Friday, February 4, 2011

At the end of a long road to freedom is Australian citizenship

New Australian citizen Nazanin Amirifar after her naturalisation 
ceremony in Sunshine with sons Matthew, 10, (left) and Robin, 9, and 
daughter Sepideh, 19. New Australian citizen Nazanin Amirifar after her naturalisation ceremony in Sunshine with sons Matthew, 10, (left) and Robin, 9, and daughter Sepideh, 19. Photo: Jason South
THERE was no sunshine over Sunshine's H.V. McKay Gardens yesterday morning but Nazanin Amirifar's smile almost lit up the place.
For her, Australia Day was much more than a day off. It was the final step in the Iranian refugee's long struggle to live a free life with her family.
While some of the 197 people who became Australian citizens at the gardens yesterday opted for jeans, Ms Amirifar and sons Matthew, 10, and Robin, 9, dressed up to the nines, it meant that much to them.
A happy witness was Ms Amirifar's daughter, Sepideh, 19, with whom Ms Amirifar was last year reunited after 17 years. Sepideh was two when Ms Amirifar was forced to flee Iran.
Ms Amirifar still has family in Iran and can't be specific but says she suffered domestic and political oppression.
She wanted "to be happy and free" in life but women couldn't work or get an education without a male relative's permission.
She went to Malaysia, where she lived for 10 years, ran a successful restaurant and had two sons with a new partner.
But the Malaysian government wouldn't let her stay, so in 2005 she flew to Sydney with her sons.
They were taken to Baxter detention centre in South Australia where they were released after nine months under former politician Petro Georgiou's policy of freeing detained children. The family settled in Melbourne.
But she never gave up on her daughter. After five years of pestering Australian and Iranian authorities and gaining her ex-husband's permission, Sepideh was able to migrate to Australia seven months ago.
Sepideh is learning English and wants to be a photographer. She snapped away as her mother and half-brothers received their Australian citizen certificates from Maribyrnong MP Bill Shorten and a chrysanthemum each.
Asked how she felt, Ms Amirifar, who is now a nurse, said: "Just excited and wonderful. While I've been [in Australia], always I think I am free but not like today. Today, exactly, I think I am really free. Nobody can do anything to me any more."
One of the oldest new citizens at Sunshine was Helga, a 79-year-old German, who has lived in Australia for 50 years and was so excited she arrived at the gardens at 8am — two hours before the ceremony. "German punctuality," she joked.
The retired nurse, a mother of two and grandmother of six, said in 1960s Melbourne, strangers would call her "nazi" on the bus. Her late husband, Karl, hadn't thought citizenship important, but for her, it's a sign "that I belong here".
She shed a tear yesterday for her parents, who died in World War II, when she was a teenager, but said her home town, Insterburg, was now called Chernyakhovsk, and a part of Russia. Helga said she was happy in Australia.
Burmese refugee Mang Kio Hnin, 31, proudly wore an intricate red blazer woven by his sister, Sui Bawi Hrin, 25, which she said was the traditional costume of the Chin people of western Burma.
Mr Hnin spent a year in jail in Burma for selling a pro-democracy book. He escaped, sailed to Malaysia and, since arriving in Melbourne five years ago, has found factory work and was joined by his sister Sui in 2008. Asked how he felt about becoming an Australian, through Sui, he said: "I feel very grateful. I feel safe."
The Sunshine event was one of 320 ceremonies around Australia yesterday in which 13,000 people became citizens.
Mr Shorten also gave the new Australians an Irish blessing — a translation of a poem from Gaelic — on behalf of his own ancestors.
He also said: "Australia is a place in the world of love and redemption, of refuge and a second chance, of new-found liberty and good heart. And I welcome you to it."