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In the mid 19th century, Western Australia saw the arrival of men who
became known as the ‘Afghan Cameleers’. These camel-mastering migrants
were a feature of outback towns for more than 50 years, as they opened
up long-distance transport routes throughout remote and desert regions of
The Cameleers helped construct inland railways, the Overland Telegraph
Line, and were major suppliers for mining towns, pastoral stations and
When motor transport reached the West Australian outback in the 1920s,
the era of the Afghan Cameleers came to an end.
The second wave of Afghan migration to Australia has been shrouded
in heartbreak and desperation – an escape from the brutal and relentless
waste of war.
In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, sparking the
Soviet–Afghan War. Soviet forces killed the Afghan President and launched
a violent, decade-long takeover.
The United Nations condemned the attack, and Afghanistan fought
back. Insurgents – the Mujahideen – received aid and military training in
neighbouring Pakistan and China, paid for primarily by the United States
and Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf.
The conflict with the Soviet Union caused an incredible amount
of bloodshed, with up to 1.5 million Afghan civilians killed, and millions
more forced to flee.
Australia accepted some Afghan refugees, increasing the Afghanistan-
born population to almost 1000 during the early 1990s. The majority
settled in Victoria and New South Wales, with a small number staying in
However, the Soviet withdrawal did not see an end to the violence.
Without strong governance, Afghanistan was left vulnerable.
Factional fighting began, which led to the emergence of the Taliban,
who imposed strict Islamic religious controls on the population.
Taliban extremists launched a civil war upon ethnic minorities in
Afghanistan, like the Hazara – descendants from Mongols, whose
Asiatic features are easy to recognise in Afghanistan. They share their
Shia faith with Iran, in conflict with the Taliban’s Sunni Muslim beliefs,
and thousands were driven out into nearby Iran and Pakistan.
The violence didn’t stop at the border, however, and the Hazara
and other minorities were soon forced to seek safety on distant shores.
More than half of Western Australia’s 4000-strong Afghan population
has arrived since 2001, mainly as humanitarian entrants.
My father received a scholarship to study water and soil
research in Australia. Five years later, in 1983, the trouble
started in Afghanistan, so he sponsored us to come over to
Australia with him.
Getting here was a challenge. In those days, you weren’t
allowed to leave Afghanistan, so my mother and six siblings
pretended we had to attend a wedding. As we were fleeing to
Pakistan, the truck behind us was rocketed by the Soviet Union,
and the passengers were killed. We travelled in tractors and on
foot, and slept in concealed caves. It took us seven months to
reach Australia. I was eleven at the time.
We were one of the first families during that era to arrive
in Western Australia. I couldn’t speak any English, but I learnt
quickly at school. I also discovered soccer. I went from not
knowing what the sport was called in Australia, to being the
captain of the team at Kent Street High School, and have been
playing ever since.
About eleven years ago, I decided to start a soccer club in Perth
out of my own pocket. We formed a team called the Ashgans in
Ashfield, then six years ago we started the Fraser Park Football
Club in East Victoria Park.
These days, we have around ten teams. We have
a mixture of ages, ethnicities and religions. Everyone is
welcome. I always encourage young guys to play. I pick
them up from the train station and bring them to the
oval for training.
Supporting others is very important and my family
is my support. My wife is from Afghanistan, and I have
two daughters – I think it’s extremely important that
my daughters value respect for all people and
a good education.
Sadly, I lost the connection with my
extended family when we left Afghanistan,
but we have created our family here.
We are a small family, but a close
one. We must look after each
other. That’s how
Understanding Afghan migration
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