29 April, 2014 1:51PM ACST
By Xavier La Canna
The federal government says immigrants to Australia should arrive using official channels, but one man who has done that now says it may have been simpler to arrive by boat and seek asylum.
PHOTO: New immigrants to Darwin Vahid Hezareh and his wife Reihaneh Aminifar came to Australia using official channels, but are finding things tough. (Xavier La Canna -ABC Local Radio)
Vahid Hezareh’s eyes glisten with emotion as he recalls seeing his daughter, Niusha, swimming for the first time in a Darwin pool.
“Oh…So beautiful,” the 36-year-old software engineer says with obvious awe.
Eleven-year-old Niusha was something of a swimming star in the city where she lived in Iran, but Mr Hezareh never got to see her in the pool in their homeland.
In the strictly conservative nation it is illegal for a man to watch a woman swim, even if she is his daughter, and he could only imagine how graceful she looked gliding through the water to victory.
But the freedom to watch his daughter participate in sport may be something Mr Hezareh doesn’t get to know for long.
He, his wife Reihaneh and Niusha may be heading back to Iran sooner than they expected, and he blames the NT government for his predicament.
The Iranian man says the government sponsored him to come to the city because he is a skilled migrant, even though most high tech industries are located in Sydney or Melbourne.
Despite frantic efforts since he arrived in January he hasn’t found a job in his field in Darwin, a city with a population of about 128,000, and he is struggling to find any steady work at all.
“The Northern Territory shouldn’t sponsor people like me,” Mr Hezareh says.
“I have a nightmare every night and I cannot eat any food,” he says when asked how he is feeling.
He has been working casually as a cleaner at McDonald’s to get some cash but isn’t earning enough to pay the bills in Darwin, a city that in 2013 was named as the 11th most expensive in the world.
In his small apartment in the suburb of Nightcliff Mr Hezareh pays $300 per week in rent, almost as much as he paid each month to live in a large home in Iran.
Petrol prices in Darwin usually hover above $1.70 per litre, much higher than the 35-cent-per-litre he was used to and food costs are way steeper than he was expecting.
His savings are quickly being depleted.
The NT government sponsored three foreign software engineers to work last year, after identifying it as a profession that was in demand.
Mary Martin is the director of business and skilled migration with the NT’s Department of Business and says it is not particularly surprising that a person would be sponsored to fill a need, only to find no jobs in their category when they arrived.
“It depends; A on how long they have been here, and B on whether there has been a change in the market between when they were actually sponsored and when they arrived,” Ms Martin tells the ABC.
“They would only be invited if the software engineer job was identified as being in shortage,” she says.
She says the invitation to work as a skilled migrant is only given to people who can demonstrate their employability in the NT.
Mr Hezareh says he has been penalised because he has done things by the book and come to Australia as a skilled migrant.
He has spent well over $10,000 on visas and flights for him and his family to come to Darwin, and underwent medical tests to check he was clear of serious illnesses.
But he thinks he would have been better off arriving in Australia by boat and seeking asylum.
“The government supports the people who come from the boat and refugees,” Mr Hezareh says.
He said asylum seekers get access to services like hospitals for free, but he is forced to pay.
“I cannot understand why,” he says.
Reihaneh Aminifar is Mr Hezareh’s wife.
She has been quickly getting used to the freedom of Darwin, which enables her to do things she could only imagine in Iran.
In Iran she was forced to wear the hijab, a head covering that at times was hot and stifling.
Now she loves being able to choose what to wear for herself.
Having a drink of alcohol is something she has begun to enjoy, as well as being able to mix freely with men, both things that are considered “haram” – or forbidden under Islamic law – in her homeland.
“Iran is very bad for life for women and daughters, but here it is very good,” Ms Aminifar says.
“But we have not enough money for stay,” she adds.
Ms Aminifar says some things in Australia were not what she was expecting, but she is learning to appreciate the differences.
“In Iran when we women wear the hijab men look, but here I have not hijab, but men don’t look,” she says.
“I don’t know why.”
Mr Hezareh has been trying to learn some Australian expressions.
“I learned yesterday that ‘old bag’ is a term that can be used to describe your wife,” he tells me.
“Will you get me a beer old bag?” he asks his wife, with a cheeky laugh.
“Certainly old bag,” she replies with a smile as she opens the fridge.
Niusha has also taken to life in Darwin with enthusiasm and says she will miss the city if she has to return to her homeland.
She has visited the local water park and for the first time in her life gone down a large waterslide.
“I like my school, pool and freedom,” she says.
The family say they will probably run out of money in May, and if their fortunes don’t change they will be forced to return to Iran soon afterwards.
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