It’s a cold and frosty Canberra morning, but inside the classroom at Navitas Skilled Futures, where Karima sits, it is welcoming and warm. Her classmates are from various cultures, offering an understanding fellowship. And just as the cosy classroom blocks out the chill, the warmth of those around her subdues Karima’s thoughts of family and friends back in Afghanistan as she starts today’s lesson.
One of thousands of subclass 449 visa holders evacuated by Australia from Kabul in August last year when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Karima says it took months to deal with the shock of her urgent departure and what her future would hold.
“At Kabul Airport I was worried we wouldn’t get out,” Karima said.
“It was too crowded. [My young son] became panicked when the Taliban opened fire to control the crowd. We were always threatened by guns, lashing, biting, slapping, by the Taliban. And all the people are bringing forward and pushing back. We got so tired from non-stop moving for about 11 hours,” the young mother said.
It took two trips to the airport, including an overnight stay on “paper cartons” before Karima and her family boarded the Royal Australian Air Force plane towards their new life in Canberra.
“It was such a big shock because we were not expecting it. We didn’t know where we were, what we were doing. For about two, three months, I was thinking, ‘I don’t know who I am but at least I’m still alive and I’m here’. But over time, step by step, life is getting better, better, better, as we came out from our shock and, a little bit, we recognise who we are, what we should do here.”
Now enrolled in the Australian Government’s Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) at Navitas Skilled Futures in Canberra, Karima is one of 49 Afghan evacuees currently studying at the Navitas college.
While English language skills are high on the agenda, classes also include digital skills, general settlement information, social activities and Pathways to Work courses, providing job-seeking and employability skills.
While Karima’s spoken English is above average, she says she is self-taught: “I need some knowledge about the rules and regulations, tenses and grammar to achieve good academic English for future work.”
Navitas Skilled Futures Canberra AMEP Team Leader, Sharon Gilbert, said Karima was part of a cohort of students who came from professional backgrounds who were keen to improve their English, digital and workplace skills so they could go on to find jobs and contribute to society.
“Even those with low-level English had a sense of urgency to move ahead with a view to gaining employment or undertaking further studies. Many of our students worked as interpreters or had government or high level positions in Afghanistan,” Sharon said.
“Many have experienced trauma, which obviously impacts their settlement, and most have family and friends they are supporting back in Afghanistan and, in some cases, supporting their migration out of Afghanistan.
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