Harsh life for Afghan women

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JENNY LING

Maria Shar­ifi will be for­ever grate­ful to her fa­ther and two broth­ers.

Be­ing a woman in war-torn Afghanistan can be harsh.

So when a neigh­bour of­fered to take her across the bor­der to Pak­istan, her fa­ther let her go.

Then a teenager, she fled with a group of 16 other girls. They walked two days and nights over the moun­tains to Pak­istan. Afghanistan was at war with Rus­sia at the time and it was a dan­ger­ous jour­ney.

Shar­ifi’s older brother lived in Pak­istan and took her in, help­ing her find a job.

He also sup­ported and pro­tected her years later when her hus­band trav­elled back to Afghanistan and never re­turned, leav­ing her alone with three young chil­dren.

And when a par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous in­ci­dent took place one night – which she still won’t talk about to pro­tect her chil­dren – it was her younger brother who paid for Shar­ifi and her five chil­dren to come to New Zealand.

‘‘Life was very dan­ger­ous for me,’’ Shar­ifi says. ‘‘I had a very hard life.

‘‘Afghan peo­ple, be­cause of the war.’’

Pak­istan hosts 1.6 mil­lion reg­is­tered Afghans, the largest pro­tracted refugee sit­u­a­tion glob­ally, the United Na­tions refugee agency UNHCR says.

Shar­ifi ar­rived here in 2002, un­der New Zealand’s UNHCR refugee quota pro­gramme which ac­cepts 750 refugees each year.

To­day is World Refugee Day, which recog­nises the strength of mil­lions of peo­ple around the


leave world forced to flee their homes due to war and hu­man rights abuses.

New Zealand has been ac­cept­ing refugees for re­set­tle­ment since World War II.

They spend their first six weeks at the Man­gere Refugee Re­set­tle­ment Cen­tre.

Shar­ifi, a for­mer teacher, has set­tled in Mt Roskill.

She has found con­fi­dence in a com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment project called WISE – Women-In­spiredStrong-Em­pow­ered. It is an Auck­land Re­gional Mi­grant Ser­vices and Auck­land Refugee Com­mu­nity Coali­tion ini­tia­tive.

Shar­ifi makes Afghani food for a night mar­ket run by the col­lec­tive in New Lynn.

Refugee women from Burma, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka take part to be­come more self-suf­fi­cient.

Shar­ifi whips up de­li­cious rice, chicken and veg­etable dishes, chut­neys, samosas, mantue [dumplings] cook­ies and cakes.

‘‘When peo­ple came [to the mar­ket] they didn’t know about Afghani food so I of­fered tast­ings,’’ she says. ‘‘Af­ter one hour I didn’t have any food left.’’

WISE project co-or­di­na­tor Heather Tan­guay says World Refugee Day high­lights the suc­cess sto­ries of the women.

‘‘It’s al­ways amaz­ing to see the to­geth­er­ness of the group in their learn­ing and par­tic­i­pa­tion.’’

Hard life: Maria Shar­ifi, a refugee from Afghanistan, talks about her life for World Refugee Day.

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