On 18th May I arrived at the Auburn train station, eager to participate in what the day had to offer. As we were led through the bustling streets of Auburn, I had to remind myself that I was in Australia, and not in one of the many countries represented on our walk, such as Turkey, China, or Afghanistan. Once at the library, Julie Sloggett of Auburn City Council presented a brief overview of the demographics of Auburn. Then, we had the opportunity to hear from two Auburn locals about their journeys to Australia.
The first speaker was Ghassan Alissadi, a refugee from Iraq. Forced to leave his country in 1991, Ghassan spent six and a half years in a refugee camp located between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He described how there were constant fights over water and how medical care was almost non-existent. There was no greenery, and there was nothing to do but wait for government approval to go to other countries to be refugees. In the middle of the camp there was a whiteboard, and it was everyone’s wish to see his or her name on the board because this meant they were leaving the camp and going somewhere. Ghassan was readily granted an interview with government officials (because he had a degree in Economics), but two years passed before he saw his name on the board. He began his journey to Australia the very next day.
The second speaker was Zaki Haidari, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan. He made it a point to explain the differences between a refugee and an asylum seeker, the main difference being that a refugee has already been granted protection from the government. His mother paid smugglers to get him out of Afghanistan, and he explained that in leaving he “left everything behind – family, friends, and his homeland.” He was detained on Christmas Island, and when he was finally able to get on a boat to Australia, the boat broke down in the middle of the ocean. A journey that he was told would take 24 hours became one of 5 days and nights, but he eventually made it to Australia.
Listening to the stories of these two men, I realised how much is taken for granted here– safety, clean water, a right to education – which is not available to countless others throughout the world.
I believe a lot can be learned from being able to see things from a refugee/asylum seeker perspective, including a greater appreciation of country and social responsibility. Both Ghassan and Zaki emphasised that they “see Australia as a safe and beautiful country” and want to give back in any way that they can. As an example, Ghassan said he has participated in Clean Up Australia Day every year since 1996, as a way to give back to Australia.
Their stories also highlight the impact that the government can have on people’s lives. For example, almost all of the time Ghassan spent in the refugee camp was spent waiting on the government to process his case to become a refugee of Australia. Zaki is still waiting for the government to recognise him as a refugee, and until this happens he could be deported at any time.
Coming to a new country and making a whole new life for yourself takes perseverance and patience, and these two characteristics stood out in both Ghassan’s and Zaki’s story. It is important to recognise how far these men have come since they first arrived in Australia. As an asylum seeker, Zaki cannot work and he has no education rights; however, he has sought education anyway, and has been able to complete one College course and is on his way to finishing a second. Ghassan now works as a tax agent, and his working on his Masters of Taxation.
After hearing Ghassan’s and Zaki’s stories, all of the GLP delegates appeared to be deep in thought, reflecting and processing what we had just heard. For me, I found that hearing their stories made me see my own life story from a different lens, and it really put things in perspective. It was a privilege to hear their stories, and I thank the GLP for providing these wonderful opportunities to students.
By Ivy Keen
*Ivy is a study abroad student from Hope College in Michigan, USA. She is completing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Management.
*Ivy attended the GLP Cultural Series which generally takes place twice a semester. Students will be notified about applications for this opportunities via Facebook and email.