From Iranian refugees to church leaders

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A church-leading couple who arrived here illegally ten years ago risk being officially stateless in Australia for the rest of their lives.

But Anglican Reverends Kaveh Hassanzadeh and Hoda Ameri are deeply grateful to have been allowed to stay in our country.

They run the Iranian Farsi-speaking Emmanuel Church of Melbourne in Dandenong and Keilor.

The couple say Anglican Foundation of Melbourne CEO Felicity Costigan, they fled Iran after Kaveh’s grandfather was executed and his father was arrested three times.

The Islamic government viewed Kaveh’s family as enemies of the state and Hoda had converted from Islam, so in desperation the couple turned to smugglers.

Hoda was four months pregnant at the time and never realized how long and dangerous their journey would be.

When the Navy intercepted their boat and an officer smiled and said “Welcome to Australia”, Hoda believed it was a sign from God.

Within a year, they began their ministry in the church.

The Anglican Foundation of Melbourne won a state government grant of over $100,000 during the pandemic to enable his church to help over 10,000 members of the Farsi-speaking community in greater Melbourne.

Reverend Kaveh Hassanzadeh said, “The project was particularly aimed at helping families who are not eligible for any COVID-19 related financial assistance due to their visa status; who may have lost their jobs; and who find it difficult to put food on their table.

“We also aim to address mental health issues during the pandemic for people in the community who cannot afford mental health support. Moreover, the need for communication and computer skills education in the Farsi-speaking community has become particularly necessary after the pandemic,” he added.

Reverend Hoda Ameri, who has an engineering degree, is now a mother of three sons and will soon be ordained a priest.

She told the Melbourne Anglican she hopes to make a real difference in the lives of other Iranian women by helping to break down the barriers of her culture.

Many in his congregation consider the Iranian Emmanuel Church as their family and home.

Some of their most fervent prayers are for a change in their visa status that will allow them to truly call Australia home.

Photo: Jerome Cole Photography, courtesy of Anglican Foundation of Melbourne

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