15 October 2021

Afghan refugees arrive in Canberra to find a citywide network of support

| Lottie Twyford
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HelpingACT president Mohammed Ali with volunteers

HelpingACT president Mohammed Ali has been one of the driving forces supporting newly arrived Afghan refugees to Canberra. Photo: Michael Weaver.

It’s estimated more than 50 Afghan refugees and evacuees have arrived in Canberra during the past few months as the situation has worsened in their home country.

HelpingACT president Mohammed Ali says his organisation is dedicated to providing the necessary support to people who have recently arrived, whether it’s with food, companionship or other services they require.

“There’s no room for complacency,” he says. “Food security has to be a certainty and we never say no.”

Some estimates suggest the number of Afghan refugees could rise to more than 70 in the coming weeks, however such information is highly confidential and exact numbers are only held by organisations such as the Australian Red Cross.

Mohammed says for most of these families it can be a struggle to have been uprooted from their country and culture, and HelpingACT’s mission is to welcome them and ensure settling into Canberra is as smooth as possible.

Among HelpingACT’s ranks is an Afghan volunteer who can easily communicate with the families, and Mohammed says many can also speak his mother tongue, Urdu, as well.

READ ALSO Love from afar: Canberra woman supporting female migrants here and in Afghanistan

HelpingACT is well versed in lending a hand to refugees and migrants in Canberra. Mohammed estimates around 70-80 per cent of the people accessing their services are refugees and migrants.

Street pantries, such as those at Havelock House, Companion House and the Early Morning Centre are often restocked by the HelpingACT team.

Mohammed says each week the team of around 35 volunteers prepare food packs which are then distributed to people in need.

“We fill them with fruits, veggies and some Aussie faves such as Tim Tams, as well as long-life products,” he says.

During COVID-19 lockdown, the need for HelpingACT’s services quickly intensified, and when US troops pulled out of Kabul, Afghanistan, and the mass evacuation began, Mohammed and his team prepared for another increase.

At first, only 14 families were intended to arrive, but this quickly grew.

Nazmul Hasan with halal meals

Nazmul Hasan has been delivering free halal meals to people in need throughout the ACT’s COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: Nazmul Hasan.

Other familiar faces have also got involved with the current drive to support newly arrived Afghan refugees. Among them is Nazmul Hasan, who self-funded the delivery of hot halal meals to people in need during the ACT’s lockdown.

Mohammed and Nazmul are close friends who work together to get families what they need – whether it’s a scooter for a child, a hot meal or fresh fruit and vegetables once a week.

Mohammed says he’s grateful for the support of organisations such as the Australian Red Cross and the ACT Government, as well as the many volunteers who have enabled such a high level of support for the Afghan refugees who have left their country in such a traumatic way.

He also thanks the Canberra community and ABC Radio for their generous support of HelpingACT’s cause.

HelpingACT will continue to provide support to the Afghan families and those who need it, even now that lockdown restrictions are lifted.

If you or anyone you know requires help, Mohammed Ali asks that you contact HelpingACT via 0404 947 260, or visit the organisation’s website to fill in a request form. He says help is always available.

You can also donate to Nazmul Hasan’s ‘Hot Meal Support’ GoFundMe.

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Peter Graves6:51 pm 18 Oct 21

Some of the negative comments here seem to have forgotten why we are welcoming Afghan refugees (or any refugees, for that matter). We had a military presence in Afghanistan for 20 years and 412 of our soldiers died there.

That did not stop the Taliban taking over – again. The nay-sayers should also look up the troubled place of Hazaras – persecuted in their own land, because of their religious beliefs.

That’s why we welcome Afghans here – as we did for all those who fled South Vietnam after 1975. Remember those fleeing the outcomes of that war ?

Or those on The TAMPA in 2001 ? We welcome all those with a well-founded fear of persecution.

Peter Graves6:52 pm 18 Oct 21

Sorry – the number of our soldiers who died in Afghanistan was 41 (not that “412”)

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