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Refugee business giving back

3 June 20200 comments

When Attalah Abo arrived in Australia as a refugee from the conflict in his Syrian homeland, he made two vows.

The first was that his son Aboub would get a decent education and second was that he would give back to the country that had offered his family sanctuary and a future.

Now, despite the economic downturn wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Attalah continues to employ other Syrian refugees at his restaurant in Northcote, in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs.

“It’s important to support other people and we want to help them and the society generally,” Attalah said.

A former agricultural engineer and businessman in Syria, Attallah, his wife Helda and son Aboub were forced to flee their home near the city of Al Hasakah in 2016 as the civil war took hold.

Attalah’s brother had been living in Melbourne since the 1980s and it was that connection that brought them to Australia on refugee visas.

“It was a big change to comer to Australia, we had lived all our lives in Syria and we left everything behind, friends, family, everything,” Attalah said.

A year ago the family opened the family opened the Shamiat Syrian restaurant which specialises in char-grilled skewers, traditional Syrian dishes and freshly grown vegetables cooked by Helda.

“We started off slowly but the business gained momentum as the local people found out about us and started coming,” Attalah said.

“People were telling us they loved out food and we were full every night. People also love the atmosphere – they tell us it feels like being in Syria,” he said.

The restrictions imposed because of the COVID-19 crisis has meant that table service has been suspended but the restaurant is still doing a roaring takeaway trade.

“It got more difficult with the COVID restrictions but we changed the way we work and focused on takeaway. We’ve also taken the opportunity to renovate the restaurant,” Attalah said.

“It’s going well with takeaway and we have managed to keep employing our three staff. They are amazing people and they have become part of our family,” he said.

“The COVID changes have been hard but there are many people suffering more than us. We are grateful to be here in this country and we are grateful for the support of the local people here; and also of the Australian people and government,” Attalah said.

“And my son is getting the education we wanted for him,” he said.