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Escaping the horrors of the Syrian conflict

14 April 20142 comments

Rasheed-picA woman who witnessed first-hand the horrors of the Syrian conflict and was forced to flee her home in the war-torn nation has been reunited with her sons in Melbourne under the new Community Proposal Pilot program.

Amina Srio, a Syrian refugee who fled her home in the besieged town of Aleppo and took refuge in neighbouring Lebanon for several months, was met by her two sons and their families at Melbourne Airport on March 9 in the climax to a remarkable human story.

As she was travelling inside Syria to avoid the fighting, she became caught up in it. “I was travelling between one city and another when armed men attacked the bus I was on,” Amina said. “I was not hurt but I saw the lady beside me without her head and covered in blood. It was terrible and I was in hysteria,” she said.

Amina’s son Rasheed Rustom, who has been in Melbourne for eight years, has been trying to bring his mother to Australia since the conflict in Syria broke out.

“We had tried to get her here – even just on a visitor visa – but with no success,” Rasheed said.

“At first we had to get her out of her house and move her to safer places within Syria and then we had to get her out of Syria altogether,” he said.

Amina travelled to Lebanon where she rented a room in a hotel. “I was on my own and I didn’t know anyone… and I didn’t feel that safe in Lebanon,” she said.

Rasheed considered getting his mother to Indonesia and then meeting her there and bringing her to Australia on an asylum seeker boat. “In the beginning I was scared of the idea but after the attack on the bus, I agreed,” Amina said.

Ultimately Amina was able to come to Australia through the Community Proposal Pilot program under the sponsorship of settlement agency AMES. The scheme cost Rasheed and his brother $20,000 in fees and a $5,000 refundable bond but they consider it money well spent.

“For the first week I couldn’t believe she was really here and I’m still pinching myself,” Rasheed said.

In a recent visit to the Multicultural Hub, the Rustom family thanked the AMES team. “Thank you for getting our mother to safety, we will be grateful forever,” Rasheed said.

The Community Proposal Pilot (CPP) is an unfunded humanitarian entrant program of 500 places which began in July 2013.

AMES, as an Approved Proposing Organisation (APO), works with Australian community members who have friends or family members who have fled their home country due to significant discrimination and/or persecution and proposes their visa applications to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

AMES is hoping to have another 80 arrivals come through this program over the coming months from a variety of different countries including Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq and Ethiopia.

Rasheed said he didn’t tell his mother about the cost of the program because she would not have agreed to come.

But Amina is delighted to be in Melbourne with her sons. “I’m really happy now, being here is beyond description – it’s a great place to live,” she said.