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29 Jan 2020


Renowned Syrian singer and refugee finds path to integration in music


George Karam takes a “selfie” with his wife, Hana (R), and daughter, Atra (L).

The Karam family received humanitarian visas from the Australian government after they were forced to flee Syria due to the vicious attack on the village that they had once called home.

“We were living very happy and settled life, completed our education, working and our daughters were in a private schools even we had farm there,” Mr Karam said.

“When they attacked our village we had no option but to flee to Lebanon, and from there we applied for the Australian humanitarian visa.”

Unfortunately, the whole Karam family were not able to come to Australia, as Mr Karam’s eldest daughter and her husband could not leave Lebanon due to declined visa applications.

“Hopefully the process of her application to come to Australia will not take much time, as this is extremely distressing for us,” Mr Karam said.

Despite the painful separation from his daughter, Mr Karam explained the sheer excitement and relief that he and his family had felt when they had been given the news about being resettled in Australia. It marked the end to an era of suffering and the beginning of a new life.

Despite his initial excitement to resettle, Mr Karam maintained some healthy realism and knew their move would have its set of challenges. He held concerns about the many barriers they would face in settling in Australia; a different law and social system, a foreign language and limited work opportunities.

With the assistance of their SSI case manager Najeeba Wazefadost and the wider settlement services team, Mr Karam and his family are overcoming the difficulties of resettling and rebuilding their lives in a new home.

Since their arrival in Sydney, SSI has supported Mr Karam and his family, meeting them at the airport and assisting them in transitioning into their new environment.

Ms Wazefadost has supported Mr Karam and his family in finding long-term accommodation in Fairfield, where there is also a large Syrian community.

“It’s so nice to run into old friends on Fairfield streets after years of separation and displacement,” he said.

“We don’t feel homesick, and there is no language barrier, which has a positive impact on our settlement in Australia.”

Back in Syria, Mr Karam, known in Arabic music circles as the “Assyrian King”, travelled throughout the Middle East and UAE, performing as a well-known musician and singer in both Assyrian and Arabic.

With a diploma of music education from an array of credible institutions in Syria, Lebanon and the UAE under his belt, he had plans to develop and run the ‘OUD Eastern Musical Instalment’ program before he and his family were uprooted.

Despite his achievements as a renowned musician, initially, it was challenging for Mr Karam to find sustainable work in Australia.

Yet more recently, he has managed to secure a consistent flow of music gigs, including SSI’s annual flagship arts and culture event New Beginnings Festival. He’s determined to continue to find work as a musician, as the cost of living in Australia is the family’s biggest struggle.

Mr Karam’s wife, Hana Karam, who was a long-term employee at a pharmaceutical company in Syria, has been working hard to improve her English language skills.

Ms Karam and her husband have been attending regular English language classes at Navitas and have experienced a positive shift in their overall language competencies.

“Now we are able to communicate with others with no difficulties. We find English grammar very difficult, but our classes along with YouTube and the internet help a lot,” Mr Karam said.

His youngest daughter Atra Karam, a student at the University of Western Sydney, and who frequently acts as her father’s music manager said that she prefers life in Australia.

“It’s more open and safe and not closed, culturally. At least there is no war here.”

When asked what advice he would give to others moving to Australia, Mr Karam said that a positive attitude and persistence is the key to successful integration.
“I would like to tell everyone that in Australia you can work and study no matter who you are or how old you are,” he said.

“And, with determination and hard work, you will reach your target. The most positive advantage living in Australia is law above all and law above religions.”

Learn more about SSI’s Arts and Culture Program here.


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