'My earliest memories are of Villawood Detention Centre.'

This is not Mariam.






Yesterday, two asylum seekers – a young boy and a women in her 30s – drowned when the boat they were travelling in capsized off the coast of Christmas Island.

This tragic story is sadly, not uncommon. Hundreds of people have tried on the dangerous journey to Australia by boat; risking their lives in the hope of finding a better one.

Mariam Hakim came to Australia as an asylum seeker when her parents fled Afghanistan. She shares her story with Mamamia readers today.


My earliest childhood memories are of Villawood Detention Centre. Twenty-five years ago my parents made the difficult decision to flee Afghanistan and secure a better future for me. I was two years old.

I didn’t know what they were running from. I didn’t know how their decision had secured for me a life, where I would be safe and free to pursue anything I could think of. My parents wanted a better life for me than they had had themselves. What parent doesn’t what that for their children?

My parents dared to dream of a better future and decided to take control of their destiny and mine. When they speak of their memories of Afghanistan, they speak of the deafening sound of exploding rockets and bombs, the hovering helicopters and the soldiers looking for civilian men were escaping conscription.


They escaped on horseback with a smuggler and three children aged six months, six and eight. They packed what little food and water they could and crossed the border into Pakistan. They had little chance of survival but by some miracle they made it.


I was the youngest of the four children and I grew up hearing the story of the struggle my parent’s went through to get us to Australia.

My father was an architect and my mother a mid-wife. These skills were enough to get them accepted into Australia as skilled migrants.

I sometimes wonder where I would be today had my parents not made the brave decision they did. Would I be living in a refugee camp in Afghanistan with those who didn’t have the opportunity to escape?

There are women my age living very different lives from me. Little chance for education, no chance for a career and they may never have the chance to fall in love, to hope and dream about what their life can be.

I am twenty seven years of age. I know how hard my parents fought to secure my future and so I set my sights on a career in radio, first as a producer and now as an announcer. My brother is an IT manager, my sister a recruitment manager and my older sister a television host and journalist.


Being a radio announcer in Canberra is a life far away from a refugee camp in Kabul; where staying alive each day is the goal. I’m grateful to my parents for their decision and I feel so blessed with all the opportunities Australia has provided me.

Afghanistan in the 1970s

They speak about Afghanistan in the 70’s, the progressive, fashion forward nation it once was. The beautiful lush valleys and the hip and happening cities. The hospitable culture, the gentle people and the peaceful place it once isn’t anymore.

Every time I hear about another boat, about them smashing into rocks and sinking I feel devastated. These are human beings. They aren’t trying to do anything wrong. They aren’t trying to take advantage of Australia.

They are just so desperate for a better life, for safety and peace. They want to be happy. Why can’t countries like Australia, the US and the UK get together and find places for these people? There is plenty of room and resources here and many of them bring valuable skills.

These people are not animals.

Many will never get the freedom they deserve.

How would you want to be treated if this was you? Sick of wondering if your children will make it through another day, you decide you’d rather die on a boat filled with hope than in the hot dusty dirt in Afghanistan.

Mariam Hakim (Maz to her friends) is a radio announcer at Canberra’s 104.7, loves music, fashion and is a shameless Bollywood fan. As an Australian-Afghan, Maz is interested in all news and current affairs and she hopes one day all Afghan women are given the same opportunities she has found in Australia.