AfganiSpecial guest speaker at the Australia Day celebration at Pound Creek last Monday was Afghani refugee Danial Lomani, who has made remarkable strides in Australia since coming here little more than a year ago, where he now lives at Koonwarra with Susan and Henry Mueller. Welcoming him to the event is the main local organiser, Peter Vanzuyden of the Pound Creek CFA.

SINCE surviving an horrendous 36-hour voyage on stormy seas between Indonesia and Christmas Island in May 2012, with 182 other desperate souls, Afghani refugee Danial Lomani has made great strides in his new country. Last year he achieved a high ATAR ranking when completing his VCE at Mirboo North Secondary College and the future looks bright after he gained entry into dentistry at Latrobe University. His story of survival against great odds was a feature of the Australia Day celebrations at Pound Creek last Monday, where he was accompanied by his host family in Australia, Susan and Henry Mueller. This is the transcript of the speech given by Danial Lomani as the guest speaker on Australia Day at Pound Creek CFA January 26, 2015:

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you on this important day, Australia day. As a new Australian resident, today is especially significant to me because of what Australia has given to me during the past two years. I would like to tell you about myself and to contrast my previous life with my time in Australia.

My name is Danial Lomani, and I just finished VCE at Mirboo North Secondary College. I have lived in Koonwarra since December 2012. I was born in Loman, Ghazni, in Afghanistan. I am a Shia Muslim and the ethnic group I belong to is Hazara. The ‘Hazara’ is the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. They are Persian-speaking and reside mainly in the Hazarajat region in central Afghanistan. Unfortunately Hazaras have been the victims of genocide killing for about three centuries. In 1890, the king Amir Abdorrahman Khan was proud of the fact that he had eliminated 65% of the Hazara population during three years while he was in power. The Taliban believe that Afghanistan is Pashtun’s land and Hazaras are the weeds of Afghanistan and should be killed. Consequently, Hazaras are refugees all over the world.

My family was forced to move to Iran before I reached school age, so I have been a refugee since I was a small child. My father was a politician and a member of the first emergency great assembly of Afghanistan in 2002 before Hamid Karzai was nominated interim president. This assembly supported by United Nations was to decide the future government of Afghanistan, a country that over many years had suffered civil war and invasion by others. As a consequence of my father’s speech to the assembly stating his opposition to the Taliban his life came under even more threat by being named on a Taliban hit list. For my family it just became too dangerous to remain in we fled to Iran to save our lives. I grew up there as an illegal refugee. Education for Afghan people is not allowed in Iran, my father paid the school so I could attend, even though I was never officially enrolled.

I attended school in Iran, until late 2011. At the end of a school day while I was standing outside a newsagent reading the newspapers I was arrested. Since my family lived illegally in Iran I had no identity papers. I was escorted by guards to a waiting bus and driven to a detention camp 14 hours away from my home near the border of Afghanistan. I had no idea of what was going to happen to me. I knew that a lot of people had been massacred at these places and was very afraid. There I was forced to do manual work, beaten and then sent back to Afghanistan. Since I had not lived there for many years all I could do was find relatives to help me and try to get papers to return to my family. My efforts proved fruitless and while there I was attacked on a taxi trip and injured, as well being beaten by Taliban on another trip. It was too dangerous to remain, and after consulting my was decided that I engage a people smuggler to organise my passage to another country.

So in Kabul my journey began when I boarded an aircraft bound for Dubai during January of 2012. It was there I found out I was heading to Australia. After travelling on to Qatar and then to Thailand our group arrived at Bangkok Airport 2 days later. Smuggler contacts made our trip through airport seem like scene from a Bond movie and we were transported to a safe house. From there we spent 2 days travelling down the Thai Peninsula by mini bus. There we were dropped in the jungle before reaching the river which we crossed by canoe to be met by smuggler agents on the Malaysian side.

For a week we were in Malaysia passing through Kuala Lumpur before being transported to the coast to cross the Straits of Malacca into Indonesia on a 4 hour speedboat trip. We met smuggler representatives who took us to a house in Medan on the island of Sumatra. The bus trip from Medan to Bandar Lampung was probably the most horrific because for a week we were crammed into a bus without food or water. I became very ill with a kidney infection but continued on, boarding a large commercial ferry which took us to the main island of Java.

It was about the 8th of February when reached Jakarta. I spent 2 weeks in hospital recovering before we were moved onto Bogor where 80 people were accommodated in a single house. Over a period of 3 months two attempts were made to reach the coast to board a boat bound to Australia. The first ended in failure and I was arrested but escaped by jumping out of a moving car and running into the jungle. Some of my friends were arrested and put into jail but I was lucky to make my way back to Bogor and wait for another attempt. The other attempt was cancelled because it was too dangerous with too many police around.

Our 3rd attempt involved transport by a house complex in Sukabumi then being escorted by bribed police to the shore and ferried by small boats to a larger boat for the trip to Australia. Stormy seas made 36 hour voyage to Christmas Island horrendous for 182 refugees crammed on board. Many people became seasick and feared for their lives. Without navigation gear we travelled blind until the Australian Navy appeared, boarded and escorted our boat to Christmas Island. We arrived on the 20th of May and after processing stayed for 3 weeks before being transferred to the detention centre at Leonora in WA. For 3 months I lived there and taught myself English. Then I was sent to Perth and on to Melbourne before heading to Boolarra community detention house run by Berry St.

I lived there for another 3 months and was given my Australian permanent visa on the 10th of October 2012. I was transferred to Wyndham Vale near Werribee where I was contacted by Henry and Susan Mueller who asked me to visit on a trial to see whether we could live together in the hope of helping me complete my education.

On the 12/12/12 we had a meeting where I said I would be happy to accept their offer for them to become my custodians. I have lived at Koonwarra ever since. Two years on with my VCE studies completed, I am here, this week very happy to have accepted the offer of a place at Latrobe University Bendigo to study Dentistry. I have also been fortunate to have been awarded generous scholarships to help with course cost and accommodation expenses. I am really happy with my life now and I am enjoying becoming an Aussie. My ambition is to work hard, to eventually repay the community, for the help I have been given.

Living and studying in Australia during the last two years has been very different to what I had been familiar with previously. I experienced many firsts; celebrating Christmas and Easter, Aussie style BBQs, learning Rock n Roll dancing, cycling on the rail trail, sailing at Anderson’s Inlet, playing golf, canoeing down the Tarwin, going to the footy and barracking for the Cats, panning for gold at Sovereign Hill, going surfing at Inverloch beach as well as learning to drive. I also had to adjust to a strange climate, being part of a large Aussie well as learning Aussie slang: G’day mate! How ya goin’?

In the last two years I have been given many opportunities that I never had before. I have made the most of them, as I know how precious they are. While in Iran I was treated as a second class citizen. and my family still are, for the first time in my life Australia has given me identity, safety, salvation and the most important thing of all, education. I was enrolled at school in 2013 without a problem and warmly welcomed by staff and students. It took a little time for me to get used to sit in the same class with females because in Iran, girls and boys go to separate schools until they enter university.

I attended the Science Experience at Monash University Gippsland in January 2013 and had the honour of being selected to attend to the National Youth Science Forum of Australia for two weeks at the Australian National University in Canberra in January 2014. There I met students from different backgrounds coming from all over Australia and other countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Germany. I realised how important and beautiful it is living in a multicultural country. To me this is the most wonderful and amazing feature of Australia, along with its natural beauty and an easy going sporty culture. However, we should all be aware of just how lucky we are, living in this beautiful part of the world, and how precious our facilities and services are. I feel it is our responsibility to look after them, and contribute for the benefit of everyone.

It saddens me, when I see the media showing the inhumane terrorist attacks around the world and introducing them as Islamic, while these extremists in fact are not following any religion. Christianity and Islam teachings are quite similar, and not followed by these barbarians. In many countries including Australia, people from different cultures and religions co-exist in peace and work together harmoniously. No one wants to live in terror and we should do whatever we can to stamp out these extremist groups. I feel the peaceful coexistence of people from all different cultural backgrounds in Australia is of prime importance and we must do whatever we can to preserve this position. I feel privileged to be a Shia Muslim Afghani-Australian man who has the honour of having both Muslim Afghani and Christian Aussie families to proudly raise my new country Australia’s flag on Australia Day. It is a symbol of a united multicultural country and reflects the contributions of previous generations to the freedom and the life we now enjoy. I look forward to making my contribution to my new Australian community and in approximately 20 months applying to become an Australian citizen. Thank you. Danial Lomani