Sounds of Asylum was a podcast pilot commissioned – though never published – by Vice back in 2018. It recounts the harrowing escape from Afghanistan by two Hazara men, Salim and Sammy, only to land in a detention centre off the Australian coast, before eventually being allowed into the country on a bridging visa.
The podcast, which is an extended cut, is more relevant than ever today and provides a window into the lives of ordinary Afghans living under constant threat of persecution by the Taliban, who have today seized control of the country.
“In Afghanistan I cannot live because I am Hazara (an ethnicity that makes up 20% of the population),” says Sammy, 36, whose father was killed by the Taliban.
“The big group of people of Taliban – life is not safe there. And what you think? Just with the stupid idea, a little bit different with the religion, they can kill the people, they can kill the people, they can kill the people!” he says.
Part longform interview, part musical jamboree, Salim and Sammy take turns selecting iconic Afghan folk songs to play throughout the episode.
In the podcast, Sammy recounts his harrowing escape across the snowcapped mountain range bordering Afghanistan and Iran, as well as the disastrous boat trip from Indonesia to Australia, where he was eventually intercepted by the Navy before spending five years in an offshore detention camp.
Salim’s passage to Australia was a little more streamlined, probably because he held down a job with the Australian Defence Force back in Afghanistan, which was also why he had to flee the country. In the podcast, Salim recounts the horror of witnessing a gruesome suicide bombing near his house.
Part long form interview, part musical jamboree, performs a live rendition of a hit pop song he recorded back in Afghanistan where he was a pretty well known musician. Sammy is also a musician – the pair perform in an Afghan Hazara folk band in Sydney – and together the pair take us on musical journey both through their stories as well as the story of Afghanistan.
While this was recorded well before the Taliban returning to power, it’s as good an insight into daily Afghan life as you’re likely to get. Better yet, it’s told in Salim and Sammy’s own words.
*The podcast, which intended to feature people from every refugee community residing in Australia, along with their music, was subsequently pitched to 2SER in Sydney, FBI in Sydney, the Refugee Advocacy Network, and GQ Magazine without success. If you, or someone you know, is interested in commissioning an entire series on the refugee experience in Australia, scored by music from their homeland, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or, Instagram, Jedaum_Smith.