When Abdallah Al Tibi and his family had packed their belongings in 2012 to seek temporary refuge from Syria in bordering Jordan, they did not anticipate that they’d never return, and packed for only two weeks.
Abdallah Al Tibi was a peer researcher in a project led by the NSW Coordinator General for Refugee Resettlement, Peter Shergold.
As a middle child of six siblings, Mr Al Tibi was a mere sixteen-year-old when his family had fled Syria in seek of safety.
Before 2011 and the outbreak of war, the Al Tibi family lived a comfortable existence in their hometown, the tranquil and agricultural city of Daraa, where their father, Ayman, held dual occupations; one as a civil servant working at Syria’s department of telecommunications, and another as the owner of several successful farms in the region specialising in the cultivation of fruits such as grapes and pomegranates.
The Al Tibi family were among the earliest groups of Syrians to flee the war as the city of Daraa had been one of the first areas of Syria to be under attack. Mr Al Tibi recalls the incremental changes in their day-to-day lives, starting with electricity cuts and being stuck at school unable to go home during the attacks.
“It was like a horror movie; during that time, we were often unable to leave school if the area was under attack; it was very stressful.”
Mr Al Tibi spent three years in limbo in Jordan before his family had been granted their humanitarian visas to Australia in 2014. During this period, he and his siblings had limited access to education as they were not able to attend local schools in Jordan during the day and only during after-hours.
When the Al Tibi family were given the news that they were being resettled in Australia, Mr Al Tibi said that they were overwhelmed with a sense of relief.
“We knew it was a life-changing opportunity, and as we are a family of high achievers, we put double the effort to learn English when we arrived.”
Arriving in Sydney airport in December of 2014, the Al Tibi family were greeted by Settlement Services International (SSI), who provided with them with wrap-around case management services, including finding temporary accommodation.
Today, members of the Al Tibi family have demonstrated their high-achieving streak with most of the siblings completing degrees. Mr Al Tibi has a brother who is undertaking a civil engineering degree, another brother who is completing his degree in architecture, and a sister who is completing her degree to become a primary school teacher. Mr Al Tibi is also completing his Bachelor of Social Work at Western Sydney University (WSU) while working at MYAN in community outreach and SSI as a part-time bi-lingual guide.
In the past, Mr Al Tibi worked for Thrive LMA for almost two years supporting refugee youth, and more recently, Mr Al Tibi has been able to expand on his data analysis skills and had the opportunity to become a peer researcher in a person-centred project led by the NSW Coordinator General for Refugee Resettlement, Peter Shergold.
The project aims to improve the settlement experience of young people from a refugee background in NSW and builds the capacity of young people to understand and influence the policy process and the NSW Government to design policies that are informed by lived experience.
The initiative is an innovative case study for policymaking in NSW that can inform future participatory design initiatives. It is a unique opportunity for young people from a refugee background, community and the NSW Government to improve programs collaboratively.
Last year, Mr Al Tibi was a speaker on the project at the annual FECCA 2019 conference sharing its findings.