The Federal Government’s decision to accept 12,000 refugees from the Syria and Iraq wars and provide more funding for the UNHCR has created an incredible amount of public and media interest. The pleasing thing about the interest is that it has been overwhelmingly positive in nature.
One of the participants in SSI's partnership project with National Parks and Wildlife.
The public has responded with offers of help to house refugees when they arrive, or to provide financial and material aid. The NSW Government established a register at www.nsw.gov.au/icanhelp to process these offers, and this remains one of the best ways for people to register their interest and ability to help.
In the news media, there has been an incredible interest in human stories about the people fleeing the Syria and Iraq war zones. Almost uniformly, these stories have referred to the “Syrian crisis” and “Syrian refugees”. However, it should be remembered that the new intake of refugees will be people who have sought refuge in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Many Iraqi people have fled to these countries from the war in their country, or fled to Syria only to again be forced to leave in search for safety somewhere else.
Unsurprisingly, the most powerful messages about the war zones and refugee crisis have come direct from people who have survived them and made it to Australia to resettle. These stories have recounted experiences of trauma and extremes that most of us can only imagine.
One story about a family now settling in Blacktown with support from SSI member organisation SydWest Multicultural Services was a graphic example. The father, Khaled, told Blacktown Advocate how he was kidnapped and stabbed 32 times and left for dead in a rubbish dump in Syria.
Khaled had been a successful businessman. When the unrest started, he was kidnapped and interrogated by the Assad regime who believed he may have used his wealth to fund the opposition. The opposition forces later kidnapped him for ransom, and left him for dead when the money was paid.
Khaled was found and taken to hospital. As he recovered, he arranged for his wife and seven children to flee the country, while he stayed to sell the family’s assets to pay for their escape. Eventually, their claim for refugee status was assessed by the UNHCR and brought to Australia. Khaled now works in before and after-school care. His story of resilience is typical of those people who survive wars to become displaced as refugees.
As confronting as these stories are, it has been refreshing to see people like Khaled given a platform to tell their own stories to mass audiences. This should only help Australians to better understand the crises refugees are fleeing. I’m sure that the more people understand, the more they will want to help.