Dinner time is the hardest part of the day for a Sydney schoolgirl who hasn’t seen her father in almost four years.
Zaharah (not her real name) is a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar and her father Nayser has spent the last three and half years in limbo at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.
Her family was split up when they were forced to board separate asylum-seeker boats from Indonesia bound for Australia in 2013.
Only 11 people could fit in the van which took them to the boat and her father was the 12th person, so the driver said he couldn’t get in, Zaharah said.
The year 12 student has been in Canberra on Monday and Tuesday to urge federal MPs to lobby Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to use his ministerial discretion to allow her father, who has refugee status, to come to Australia.
Both Labor and the coalition governments have maintained no refugees will be settled in Australia if they arrived by boat after July 19, 2013.
Zaharah’s father arrived after this deadline, unlike the rest of the family.
Zaharah loves life in Australia, enjoys studying maths at school and wants to study pharmacy at university.
But her heart aches for her dad, who used to help her with her homework.
“I miss his smile, I miss his voice, I miss his walk,” she told AAP.
“We would always eat dinner together as a family – we rarely missed one for as long as I can remember. Now, dinner time is hard.”
Her toddler niece was born in Australia and has never met her grandfather.
“He talks to her on the phone and tells her he wants to hug her,” Zaharah said.
While her father might be eligible to resettle in America under the upcoming US resettlement deal, Zaharah says it’s unclear whether her family would be able to go too.
They are already rebuilding their lives in Australia and don’t want to start all over again.
The 1.3 million Rohingya population is effectively stateless because they have no citizenship status in Myanmar.
Violence against Rohingyas at the hands of extremist Buddhists and the military has led to greater unrest in the past five years.