The Word “Refugee”
I was born to Palestinian parents but was raised in Syria, where I spent my childhood and adulthood. As Palestinians we struggled a lot but as we lived in the border area, close to Palestine, it was similar to our land. Gradually we felt like Syrians and we were entitled to a life like other Syrians.
I studied in Syria, married there, lived there. My four children and my grandchildren lived in Syria. Syria is very close to my heart.
The word ‘refugee’, I have heard since I was young and it hurt. I heard the word from my mum and dad. I did not know that one day I would be a refugee too.
Like an uprooted tree
Some people dream of coming to Australia, but when you are forced to leave your country due to war like me, then you come with lots of pain and suffering. As you know, Syria is being destroyed.
When I came to this country I was not young enough to contribute anything or to start anything here. It’s like when a tree is taken with the roots and you try to plant it anywhere else, that tree is not strong enough to grow elsewhere. We have to be strong to tolerate that change or to go with the flow. It’s a big change. This change we will eventually get used to. I hope my children and grandchildren get used to it and become a part of Australia. I can see my children and grandchildren integrate more easily in society without that much struggle.
Hard experiences have made me strong
Nalina (pseudonym) talked about the problems she had adjusting to the new life in Australia. While they lived in Syria, she and her six children all lived in one building. On leaving Syria three children came with her to Australia, one went to Canada, one to the USA and one to the Middle East. She used to see her children and grandchildren every day, but now the family is split. However, one particular incident had a huge impact on her mental wellbeing:
Soon after we got here, I heard about 14 people who were killed in Syria. Among them were my niece and her children. I was devastated and mentally I collapsed. I was only two months in the country. My friends and community came and visited me and they informed RUAH. One lady who worked at RUAH came to see me and made an appointment for me to see someone there. I was taken to RUAH. They helped me with this mental problem. They visited me all the time and they followed up with my mental issues. They linked me to Ishar and ASeTTS and told me that these organisations would help me. I talked to the counselor at Ishar.
I believe that those hard experiences have made me stronger.
The help I got
If it was not for the organisations that supported me I would not be sitting here talking to you. ASeTTS used to send a car, took me for counseling to the psychologist and where I needed to go.
The community helped me a lot. People tried to get me out and helped me when I was broken. But now I am most of the time with my family. I am not much in touch with my community.
I continue to visit Ishar and the groups here. Ishar is very helpful with their programs. We are a big group of women. We have information sessions and fun. I feel a connection to this organisation. I feel safe and supported.
I felt that I should be a part of the wider Australian community. I felt it was important for me to integrate and for the need for me to do something, achieve something.
If I think about learning English, I find it hard and I cannot cope with study. I can however be a part of a group, help others, elderly people or other women.
I believe that as long as we are living in this world we need to do something, give something to others. My happiness will come by making others happy e.g. if I go to a hospital and give a person a flower, I feel happy.
I believe that by coming to Australia it gives a lot of opportunity to my children and grandchildren, I have to give back to this country which is giving me a lot. This ground I am stepping on now is my country now. I am very grateful to this country. We need to work hard and give back.
I studied law but did not finish it. I think education and knowledge comes from the people around you.
I have a short message to give other women. When they come here they need to forget about their past and start a new life here. Start at the beginning and try to give back to this country and know your responsibilities.
Australia as a country cares about its people. We need to work with our heart and soul to give to this country.
When you come from war, you need hands to pull you to safety like RUAH.
I can see what is happening to my kids and grandkids, the help and support they receive. The future is there. Thank you for this opportunity to sit and talk. It made me feel strong. I am happy to participate in this project.