender, so they've been prevented, like work is one of the other very basic rights of the human rights, so but they've been, they have lost that rights for just being a girl or being a woman.

Emily Webb:

I always think it's just that, the loss of hope, I guess, like if you're over there and you're a girl and you're a family who wants your daughter to be able to live her life, it just yeah, it's. It's really horrendous and and for you when you came, when you're in Australia and you know you've got a university education but we were chatting when we first met you have had to go back to university, essentially to study and to do things, and that that's really hard, like you're trying to establish a life and and so what, what's been happening for you, like what have you had to do to kind of try and get back into the kind of work that you did and start a new life?

Abuzar Mazoori:

It took me a lot actually to to find out my where am I going in in Australia, though I had, like this, very limited prior knowledge. Coming to Australia, I was knee about like some of the challenges in the Western culture or in the Western environment. But that's what I've read through books or heard through some news platforms. But it might be very different when you actually come and working on the roads in that culture and in that environment. It's absolutely different. And I can relate this with the language itself, like when we were studying English back home in those education centres because we know it like English is the international language and how significant it is to learn English. So we went through like some education centres to at least to learn a bit the language.

Abuzar Mazoori:

But when I first arrived here and I remember and I was like because I was much outgoing kind of person, so when I came here I really didn't stay much at home and I was just taking the public transport to get myself into the CBD For like couple of purposes, like just to interact with people around me, which I could pick the language quicker, or like explore the areas. So it's out there for me and yeah, it was quite different and remember, like when people were speaking especially when you come across people from the countryside where they talk together, I was like not even hardly, to be honest, I was not able to understand whether they're speaking English or it's something totally different language. And yeah, so when I come over for a few weeks, it was like kind of very depressing actually when you leave everything back, your memories, like the whole thing which you have built, and then your friends, family and whoever which was like part of your life.

Emily Webb:

So what did you do once you, your English became a bit more proficient and you obviously you're like you need to find some work, so you've got cash to do things and enjoy yourself. How did it progress from there to where you are now?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Yes, I forgot to mention because English was one of the key requirements to get your food into the education platforms like university or whatever. Once I completed level 3 in English I applied for because I studied law back home and I was like to pursue law in Australia and I went enrolled for this certificate for injustice at RMIT University in the city. I did that, though it was very much challenging not being able to navigate the education pathways in Australia with all the differences which exist here in comparison to Afghanistan education system. But yeah, I succeeded. I finished it but I really didn't like it much and I was not okay, I'm not gonna do law two times in my life on the same degree.

Abuzar Mazoori:

Then went enrolled for doing Diploma of Interpreting because back then there was this need within the community that obviously refugee was like keep coming to Australia and there was this interpreter's required and I did that. I got my like accreditation but never worked in the other area. I was thinking, okay, if I do like study, so I could, as a side income, I could do like interpreting to cover my expenses. Then I ended up working in a construction industry for a year and then I started working in a construction industry really didn't satisfy me for who I was or who I wanted to become. Then I got enrolled with this Bachelor of International Relations at Latrib University, which I'm now at my final year.

Emily Webb:

And that's all in seven years, that's all happened. That's busy, that's very busy, and so what does Foundation House do?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Foundation House's core vision is advancing people's mental health and wellbeing, mostly the refugees and asylum seekers.

Abuzar Mazoori:

Established in 1987 since then been doing some great job in regards how to to help people in needs and regards while they're being impacted through traumatic events or they have like having these traumatic experiences.

Abuzar Mazoori:

But I think by the time they've grown up, they have like added extra activities, like advocating not only providing this mental health and wellbeing services, but also advocating for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. And especially like, since 2021, the fall of Afghanistan to Taliban, the Foundation House established this Afghan community response team to provide response to people who been brought to Australia by the Australian government and then, yeah, this team has been made to provide the response for the crisis, for what happened in Afghanistan, but now it has changed to the Afghan community engagement. So we are providing services, how to make the community members able to navigate their ways in their new country. So we provide activities like, for instance, the very first thing in Australia having a driving license, and it makes a lot of changes while you get your driving license. We're running like this learner permit programs for the community member. Here we run like citizenship test lessons for the community members, because that's also a bit of challenge, and also try to engage community members with the services which exist.

Emily Webb:

Yeah, wow, it is a lot. I mean, yes, things like getting a license, learning to drive because I've got a teenage daughter who's learning to drive. You've got to have access to a car, you've got to have access to people who can teach you, and it can be really difficult. So, in terms of the situation, advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers who come to Australia. Australia has had the checkered past with its policies, offshoring people. Very heated thoughts from more conservative parties. I know that there's real limitations with the temporary protection visas in terms of access to things. What are some of the things that people like me, who I am not a refugee. I was born here. I don't have the same barriers at all that people who come to this country have as refugees. What do we need to understand about what's happening and what is needing to change for human rights purposes?

Abuzar Mazoori:

The first thing, I guess, to answer to your question, because, you know, people doesn't come to any place by their own choice or willing, unless if there is something really happening back to them. So, with refugees from every country, which they refugees, birth and asylum seekers, when they are, like, seeking protection from a country, it means that their life is at risk and they no longer can live there. So Australia, this is one of the best place, I guess, and also been very open to and extend to allow people to come to. Obviously, like as a country, we have this responsibility in the international platforms that when someone is no longer be able to live in their own country of origin because of the risk factors associated to their lives, like the peaceful countries, like kind of which they have been committed to the charter of United Nations to give protection to people at risk. But obviously sometimes, like there is like policies in place in the structure which prevents this happening smoothly.

Abuzar Mazoori:

Yeah, so in that regard, australia is obviously not the exception as well. So there is policies in place which prevent people out that they are journey to Australia as seeking asylum or being a refugee not going smoothly. There is this barrier exist which sometimes to to an extent, it gets very brutal as well, like, for instance, people who came by boot in Australia after 2013, when there was the law on change that the boot can't come to Australia but whoever like by boot on that date which the law changed said they have been not been granted reason in Australia and they shouldn't have this hope that they will become Australian resident at all.

Abuzar Mazoori:

And that left, I think, nearly 20,000 which there is like 19,000 people who lived in Australia nearly 10 to 12 years in limbo and they were not allowed to go to their home and they are not allowed to bring their families here, they are not allowed to work and they were not even entitled to receive the services which was out there for the citizens, like Medicare. And then, because of like there is harsh policies and laws against refugees and asylum seekers, it really impacted not only the person live, but their families as well, the community as well. I have been witnessed of a lot of family suppression because of this living in limbo situation which the Australian government put it in place. There was like suicide even, which we had one occasion in 2015 a young Afghan boy said himself on fire because of not being granted visa and not able to work and not being entitled to all the rights which a resident have in Australia.

Abuzar Mazoori:

And, yes, for like for the public, it's good, like sometimes to be in the whole picture because, like, we see the world from our own lens. But, yeah, it's good like whenever so we make a comment or whenever we do an action, even like saying a small thing, it's good to be aware of, like that, the whole picture, what's happening. But, yeah, that makes a lot of differences. So that's why sometimes we, which also not work with the community to get their needs at rest. But we also work with the wider community to provide an understanding of, like all the refugee background communities so, how their life looks like in Australia and to give this awareness as wide as possible, to make that space created for everyone to be empathetic.

Emily Webb:

Yeah, and it's a lot, isn't it? And I guess sometimes it, depending on which political parties in power and the other factors that go on in Australia, then it often the most marginalized will get further squashed down. Really, like with the cost of living or other foreign situations, it's always the people who have the least power. So, in terms of your own mental health and you're working in supporting people's mental health and your own mental health, I mean, what's your experience been like, I guess, getting to a level of good mental health for yourself and maintaining that, especially since you have been involved in traumatic situations, experience of moving countries and coming from a country where it's vastly different to here?

Abuzar Mazoori:

Obviously, we are living in a very uncertain world at the moment, no matter where we come from, but the way we are moving forward in time, with all these changes around the globe, from climate change or from these political changes, and then, if you take this further to communities, which there's already, these barriers making their day to day life even more harder, to navigate all these changes, all these systems and all these rapid changes. So even that makes it harder for myself, for myself, yeah, like obviously I'm not exception as well, like as a human being living in this very rapid changing world, being, yes, obviously being impacted with all these factors happening around me.

Abuzar Mazoori:

But what I have in my mind although I have, like now, dedicated to like kind of contribute back to the services which I've received, when I first arrived in Australia, devoted like part of my life to give back to services to people who need it in no matter from like the African community or from elsewhere but I try to maintain as focused as possible.

Abuzar Mazoori:

Yeah, as you said, like, I myself went through a lot of stuff in my life, but I'm trying to maintain my mental health as much better as possible by doing numerous activities. I know working with the community and the level of expectation which comes from the community, so it's hard on top your own personal kind of stuff in your life and also when there's like situation unfolds in different places, they also like impacts, impacts you, your work, I guess. Yeah, it is hard to maintain your, your health as well, but I try to maintain by doing exercises. So whenever I finish work, when I go home and change place, like four times a week, so I just go for an hour or half walking and why I found it quite therapeutic. Listening to good music, breathing book is one of the other thing, and obviously sleeping A good sleep helps a lot to maintain your health and be very concentrated.

Emily Webb:

Yeah, yeah, sleep, it is very important. And, besides the things that you mentioned that help your mental health, what have you learnt to enjoy in Australia doing, or what have you found that you've really liked? Because it would be so weird, coming to Australia and there's great things but there's also not great things, let's face it.

Abuzar Mazoori:

As I said, like I'm very outgoing person, I like camping. So I go camping a lot, especially since 2017, when I like, say, a year after, when I arrived in Australia and met some friends birthed in Australia, so we've been going camping a lot, you know, going among the bush, in a very quiet environment, which there's like you can only see the sounds of birds and water, and then no cars, not many humans. It's just you and the nature. So that also like very much useful for me. So whenever I come back from camping, full of energy, I just think I can smash everything out. You know, and it's not just to relax myself, like is going camping. It gives you, like, opportunities to explore those environments, to get like people who are out there and also like, obviously, you enjoy yourself from the landscapes.

Emily Webb:

I love camping.

Abuzar Mazoori:

We have been like almost every corner of Victoria, to be honest.

Emily Webb:

So you're in your final year of uni. What are your hopes? I guess for yourself, but also, you know, your family and refugees who come to Australia. I mean, what are you really working towards or what would you love to see happen?

Abuzar Mazoori:

So what I am like personally, from the degree which I'm studying or the things which I'm doing, obviously I'm trying to see myself like in a better position in Australian context. Yeah, so that's me picturing myself in the next five or 10 years, because I'm very much passionate, like to work around like this human rights, and, yes, I just see myself in a higher position. I'm trying to get myself there doing my degrees or working hard, but obviously at the same time I try to work with people who really need it. So I sometimes really situate myself in someone who has recently arrived and having like the same issues which I first arrived in Australia and how desperately I was looking for help to be able to find myself properly in this context, in this environment.

Abuzar Mazoori:

But when I see like someone who is recently arrived in Australia listed and they are like desperately looking for services which they think that might help them, and when I come across them, then I get the feeling and I really can't pass by. So I have to stop and again, so these are like the ways which you can find your paths, or these are the services, at least which you can see. Because if, like seven years back when I came, if there was more of like bi-cultural worker, I would have been in a much better situation, which I am now. I'm not saying that there was in services there was services but because you know there was like services, it was all mainstream and I hope there was like much more bi-cultural worker like myself that I could like reach with that very broken English to get assisted, but now which there is a lot of now bi-cultural workers, so I guess they had a key rule to help the people who are arriving in Australia.

Emily Webb:

Well, it's been so nice to speak to you. Any final thoughts before we wrap up.

Abuzar Mazoori:

No, thank you so much, emily, for making this best happen. We could at least talk for a few minutes, and I guess, yeah, it is an incredible experience as well for myself. Thank you so much for making this happen.

Emily Webb:

It's a pleasure.

ermha365 team:

Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time.

Conversations About Mental Health and Disability
Transitioning From Afghanistan to Australia
Refugees in Australia and Mental Health
Finding Joy in Australia, Better Future