First Afghan refugees start new life in Carlton


Words by Matt Harvery

Afghan refugees fleeing rising hostilities in their home country began arriving in Melbourne during September.

The country’s radical Islamist group the Taliban seized control of the capital Kabul in August resulting in an attempted mass exodus of many of its citizens, some of whom were evacuated through the help of American and allied forces, including Australia.

Many of those who fled were escaping persecution from the Taliban for their role in assisting the United States and its allies during the 20-year war in Afghanistan. They included interpreters and assistants who had worked with the military forces.

Many other vulnerable citizens, including women and those from minority communities, also desperately sought a way out, with some lucky enough to end up in Melbourne this month.

Inner City News captured the moments on September 13 when the first busload of refugees arrived at accommodation at Queensberry St in Carlton.

Laurie Nowell, public affairs manager at AMES Australia – the humanitarian settlement service provider in Victoria – said the organisation had been busy finding temporary accommodation for the unexpected new refugees.

He said the biggest problem ahead for some would be the sudden nature of their refugee status, given they had been provided with no time, and for some no real desire, to rebuild their lives overseas.

“A lot of refugees spend 10 years in a refugee camp trying to get here so they’re mostly quite prepared, they know a little about life in Australia and they’re sort of prepared for it and eager to start new lives here,” Mr Nowell said.


These people have been catapulted out of the life they’ve known fairly quickly so it’s a little bit different.


The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 when the United States and allied NATO countries invaded the country following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The war was initiated on the belief that the Taliban government in Afghanistan was harbouring al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, who claimed responsibility for 9/11.

It was the longest war in the history of the United States, surpassing the Vietnam War (1955–1975) by roughly five months.

On September 7, 2021, an interim government headed by Mohammad Hassan Akhund as Prime Minister was declared by the Taliban.

As of 2021, Brown University estimated that the war in Afghanistan had already cost $2.261 trillion, out of which $530 billion had been spent on interest payments and $296 billion on veterans’ care.

Mr Nowell said Melbourne was a city uniquely equipped not only to take in, but support refugees.

“It’s very welcoming, there’s a lot of stuff set up to help people who are newly arrived from other parts of the world. Even people who don’t have connections might come here because it’s an easier place to navigate life if you don’t speak English,” he said.

“We will meet them at the airport, we’ll support them with short-term accommodation, give them an orientation as to what it’s like to live in Australia, and that’s everything from how to get a medical appointment to how to use PT [public transport]. Then we will work with them to find out what it is they want to do.”

Mr Nowell said that Melbourne and Dandenong were “kind of famous” in the Afghan community due to their large Afghan populations.

“Something like 60 to 70 per cent of this cohort who are coming at the moment will probably end up in Melbourne, because there are already communities here,” Mr Nowell said.

AMES works closely with the incoming refugee communities to support them until they are self-sufficient or have appropriate community links to help them thrive.

“Some people are much quicker to get set up and independent,” Mr Nowell said.

“What is termed to be participating economically and socially in our society. That’s the extreme end of it.”

“We like to see people settled much sooner than that.”

No matter how challenging and traumatic their escape from Afghanistan had been, he was confident they would all make new life here in Australia.

“If you’ve been through something like this you have an innate resilience so you can survive other things,” Mr Nowell said •

Caption: The first busload of Afghan refugees arrive in Carlton with children exploring the area. Photos: John Tadigiri.

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