My name is Mohammad Al-Khafaji and I migrated to Australia with my family from Syria in 2003. I am originally from Iraq and fled to Syria for political reasons and started to seek refuge in a country where they respect human rights and offer them a hope and a new life. We chose Australia as our new home through the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Having seen at first hand the corruption, discrimination and the sense of hopelessness in the countries that I’ve grown up in, my parents were determined to turn our lives around and seek hope and a brighter future for us.
During our temporary stay in Syria, which lasted 4 years, we had to start the application process all over again due to some speculation that our case was sold to another person for a small amount in bribery. This made my parents very angry and more determined to not have their children growing up in a society where bribery is a normal part of everyday life.
My father knew some English and wanted to take things into his own hands. He sent an email to the ambassador of Australia in Lebanon, the closest Australian embassy. The ambassador was very helpful and kind enough to follow up this case personally and take the matters into her hands. When she replied back to my father, it was time to pack our things. She had the visas ready for the family and the tickets were booked for the next day. She told my father “Your visas are here and you’re flying out tomorrow. Someone will meet you at the airport to explain the details, but now you need to pack up!”
That was the most exciting day of my life and I still remember the happiness and the joy that was lighting up the small apartment that we lived in. After years of hardship and discontent, now it was time to start a new life and have a new outlook to the future.
That night we quickly packed our bags and left most things behind, there was no time to waste, except some time to research the city that we were going to live in. I quickly opened an encyclopaedia, turned to Australia and started reading about Adelaide, which was not your traditional “Sydney – Australia”, I was a bit disappointed.
The next day we left Syria. We were leaving behind years of childhood memories. At the same time we were overwhelmed with the reality and the fact that fairy tales sometimes do come true. On the plane we were busy asking questions about everything and anything that relates to Australia and its culture. We were dreaming about what we were going to do once we arrive and how we were going to make friends.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by an Iraqi man who took us to our house. This was a great relief because we thought we would be the only Iraqi family in Adelaide. This was not true as there was a big Iraqi community and we visited one of their weekly gatherings the same day we arrived in Adelaide. The same gentleman that greeted us at the airport is now one of our closest family friends.
We were placed at a temporary housing facility until we found a house for rent, which was a great help to us as new arrivals. Inside the house we had gifts from people and organisations, which we did not know about. There was one particular gift that touched me and that I shall never forget. It was a shoebox with small goods inside, and a beautiful primary school child’s drawing on the box with a message reading “Welcome to Australia”. It was the most beautiful and heartfelt thing I had seen in a long time.
I had a tear in my eye, thinking why would someone put so much care and love for someone they don’t know? Whilst back in Iraq and other countries people were being murdered in masses just for having an ideology different to their government’s.
The drawing and the shoebox was the best way anyone could have ever welcomed my family and I to Australia, and I am very grateful for that.
I was determined to work hard to help others in need, stand up against injustice and promote peace.
Today, I am a 22-year-old student at the University of Adelaide, studying 5th year Software Engineering with a big passion for human rights, standing up against injustice and promoting peace in the world we live in today. This is the least I can do to give back to my community, and it is a way to say thank you to Australia for giving my family and I a better future.