A family link between the Far South Coast and Smithfield Public School, Sydney helped to bring about a visit by 30 refugees from six families to the Bega Valley.
Organised by the Social Justice Advocates (SJA) of the Sapphire Coast with Smithfield Public School, the families were hosted by locals over the weekend as they enjoyed fish and chips in Eden, went to the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre and Killer Whale Museum, attended the Bundian Way ampitheatre for a Welcome to Country on Saturday, visited the Bournda Environmental Education Centre and On The Perch before going to the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre and a farm on Monday.
The families have been in Australia for between one and four years and for some it was the first time they had been outside Sydney.
The SJA wanted to reach out to a local primary school and contacted Bega Public School teacher Emma Grant who planned a visit to the Bega school for the families.
When we were is Mosul we has three threats, either to pay them money, convert or fight to stay alive.Bassam Paulis
Emma and her husband Corey Grant also hosted the Yonan family from Iraq.
A member of the family Maryam Salim, 15, explained that they had originally lived in Mosul but when she was just four the Christian family had received death threats against her and her mother.
They moved twice over the next couple of years before arriving in the north of the country but then the family felt in danger again.
“My dad said you can’t do anything in Iraq.
“Just 40 days after my auntie was married her husband was killed by Isis,” Maryam said.
The family once again moved, leaving for Jordan this time, and stayed there for 10 months before being accepted by Australia.
Asked about making new friends in Australia, Maryam said it was great, “all the school is my friend”.
“It was a very hard life in Iraq, no water, no electricity. Here it’s a very cool life,” she said.
Bassam Paulis is also from Iraq and has been in Australia for two years with his family.
Like the Yonan family, Bassam’s family is Christian and lived in Mosul and also ended up in the north before Isis came.
“When we were is Mosul we has three threats, either to pay them money, convert or fight to stay alive,” Bassam said.
You hear about the news and the conflicts on TV but become desensitised. It’s not until you host a family that you hear a lot more.Deena Waterson
The family started a new life in the north of the country and were there for seven years until the war with Isis.
“We had to leave the country because we were Christian. We sold some furniture, left some and I sold my car very quickly, and very cheaply, everyone was selling,” Bassam said.
They left for Jordan and were worried that the airport would close before they managed to get out.
After one a half years in Jordan they were accepted into Australia.
“I was very grateful. It was April 28, 2016 and I came here with my wife and two kids.”
Bassam had a bachelor of accounting degree in Iraq and has returned to studies to receive his advanced diploma since arriving in Australia.
Deena Waterson of Tathra is a new member of the SJA and also was a host for a family from Iraq.
This is a small contribution for us to make.Rod Niemeier, driver for one of the hosts
“You hear about the news and the conflicts on TV but become desensitised. It’s not until you host a family that you hear a lot more.
“I’m just thankful that I’ve never felt anything by safety in our community,” she said
The families and hosts enjoyed a barbecue at Cocora Beach, Eden and then went to the amphitheatre on the Bunduian Way for a Smoking Ceremony and Welcome to Country.
Young members of the refugee families were fascinated by Ossie Cruse’s ability to play the gum leaf and all gave it a try while some of the men tried to get a sound out of a didgeridoo.
Shaquille and Brytan Aldridge conducted most of the ceremonial aspects of the welcome and were assisted by Bassam who translated for the refugees.
Vivian Admo’s story
By Albert McKnight
After Vivian Admo’s husband was kidnapped while she was pregnant, she felt she had no choice but to flee her home country.
On a visit to the Bega Valley with her now nine-year-old daughter Tamara Sobi and about 30 other refugees from Iraq, she shared her tragic story.
Her husband was taken from his job at an airport in 2008, after the Iraq War had started.
“We went to the police station, we tried to find him, but we couldn’t find anything,” Ms Admo said.
“That has happened to many friends, not just me.
“After that I felt scared and was pregnant with my youngest daughter, so we went to the United Nations in Syria.”
After five-and-a-half years she was granted a visa to come to Australia, arriving in 2014.
“At first, it was a little bit difficult and hard,” the 43-year-old said.
“I didn’t know the language and didn’t know where to go because I didn’t know areas and places.
“But after that it became better.”
After studying English and attending TAFE, she is now working for Woolworths in Sydney. Tamara attends Smithfield Public School and Ms Admo’s older daughter is studying at the University of Technology Sydney.
“I’m happy they [the United Nations] chose this country as it’s safe and everything is good here,” Ms Admo said.
“Me and my daughters are happy.”