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22 Sep 2016


Iraqi refugee on track to practice as a doctor in Australia

Mr Qoja (R) arrived in Australia with his wife and children earlier this year.

Rafi Qoja, 31, was a highly esteemed physician in Iraq before his home town was occupied by rebel forces in 2014, prompting his family to flee in fear of their safety.

Mr Qoja and his family spent more than two years in northern Iraq and Lebanon, where he volunteered as a doctor before their visas were accepted in Australia.

“I’ll never forget when we received the call from the UN,”Mr Qoja recalled. “We had lost hope but suddenly we were so excited. Our lives were saved in an instant.”

Mr Qoja’s family was connected with a case manager who helped to provide a range of support such as a Basic Households Goods package, and community orientation to help his family connect with their new community.

“One of the case managers from SSI was from the same village we’re from,” he said. “She spoke the same language and she understood what we were going through. She helped us to start our lives here.”

SSI also introduced Mr Qoja to a skills qualifications workshop and connected him with a local doctor who gave him practical advice to kick start his career in Australia.

After sitting an initial course in July, Mr Qoja is now preparing to sit a medical exam in November with the hope of becoming a registered practitioner with the Australian Medical Council.

Mr Qoja admits it will be a long process with “many hurdles” but after years of uncertainty, he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I like my job as a doctor because I want to help people – anywhere in the world,” Mr Qoja said. “Now – more than ever – I want to help others, just like they have helped us. We want to share our thanks with this country.”

Life in Australia has been bittersweet for Mr Qoja and his family, whose relatives remain in Lebanon and Iraq. But he says it’s impossible to put a price on safety and freedom.

“Our country destroyed our culture and civilisation, and we suffered just belonging in Iraq,” he said. “We feel human for the first time, and we feel welcomed. We are the lucky ones to live in Australia when other parts of the world are suffering, and we want to give back to this country that helped us when we were in need.”

Mr Qoja is looking forward to what the future holds for his two children, aged two and four.

“We want to be part of the community, but to keep our traditions,” he said. “It’s important for kids to maintain their culture because there are so many advantages. We don’t want to isolate ourselves and we don’t want to forget our background. We want to share our culture with others.”

Mr Qoja’s family was supported by SSI’s Humanitarian Settlement Services program, which provides essential support to refugees and humanitarian entrants in their first 6–12 months in Australia. Support services including airport pickups, housing support, community orientation to help new arrivals connect with their community, and specialised case management to help them connect with essential services and support.

SSI is committed to ensuring that people in vulnerable communities in NSW are supported and resourced to fulfill their potential as members of the Australian community.

Humanitarian Settlement Services

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