Refugee realising his entrepreneurial dream
The Baghdad Supermarket in Craigieburn offers ten varieties of coffee among the cornucopia of mostly Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods and produce on offer.
Owner Bashar Audish will blend any of the ten varieties to customers’ tastes and he usually throws in a free tub of pickles or spices for regulars.
The store, in a brand new commercial development among a burgeoning new housing sub-division in Melbourne’s north, speaks to the innate hospitality of the middle-east and also to the optimism and entrepreneurialism of people who have come to Australia from that often strife-torn part of the world.
“I opened the store four months ago in April. The first few weeks were tough because it was a brand new shop and because of COVID interruptions but now we are attracting customers and things are improving,” Bashar said.
The store now caters to people looking for Middle-Eastern, Italian, Indian and Turkish specialties and Bashar is able to talk to his customers in four languages: English, Arabic, Assyrian and Chaldean.
He arrived in Australia with his parents and sister in February 2014 after fleeing rising violence and insecurity in their homeland.
“We left Iraq because of the conflict and war in Iraq. The security situation in Baghdad became very bad,” Bashar said.
“Before 2003, when the US invaded, there was no problem, life was good in Iraq. We had security and the rule of law for everyone. We lived peacefully and no one asked about your religion.
“But after 2003, people started being labelled as Sunni, Shia or Christian and communities started to splinter into sectarianism.
“For us as a family, we didn’t leave straight away. We waited seven years always saying maybe next year will be better – but it never was.
And as Iraq descended further into chaos, as Chaldean Christians, Bashar and his family became more and more vulnerable to increasingly emboldened militant Islamic groups.
A suicide attack on an Assyrian church in Baghdad in 2010 finally forced their hand.
On October 31, six members of a group called Islamic State of Iraq attacked a church during Sunday evening mass. When the terrorists began killing worshippers, Iraqi commandos stormed the building prompting the militants to detonate their suicide vests.
Fifty-eight worshipers, priests, policemen, and bystanders were killed and seventy-eight were injured.
“After that, we realised we had to leave Iraq,” Bashar said.
He and his parents and sister sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan but life there was far from easy.
“It was very difficult in Jordan, we could not work and we had no legal standing for three years. But in 2014 we were able fortunately to come to Australia
“I am lucky to be here with all of my family. We know of families who fled Iraq who were split up with a brother going to the US and a mother and father going to Europe. We are lucky, we have everyone here in the same city.
After settling in Melbourne, Bashar applied to have his fiancée Zina join him in Australia. They are now married and have two children: Adam, 4, and Lilly, 18 months.
Bashar and his family became clients of migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia but before long he became and volunteer and staff member.
“I had reasonable good English so I decided I wanted to support other refugees who came after me.
“I have always thought it was good idea to support vulnerable people so I started volunteering with AMES to help people from refugee and asylum seeker communities.
“I would take clients to their medical appointments and wherever they needed to go and I was presenting orientation courses for people in their homes and in classrooms showing them how to navigate life in Australia.
“Then I started working casually with AMES as a community guide and as an orientation presenter.
Bashar moved through the organisation working with the accommodation team – finding housing for refugees – and as a client support worker, case manager and finally as a work broker, supporting migrants and refugee find their first jobs in Australia.
“As a former client and community guide, I knew what was needed to help people on their settlement journeys and I enjoyed the work very much.
But after five months in a new role as a work broker, the opportunity came along to realise his dream of opening a business
“I had a supermarket back in Iraq and also shop that did computer maintenance, printing and design work
“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to open a business here in Australia. But when I first arrived it seems too difficult and I wasn’t aware of the all of the rules and what you need to do to open a business.
“I know my way around in Australia now, I have citizenship and I’ve got to know more people and contacts. I want to improve and grow the business.
Bashar is speaking from behind his shop counter, his workplace between 8am and 9pm each day.
Above him are a series of pennant lamp shades he designed himself using traditional Iraqi images and motifs. They are bright, colourful and display various Iraqi crafts, music and cuisine; a visual procession of the good things in life.
At least, that’s how Bashar sees it.
“Life is good and we are grateful to be here in Australia. I have my shop, my family is safe and doing well and the future is exciting,” he says.