Leaving behind friends, family and everything you know in search of safety takes huge courage. But that’s particularly so when, like Fatema Al Askar, you make that journey alone. The former graphic designer from Syria arrived in Australia in early 2017 to start a new life.
“I’m glad that I’m here. I had to leave my family and I’m alone, but I’m happy I’m here. I feel freedom in Australia,” she said. “The first friends I made were Aussies. They’re just regular people but they’ve helped me. They also learned how to say ‘hello’ in Arabic!”
Despite arriving in Australia with no English, Ms Al Askar has already found paid employment in a games store. She is also studying English with the aim of resuming her work as a graphic designer.
Coming to Australia by herself posed a number of challenges for Ms Al Askar — the first of which was trying to get by on Centrelink payments while she found work.
“SSI helped me to figure out how to use this payment for the amount of time I needed and they supported me while I learned that,” she said.
SSI’s Humanitarian Settlement Program, which supports refugees through the initial stages of settlement, takes a client-centred approach to case management that is tailored to the needs and strengths of individuals, including women living without family members.
“SSI understood my situation. I’m alone here,” Ms Al Askar. “When I first arrived, I didn’t know any English. Now step by step, I’m starting to speak English. I now have friends from all different countries and cultures too. I talk to them in English too. Sometimes I don’t understand, but I try different sentences to make my friends understand me. We try our best to understand each other.”
Ms Al Askar’s long-term aim for life in Australia is to improve her English and “just to be myself”.
“I lost my family. I lost my job. I lost myself. When I needed to make a goal for my new life in Australia, I needed first to learn who I was. It’s a simple goal. I want to refresh myself and build my new identity,” she said.
“I see in Australia a lot of examples of people from different cultures and countries who’ve spent 10 years here learning English and new skills and they’re now helping me to learn English. One day, I hope to be like them.”