Bus trip to hell – a refugee’s journey
When his bus was pulled over by armed extremists outside his home city of Aleppo, Syrian refugee Jack Dawli stared death in the face.
He was hauled off the vehicle with several others and quizzed at gunpoint about his identity and religion.
As a Christian he feared the worst.
“It was very frightening. I was not sure I would survive,” Jack said this week.
But it turned out the armed men were looking for off-duty government soldiers – not Christians – and a group of young men were taken away.
“They took these men away and I don’t know what happened to them,” Jack said.
Jack was able to get back on the bus and resume his journey.
The incident in 2013 was the thing that finally convinced him it was time to flee the brutal and interminable conflict in his homeland and take his family to safety.
Now living in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Jack says he left behind everything he has ever known to bring his family to safety.
“Syria was a good country. There was once respect for human right, respect for the law and it was beautiful place,” Jack said.
“The old city of Aleppo where I lived was especially beautiful before the war. We had a good way of life.
“I was comfortable in Aleppo with my job and the people around me.”
Jack worked for 15 years as a sports analyst and writer in the Syrian media.
“But after the war began, the problems started. There was fighting in the streets – in Aleppo and in all of Syria,” he said.
“At this time I began to become worried about my family and my children. It was a very bad situation – life became terrible.
“When the fighting was really bad in Aleppo we moved to Tartus, a nearby city controlled by the government.”
But as the fighting spread and became more brutal, Jack and his family sought refuge in Lebanon and registered as refugees with the United Nations.
He applied with his wife, kids and sister-in-law to be resettled in a third country.
They arrived in Australia in April last year.
Jack says he is saddened to watch his country descend into chaos and bloodshed.
“It’s very sad. The Syria I knew was a good country full of beautiful places and history,” he said.
“I hope the war stops and I can return to my country,” he said.
But Jack said that his children’s futures would now be in Australia.
“I just can’t see Syria returning to what it was. I want my kids to have good futures and here in Australia that can happen.
“One day I hope to visit Syria again but for me now my children and their futures come first,” Jack said.
He said he wanted to thank the Australian Government and people for giving his family a refuge.
“I want to thank everyone – the government and the people who have supported us,” he said.
“When I can I would like to be able to make a contribution to this country and help other people in turn.”
He hopes to improve his English and then find work in the media in Australia, Jack said.
In recent weeks, Jack’s home city of Aleppo has been the site of bitter fighting between Russian-backed government forces and rebel groups reducing large parts of the city to rubble.
Dozens of civilians have been killed and several recent proposed ceasefires have broken down.
In the most recent, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a new unilateral pause in fighting in Aleppo this week, urging rebels to use the time to gather their things and leave.
Russia says it wants to avoid senseless bloodshed.
The Russian defence ministry says rebels can leave unharmed and with their weapons using two specially created corridors. Six other routes will be opened for civilians.
It remains to be seen if these promises will be kept.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist