Zaki Haidari loves living in Canberra where he is often seen jogging along the capital’s many bush tracks, including the formidable Mount Ainslie


Zaki Haidari loves living in Canberra where he is often seen jogging along the capital’s many bush tracks, including the formidable Mount Ainslie.

Key points:

  • Zaki Haidari has run 500 kilometres in an effort to raise awareness and money for others living on temporary visa arrangements
  • Mr Haidari’s visa is set to expire in September 2021
  • The Department of Home Affairs tells the ABC no-one on a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa has met the pathway requirements for gaining a permanent visa

But the refugee’s life in the bush capital looks uncertain.

His temporary visa, providing him safe haven in Australia, is set to expire in 2021.

“I have a lot going in my life, I’m not in a stable situation, my visa runs out next year, my family is in a war zone,” he said.

Farishta Arzoo and Zaki Haidari run by the lake.

Mr Haidari, who left Afghanistan when he was only 17 years old, has found long-distance running gives him a bit of reprieve and time to gather his thoughts.

“Just to think, ‘Where in my body it hurts? How far can I go? What’s the next challenge for me?’ It’s a good time, a kind of meditation.”

The Canberra resident recently finished running 500 kilometres, in an effort to raise awareness about refugees living in Australia on temporary visas and to raise money for the community legal centre, Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS).

No-one on a safe haven visa has ever gone on to permanent status

After arriving by boat in 2012, Mr Haidari has spent almost five years living in Australia on a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV), which will run out in September 2021.

He had hoped to follow a pathway to permanent residency, which SHEVs can indirectly provide, but his hopes are fading.

The pathway to other onshore visas was included when the SHEV was created by the Abbott government in 2014, in a bid to win over crucial votes of Clive Palmer and the Palmer United Party.

But the Department of Home Affairs has told the ABC that no-one on the visa has ever become a permanent resident.

“To preserve our strong border protection approach to illegal maritime arrivals, Australia maintains the policy setting that persons who travel illegally to Australia by boat will not permanently settle in Australia.”

Mr Haidari said there was a lot of frustration and a sense of hopelessness among fellow refugees on various forms of temporary visas.

Zaki Haidari poses in running gear with another man outside Old Parliament House in Canberra.

Afghani refugee Zaki Haidari (left) taking part in the Australian Running Festival in Canberra as part of the Refugee Marathon Project in 2018.(Supplied)

“I wouldn’t have any idea what will be the next day after my visa runs out, would I stay in the community? Or would I be in a detention centre? Or would I be deported back to Afghanistan?

Mr Haidari belongs to the Hazara ethnic group and he said following the disappearance of his father, his mother decided it was too dangerous for her son to remain in Afghanistan.

He said his older brother was also killed by the Taliban when they discovered a student ID card in his pocket.

Mr Haidari eventually fled to Indonesia where people smugglers took him on a boat bound for Australia. Mr Haidari said the boat broke in half and they were then rescued and taken to Christmas Island.

Cycle of temporary visas

Mr Haidari’s lawyer at RACS, Isobel McGarity, said if it was difficult for someone like Mr Haidari to access the pathway to permanent residency, then there was little hope for the thousands of others who were on temporary visas.

“[Mr Haidari] is somebody who’s been given scholarships in Australia, who’s really put his head down, who thrives on study and being productive,” she said.

“It really does show what a narrow window it is.

“I know that he is looking at his visa options but like many people, it’s most likely that he’s going to have to reapply for another temporary protection visa.”

That process will mean demonstrating again that he is a refugee, including how dangerous it would be if he were to return to Afghanistan.

“That’s a very stressful reinvestigation and I know it’s something that weighs heavily on Zaki’s mind as well as our minds.”

Labor MP Andrew Leigh sometimes trains with Mr Haidari and joins him on runs in Canberra.

He said Labor supported permanent residency for refugees already in Australia on temporary protection visas.

“I don’t know what Peter Dutton’s long-term plan is, is Zaki meant to stay here on permanent temporary status? What kind of a life does that mean for him? And how much does that limit what he can give back to the Australian community?”

Mr Leigh said Labor still opposes permanent settlement for those who arrive by boat to Australia from 2013 onwards when new arrangements came into effect. These are people who have been transferred to Manus Island and Nauru.

“Policy on those hasn’t changed,” he said.

The uncertainty of what 2021 will bring weighs on Mr Haidari.

“For me, it’s always two futures, one facts and the real future and one imaginary future that I could only imagine,” Mr Haidari said.

“The real future ends when my visa ends.”

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