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Refugee finds safety but sadness lingers

17 November 20151 comment

When three of Syrian refugee George’s friends were killed during the bitter fighting in his home city of Aleppo, he knew it was time to leave.

He and his parents and two siblings fled to Lebanon to live with an aunt. Although not directly involved in the conflict, as Syrian Christians they were targets for almost all of the factions in the bitter and interminable civil war that has wracked the nation for more than four years.

Syrian refugee 'George' is working hard to build a better life in Australia

Syrian refugee ‘George’ is working hard to build a better life in Australia

“We left because of the conflict. It was terrible. We were scared for our lives. As Christians we were targets,” said ‘George’, who fears using his real name could mean family and friends still in the region would be targeted.

“There was bombing and fighting in the streets. Three of my friends were killed. They were not directly involved in the fighting but they still died because of all the bombing,” he said.

George and his family were forced to flee their own home when their neighbourhood became too dangerous. They took refuge in a grandparent’s house in another district but when ISIS looked like seizing the whole city in early 2013, they were forced to flee again.

“I was very fearful, really frightened. We knew that if ISIS came we would have to follow Sharia law, be killed or run for our lives,” said 31-year-old George.

“But as committed Christians we had no option but to leave – we left behind our house and jobs and everything we owned.”

George says the journey to safety was touch and go.

“We travelled in a van so we couldn’t be seen but the road was very dangerous. We hired an experienced driver who knew the route and had taken people out before,” he said.

“Even then, there were moments when we thought we were about to be discovered and killed.”

George says life was good in the historic and once beautiful city of Aleppo before the conflict began.

He worked in his uncle’s business, making metal accessories and buckles for shoes and bags and one day hoped to have his own business.

“Before, we had a good, safe life at home at one time and a nice house and friends but now we have left all that behind forever,” George said.

He said his family lived with an aunt in Lebanon for more than a year until the finally were accepted as refugees in Australia after being sponsored by another aunt who has lived in Melbourne for 45 years.

“I feel very happy now I am in Australia. It is like my life has started again; I have been born again,” George said.

George is working as a room attendant at an inner city hotel while his mother and father are studying English. His 26-year-old brother works as a kitchen hand while his sister is studying to be a pastry chef.

George has also embarked on a TAFE course in hairdressing and one day hopes to open his own salon.

He meets other Syrians at mass at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Fairfield but says he has lost touch with most of his friends from his former life.

“I feel really happy and grateful and safe to be here in this country but I am sad because I have lost touch with many friends,” George said.

“I see some of them on Facebook but there are so many I have lost touch with. I don’t know what has happened to them and I fear for them,” he said.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist