“Hungry and afraid” – Fateema’s story of seeking asylum

March 27, 2023

The following is an extract of a speech given recently by a member of our community to members of Federal Parliament about her experience of living in poverty while seeking asylum.

My name is Fateema. I was 42 years old when I came to Australia at the end of 2017. It took us five years to get our permanent residency visas…the process made us feel extremely tired.

I came with my partner and our children. We were seeking safety and protection in Australia. 

It still gives me chills

Before we got our permanent protection visa, we would spend all of our days running from one charity to another and all our nights thinking about all the challenges we would be facing the next day. How would we pay our rent? How will we feed our children? And how can we help them with their challenges in and out of school?

Without these charities we would never have been able to feed our children or pay our rent.

I was not able to practise my own job that I had done in my home country. So I found myself doing cleaning instead of teaching. And my partner was working in construction instead of engineering….My partner became quickly injured in his back doing work he was not suited for. 

It was suggested that we apply for SRSS but the amount was not enough to support us and my partner wanted to keep trying to work, even though he was in daily pain. 

During the pandemic, while other people in the community were staying home and staying safe, supported by the government, we had to leave our children and go to high-risk jobs. I will never forget the day I was watching the television when a federal minister said that people with temporary visas should go home if they couldn’t support themselves. It still gives me chills today. How could we go back?

Food was no longer an essential’

The shortage of food was the main issue in our lives. It was as if food was no longer an essential. How to get food, not just for ourselves, but for our children. We were always facing questions from our children.

“Why am I not able to bring a proper lunchbox, like my classmates?”
“Why are our fruits and vegetables always spoiled? I need healthy food mum.”
“Why is my lunchbox empty?”
“I was bullied because of the food you are putting in my lunchbox. I don’t need it any more. I am going to fast at school.”

I was always living in fear of being homeless with my family. Every two or three weeks we received a letter of contract termination warning for our rental house. This fear impacted not only myself, but also my children. 

This rhythm of life – facing rental issues, food struggles and physical health problems – made me feel breathless, anxious, scared. Feeling unsafe even though we came to Australia seeking safety. 

I am not in a position to judge the government but I would like to say that people seeking asylum are human beings, so they too must have their human rights respected. We seek protection and safety because we were in danger in our home countries. We did not expect to be hungry and afraid here in Australia too.

I hope that by telling my story, I am able to change things for other refugees and people seeking asylum and bring them dignity, because they have suffered enough.

Join us at the Palm Sunday rally 2023 Poverty hits people seeking asylum but Federal Government could help