By Jasmin Abbott, Austin Andrews-Little, Abhranil Hazra
There are 65.3 million refugees in the world; almost half of them are under the age of 18. Here is the real story of just one, who set out alone at the age of 14 to escape the horrors of genocide.
Shahid Hussain fled his home in Pakistan in 2010, leaving behind his mother, father, and two sisters after the Hazara community started to face massacres and his home became unsafe.
“One boy cannot deal with these issues. This is a political crisis, so it is better for individuals to save their own lives. My decision to leave was not a decision just for myself, but a decision for my family as a whole” he said.
Hard as it may be to imagine setting off alone at just 14 years old, Shahid explain it was never an option for the family to travel together. “My parents weren’t in the condition to travel. They both have injuries. It was safer for me as I can run from place to place, through mountains”.
“Words won’t do justice when it comes to describing my journey. But it was a long nightmare that I have been through. It was a journey of survival, from Iran where I faced harsh racism because of being Hazara Mongol, then fighting the harsh cold of Europe without any shelter and days without any food”.
Shahid grew up in Pakistan and remembers his childhood as a “normal life”. “I belong to the upper class in my community my father had, and is still working with the Pakistani Government. Growing up my family met all my needs and we never had any difficulty”.
However, after leaving his home alone at 14, that childhood was robbed by the violent and unsafe world he now found himself in. “Leaving my home at an early age, travelling alone, and making every decision alone has made me more mature than any other person my age. I never got to enjoy my childhood, but at the same time I feel privileged and proud of myself for making decisions that usually adults make, and I’m doing good so far for what I know”
From dodging bullets while crossing into the Iranian border, to being captured by the Russian military in Lithuania, Shahid’s memories from his journey have continued to stay with him, despite his safe haven in Australia.
After being deported back to Pakistan from Lithuania, Shahid managed to get a student visa into Australia. “I got my visa within 2 months, which was a miracle at that time,”
At 17 as an asylum seeker in Australia, Shahid was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and battles the illness to this day.
Podcast with Shahid:
“I’ve suffered and memories from the past haunt me every second… Leaving my home, and I was in Europe, homeless in -10 degrees. To stay alive I had to do a lot of things that are not accepted by public society”.
This suffering comes in conjunction with many life lessons that Shahid learned along his journey and was happy to share. “You can’t trust anyone, it doesn’t matter if they’re your friends. In a situation when it’s life and death, everyone is for themselves,” he said.
“If everything is going to be straightforward and clear, life wouldn’t be life. The meaning of life is having troubles and happiness. I know happiness only lasts for 5 minutes or an hour, but the problem is you have to go through it all”.
“Acceptance is one of the important things I’ve learnt. Whether its misery or happiness you just have to accept it. There is very little that individuals can do in this life”.
He told us, “I am not [afraid of death]. Death is like an art. It lets you appreciate what this world has to offer… the beauty, the nature, even the hurt that this world has to offer”.
After six years, Shahid is returning home to Pakistan for the first time via Mongolia. “This journey that I have taken from Australia to Mongolia and then back to Pakistan is because I really wanted to know my ancestors and history. I want to take out the confusion from the Hazara community about where I came from, and when I went to Mongolia it all became clear”.
Returning to his family in Pakistan after 6 years, Shahid recalls “it’s kind of awkward. Like I’ve been away since I was sixteen and now I’m 22 so I didn’t really know how to talk to them or what to say to them”.
“I missed my home,” he said. “I miss the food the culture and my village. It is small and surrounded by mountains so the houses are very close and the neighbours are really nice. I really missed interacting with neighbours. When I’m home my door is always open. Anyone could walk in. My house isn’t my house, it’s the house of my neighbours, and same thing goes for their houses”.
Shahid is currently working for Australia Post and studying International Relations at UNSW. In spite his experience, Shahid doesn’t see himself being a philanthropist in the future. “I haven’t learnt anything at all and there are oceans of information out there so first of all I’m going achieve the important things for myself, and then when I feel confident enough to help others then maybe I’ll come back to Pakistan or Mongolia and help the people who raised me”.
Shahid hopes to use his university education to work for the Australian government.
But until then, speaking to us from his family home in Quetta, Pakistan, Shahid’s journey is still being written every day. “I have seen my family, known my history and ancestors, but I can’t say I’m happy happy. There is still a lot to deal with. From my side I have accomplished a little bit, but there is still a lot I need to do for my family community, and every Hazara around the world”.