From refugee to UniSA to UN Refugee Agency Employee
Bachelor of International Relations
Fundraiser at the
UN Refugee Agency
In 2008, Ahmad Hakim first arrived in Australia after surviving and escaping Iran in the midst of political unrest. In the years since he initially fled with nothing more than a blanket and the clothes on his back, Ahmad has gone from a dish washer, to the first Ahwazian Arab man in South Australia to graduate from university, to securing a role with the UN Refugee Agency – the same organisation that helped him register as a refugee and move to Australia.
Ahmad shares his story and why he believes communication is an important step towards healing.
“It is really hard to be a refugee. Sharing my story is really important for educating non-refugees about just how hard our lives are and the constant struggle we go through each day,” says Ahmad.
When Ahmad first arrived in Adelaide, he chose to fully immerse himself in English and Australian culture as much as possible. A mainstay of integration into his Australian life consisted of paying regular visits to the local shops, hoping to pick up as much English as he could.
“It was a very important and significant stage of my life in Australia because I saw myself like a new born baby, with no understanding of the language or culture. Learning about a new culture that I am going to live with for the rest of my life was vital.
“I am in Australia now, that’s where I am going to have my children and they are some of the values I’m going to teach my children.”
Ahmad’s goal to submerge himself in Australian culture proved worthwhile, within that first six months he secured a job working as a dish washer.
“When I started working in the Adelaide Convention Centre in 2009 with little English, my behaviour in dealing with the environment around me was different to other people - sometimes I would make mistakes and it was hard for me to explain why I did something that way.”
But Ahmad continued to do what he had always done, work hard. He rose through the ranks from dish washer to cook while studying Commercial Cookery at Regency TAFE, as well as working the evening shift at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. In total Ahmad was working 15 hours a day, six days a week.
After marrying and beginning his family, Ahmad decided at 35 that he would pursue the tertiary education he had always sought after by enrolling in a Bachelor of International Relations, knowing it was the right choice to help provide for his family.
“I always dreamt of going to university and this came at a time when we had our first young child and I knew I needed to establish a stable future for our family.
“It is very inspiring because people in Australia are very positive and forward thinking. Studying in Australia is very different from my country where education is limited to the elite and is not open to just anybody. In Australia, education is very inclusive and they don’t discriminate.”
Towards the end of his time studying at UniSA, Ahmad secured a role as Multilingual Liaison Officer for Senator Alex Gallacher, an experience he holds in high regard.
“It was great. They were very supportive and friendly. I was able to get involved from day one and learn a little about how the system works.
“I grew up in Iran where politics affected our lives on a daily basis - it is a popular topic although taboo. If I can get a job in politics in Australia I could provide valuable insight and analysis into Iran’s politics, possibly helping to support better relationships between the two countries.”
More recently, Ahmad moved to Brisbane and secured a job with the UN Refugee Agency, the same organisation that originally helped him move to Australia. Ahmad says the job is important to him because he is able to work with people, engage in dialogue, and share his story with others.
“I know first-hand what a difference this work makes to the lives of refugees, as do many of my work colleagues.
“A safe place to sleep, clean water, food and health care are like gold when you are living under the conditions that refugee status places you under.”
Since arriving in Australia, Ahmad has tirelessly put everything into his work to ensure he can create the best possible future for his family. Along the way he has formed an invaluable skillset. When asked what he ultimately wants to do with these skills, Ahmad said the most important thing he could do is hear the stories of others like himself.
“If I could use my skills to do anything, it would be to listen to the stories of refugees and immigrants and learn from them.
“When we listen to one another we do two things: we make comparisons to our own lives and we challenge our preconceived ideas and judgements about another person, changing the way we first thought about them (maybe we develop some empathy too).
“Secondly, to speak to someone who is listening allows us to offload the things that are on our mind, the things that upset us, anger us, make us laugh etc.
“When you have already been through a series of traumas, then placed in a city very different to what you know and you don’t speak the language, you feel very isolated and even more displaced.
“When you acquire the ability to ‘fit in’ more and communicate with the new society you find yourself in, having someone listen to you and your journey is healing.”