ISIS forced 250 000 Christian families out of their homes in our village in Iraq. If you didn’t leave your house, you would be killed. They were also taking girls, and those girls never came back.

My sister and I had been trying to get my parents to leave for a while but they had always said they couldn’t leave their family. But when they heard what was happening, we left before they even got to our house. Most people had to leave without any of their possessions but since we had time to prepare, we were able to take a few things that were important to us, like photos. We flew from the north of Iraq to Turkey, and hoped to make it eventually to Australia.

At that time, I was 23, and in my third year studying Finance and Banking in Iraq. As a refugee I wasn’t allowed to study or work in Turkey so I didn’t finish my degree. It wasn’t easy, but we did have some money and I had 6 uncles in Australia, and they helped us.

It took two years and two months for our Australian visa to be approved, and a week later we bought our tickets. When we arrived in Sydney, all my uncles were there at the airport and we were all together again. I felt really happy.

I first went to TAFE to study English. Then, one day, I went to a special event run to connect refugees looking for employment with government departments. I gave my resume out and soon after that the Department of Education called me saying they needed a professional photographer!

When I was about 15, I had learned about photography from Youtube. At first I was just taking photos of my friends and family, but I was soon taking photos of christenings, engagements, family portraits, fashion and then weddings.

At the interview, I told them my English was really bad, but they said, ‘We want you for your work, not your language.’ Still, I was surprised when I got the job. At first, they offered me just 8 days casual work; then they asked me to extend for one month; then two months, and after 3 months, the manager told me that they wanted to make me an employee! I am now working as an adviser in media digital design, and really enjoying the work I do here. All my teammates are very friendly, and we go often go out to eat together.

I like Australia. The multiculturalism is great, and there are many special places to visit – like waterfalls. When I have time, I drive to the waterfalls, and there I find peace.

We always miss home. We have lots of family there and we felt really sad to leave. I can’t just go back though. Even now, it is not a safe place.

Australia is home now but in a different way from my first home. If Iraq is like a mother to me, then Australia is like a sister.

Thanks to Australia for giving us a hand, and giving us a new life here.

Arrived 2014

Photographer: Handy Photography

#refugees #Iraq #Sydney #storiesnotstereotypes