Four years ago, Asif Khan took his wife and two children and fled Pakistan, where as an Ahmadiyya Muslim he was part of a heavily persecuted minority group.
Yesterday, Mr Khan said he thanked Allah for bringing him to the other side of the world as he celebrated Australia Day among a peaceful sea of red, white and blue at the Masjid Baitul Huda Mosque in Marsden Park in Sydney’s northwest.
“This is an opportunity to show brotherhood to my community, my countrymen and my country and that is very special to me,” he said.
The 32-year-old grew up in Rabwah, the Ahmadiyya community’s heartland in Punjab, northeast Pakistan, but was marginalised and targeted because of his faith when he moved to Lahore for university.
Mr Khan first applied for an Australian visa in 2008 because he wanted a better life for his children, but after the Lahore massacre in 2010 — when the Taliban bombed two Ahmadiyya Community mosques simultaneously, one of which Mr Khan was on his way to for Friday prayer — he said he and his wife were living in fear.
“When I went back to the office, there was a bomb blast about a kilometre away and my wife said it was enough,” Mr Khan said.
“I was worried it would never happen (getting an Australian visa) and my wife wanted to sell everything we had to pay an agent to get us to Europe or Australia — somewhere safe — but I said no. I didn’t want to do anything illegal, because that makes us the same as them (the terrorists).”
In the 12 days between approval of his visa in February 2012 and boarding a plane in March, the Khan family sold most of their belongings and embraced the possibility of a safe, fresh start.
They settled in Mount Druitt in Sydney’s west, where Mr Khan said they were welcomed and have lived as respected community members for almost four years.
“I paid my taxes (in Pakistan), but I never saw any medical or educational benefits from that,” Mr Khan said.
“I couldn’t do anything freely, I couldn’t pray, share greetings or vote.
“But here I have the freedom to do all those things. I just love this country because it has given me all the freedoms I could want.”
Mr Khan’s Australia Day, surrounded by hundreds of like-minded people, was in stark contrast to how he used to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day on August 14 with friends and family.
“We would sit in front of the TV waving flags because we couldn’t join the celebrations because of our religion,” Mr Khan said.
“Since I’ve come here, I have peace of mind and I’m not afraid.
“I can’t explain the gratitude I have in my heart — I just want to show love for this country.”
Mr Khan will become an Australian citizen in March.