Batool Arif fled Pakistan to join her husband in New Zealand after attacks on ethnic Hazaras in Pakistan escalated.
Hazaras are a minority group in Pakistan. During the 1880s, they used to live in Afghanistan under the rule of Abdur Rahman Khan, but after attempts from some tribes to revolt, it resulted in a crackdown on the ethnic group. Much of the population was either killed or sold as slaves and some managed to flee to nearby countries.
Arif’s forefathers fled to Pakistan, where for a while it was safe. Until persecutions and attacks in the country during the 1990s ramped up, she says.
“The situation got really worse for our community – there was no choice but to leave our country and seek asylum elsewhere where we could feel safe.”
Her husband arrived in New Zealand in 2013, then after a year, she followed with her two-year-old daughter.
“When we came for the first few years it was quite hard in a sense we used to live in big families, joined families, our community was quite socially active. When I came here, I started feeling very isolated [socially].
“At the time we didn’t know of anyone … it was just us. I started realising it’s really hard for me to live in a society where I don’t know anyone, and I can’t find someone to even talk with.
Arif says after she began to integrate and got to know more about New Zealand and the resources available, things started to get better. On the other hand, it was still difficult to restart building their lives again.
“When we arrived here, I came with education, with experience of teaching, but when you go somewhere, and you start life from zero, it’s really hard, and then you don’t have proper advice about where you should go, what you should do.
“When you just end up in a situation like staying all the time at home and doing nothing, I found it really hard.”
Her two daughters enjoy being in New Zealand, but still miss their extended family, Arif says.
“They are both Kiwi and enjoying life here. One thing they always say is that they’re far away from their grandparents and cousins and relatives but apart from that they’re happy.”
Arif is now working with ChangeMakers Resettlement Forum, which helps connects people with refugee backgrounds to services and advocates for their rights and voices to be heard.