Harsh life left behind for brighter future
Maria Sharifi will be forever grateful to her father and two brothers.
Being a woman in wartorn 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.
‘‘Every Afghan people, they leave 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 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-Inspired-Strong- 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.
WISE project co-ordinator Heather Tanguay says World Refugee Day highlights the success stories of the women.
Hard life: Maria Sharifi, a refugee from Afghanistan, talks about her life for World Refugee Day.