My dad left Iraq after he was called up to be an army doctor under Saddam Hussein’s regime, which meant he would have to be part of either committing or covering up torture. He actually left without telling my mother, as escaping an army conscription was a major offence which could get your family in a lot of trouble. He just said he was going on a trip, and it wasn’t until the first letter was smuggled to her from a friend that she found out he had escaped to Australia by boat. After he was released from detention, he started working as a surgeon in Melbourne. But at that time, I was only 5 and Mum just told us kids he had gone overseas for work.
We had a pretty good life despite his absence. I grew up in a privileged household as Mum was a dentist, and we were part of a big family. It wasn’t until we heard rumours of the US invasion in 2003 that everything for us changed dramatically. My first memories were of how naturally the adults in the household prepared, taping up windows, and filling the house with non-perishable food, petrol and gas containers. At that time, I realised that the people in my family were very used to war.
After the war started, there were bombs being dropped all around Baghdad some nights, which felt like the combination of an intense earthquake and really loud thunder – the noise was unbearable and it was very scary. At one point, we had to move to a different town and then another trying to find a more peaceful area. Finally, after Iraq had been officially invaded by the US, we went back to our house in Baghdad. It was partially damaged, but it was still livable in the back end, and we tried to go back to a normal life. But by that time Iraq was pretty much a failed state and none of the services were working. There was also still a lot of fighting, and it was full of lawlessness.
We had never wanted to come to Australia, as we had always been hopeful that things would get better, and Dad had always just been waiting for the political leadership to change so he could come back. But finally we reached a point where Iraq was unlivable, so we made the decision to leave. There were thousands of Iraqis trying to escape at the Jordanian border, but luckily we got through, and 2 months later, our family reunion visa was approved.
I was 11 when we arrived in Australia. It was nice to be reunited as a family, but at the same time weird seeing Dad again as I hadn’t seen him for so long. Then, 6 months later, he passed away in a car accident. It was a difficult time for us, but Mum is a resilient woman. I think the hardest thing was going through something like that and not having family or community connections here. Our biggest support network was actually our school teachers! At that time, we seriously considered going back to Iraq, but as things were still very bad there, we decided to stay.
Coming here was a big culture shock, especially as I didn’t know much English. But after a year, I started to warm to Australia. I made friends, and I liked our neighbourhood, and when we got our citizenship 2 years later, I started to feel Australian. Still, I struggled with school and I was quite a rebellious student. I got in with the wrong crowd, and was always in trouble at school. It wasn’t until year 11 that I realised my family had high expectations of me and I pulled myself together and took my studies a lot more seriously.
Now I’m a community lawyer working in the field of strategy and planning in the prevention of violence against women. It is one of my passions and I feel very lucky to be working in the field.
I am also currently doing a speaking tour around the country called Meet Fadak, where I tell my story of what it was like coming to Australia as a refugee. I often talk about how welcomed I felt when I arrived and how that has been key to who I am today. And I ask people to reflect on their own migration journey and think about how we used to celebrate multiculturalism rather than fearing it.
It’s been amazing to see the community uptake of my story. I'd really like to create positive change for newly arrived communities and I hope that every Australian can join me!
Why not buy something meaningful this year? The New Humans of Australia coffee table book – a super gift; heartwarming, inspirational and chock full of incredible stories like Nadeem’s! $5 OFF ALL EXPRESS SHIPPING UNTIL 20 DEC. 😃🙏Use discount code EXPRESS.