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Photograph: Pixabay/ArmyAmbers

How to help the Afghan community right now

Here's what you need to know about the current crisis, how to support Australia's Afghan community and how to support those struggling overseas

Written by
Rushani Epa
Elizabeth McDonald

The world has been transfixed by images of the Taliban recapturing Kabul, and many Afghan-Australians fear for their families overseas. 

“Afghanis fleeing the newly installed Taliban regime in their homeland may well have experienced trauma, violence and fear,” said migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES in a recent statement.

Tajik man Hayatullah Najimi, owner of Afghan Rahimi restaurant in the Melbourne suburb of Dandenong, is cautiously optimistic that the withdrawal of US troops will mean more stability in the country.

“My brother is in Kabul in Afghanistan, and he says right now everything seems to be a bit more peaceful,” Najimi says. “Shops and restaurants are reopening again. People were more scared during the 20 years the US-occupied Afghanistan.”

“The US destroyed our country,” he says. “We don’t want to fight anymore. We don’t need other countries to take our land just to fight with our neighbours.” 

Afghanistan has had a long history of foreign occupation. When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989, American forces secretly armed the Afghan mujahideen fighters against their Cold War rivals. These mujahideen fighters later formed the Taliban in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan, and the group took control over roughly three-quarters of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops between 1996 and 2001.

The Taliban (‘students’, in Pashto) is a predominantly Pashtun movement that preaches a hardline form of Sunni Islam and enforces Sharia law, including, historically, the oppression of women. There are many different ethnic groups in Afghanistan, with the majority comprised of Pashtun, followed by Tajik, then Hazara and Uzbek. Hazaras, most of whom are Shiite Muslims, are considered heretics by the Taliban and were persecuted and massacred when the Taliban was last in power. This time around, the militant group has pledged peace and women's rights, but it’s too early to say whether that will be the case.

Many Afghan-Australians, particularly Hazaras, doubt it. Dandenong has one of the largest Afghan populations in the country; according to the 2016 census, more than 11 per cent of Dandenong's population was born in Afghanistan, and more than two-thirds spoke Hazaragi, the language of Hazara people. 

“Dandenong has a large Afghan population and a vibrant business community,” says Laurie Nowell, media manager at AMES Australia. “They’re very entrepreneurial and run many things from supermarkets to market stalls, photography studios to restaurants and many arrived here as refugees or asylum seekers. After arriving, it was easier for them to start their own businesses as there are many hurdles for them to gain employment without recognised qualifications or fluent English skills. Dandenong is famous in the Hazara world, like a promised or a fabled land. I have many clients whose families are in Afghanistan who have been trying to get them out here for months.” 

“There’s a strong community of Hazaras in Dandenong that look after each other. We did an audit prior to the pandemic of businesses and then in the middle again and found that out of all the businesses, the majority to survive were refugee-owned businesses. They’re used to having to work hard and are incredibly resilient.” 

Employees at Hazara-owned business Bestway
Photograph: SuppliedEmployees at Hazara-owned business Bestway

Twenty-eight per cent of Australia's 65,710 Afghan-Australian population resides in New South Wales. Greater Sydney is home to 12,250 Afghan-born residents. The largest portion of Afghan Australians reside in the LGAs of City of Ryde, the Hills Shire, Blacktown and the Sutherland Shire.

Like many Afghan-Australians, Afghan Rahimi owner Najimi is tired of war and fled his country in search of a better life. But the pandemic has brought more hardship. “Most of our customers live over five kilometres away from us, so we have lost a lot of business. Before the lockdown, our restaurant was very busy. We would order 50 kilograms of chicken and 70 kilograms of lamb, but now we’re throwing away produce we don’t get to use, are only receiving ten orders a day and are struggling to pay rent and electricity bills.”

Artwork by Luke CornishPhotograph: Luke Cornish | AFN, 2021, Luke Cornish

Want to help? Here are Afghan restaurants you can order delivery from in Sydney

Afghan representation in the mainstream food scene in Sydney has a lot to do with Five Dock’s Bamiyan. If you can chargrill it, you can bet the team at Bamiyan are doing it, with a meat-heavy menu of smoky chicken, lamb and beef as well as some surprising vegetarian delights.
Level 1/147-149 Great Northern Rd, Five Dock

Kabul Sydney Restaurant
A hub for the Afghan-Australian community, Kabul Sydney Restaurant in Merrylands highlights northern Afghani cuisine, with stewed lamb shanks and dumplings that are light on spices and more about cooking low and slow. This is hearty food, and you might need a nap after eating.
178 Merrylands Rd, Merrylands

Bastani in West Pennant Hills is a good example of how a cuisine can adapt to its surroundings. Where you’ll find fesenjan (chicken slow-cooked in pomegranate syrup and ground walnuts) you’ll also find a ‘hotdog’ of Persian snags cooked on the grill served with gherkins and mayonnaise. 
3b/560 Pennant Hills Rd, West Pennant Hills

Sahar Afghan
One of only a handful of Afghan restaurants on Sydney's upper north shore, Sahar offers hearty tandoor-style cooking and an absolute heap of vibrant and fresh herbs. You can expect fragrant rice pilafs with caramelised onions and fruit, banjan borani (eggplant in tomatoes with garlic yogurt and dried mint) and of course the Afghani staple of mantu (dumplings stuffed with beef in a rich lentil sauce).
11 Robertson Rd, Newport

Organisations you can donate to

You can take action by writing to your local MP using this quick and easy templatepurchase a limited-edition print by Archibald finalist Luke Cornish, with 100 per cent of proceeds going to Mahboba’s Promise to support Afghan women and girls; or donate to any of the following organisations: 

Mahboba’s Promise
Mahboba's Promise is an Australian non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the disadvantaged women, widows, children and orphans of Afghanistan. Donate here.

Baba Mazari Foundation
Baba Mazari Foundation (BMF) has partnered with World Hazara Council, Hazara International and Hazara Committee in the UK to aid victims of the Taliban onslaught in different parts of Afghanistan. Donate via the GoFundMe page here.

Rukhshana Media
Rukhshana Media is a women’s media organisation that publishes work from Afghan women and is asking for donations to help them survive. The organisation is named after a woman who was stoned to death by the Taliban in 2015 and was set up by journalist Zahra Joya last year. Donate here.

Women for Afghan Women
This organisation fights for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan and is desperately calling for donations so that they can support their staff and families on the ground. Donate here.

Afghan Women and Children and Jalala Foundation
Afghan Women and Children and Jalala foundation have teamed up to protect women and children fighting to survive after decades of war. You can donate to the Afghan Women and Children foundation and Jalala Foundation here.

Miles4Migrants is a nonprofit that uses donated frequent flyer miles to help "people impacted by war, persecution, or disaster reunite with loved ones and start new beginnings in safe homes". Donate your frequent flyer miles with priority given to urgent flights (many of them out of Afghanistan) here

Refugee Council of Australia
The Refugee Council of Australia is currently lobbying the Australian government to help Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Donate to their efforts here.

Or support Afghan refugees and asylum seekers closer to home by donating to organisations like AMES Australia or the ASRC.

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