Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
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Refugees find fortune in family

7 September 20160 comments

As a single mum with two children, Syrian refugee Collette Hannah made the bravest decision of her life leaving behind her job, her home and everything she had known when she fled her homeland to find safety for herself and her kids.

“It was very hard to leave behind everything – even my mother – but I felt I had no choice. My children were in danger and to stay in Syria meant they would have no future,” she said.

Collette arrived in Melbourne four months ago with the help of her brother who has lived here for 18 years and runs his own mechanical business.

She came with her sister, also a single mum with two kids; and the two families now share a rented house next door to her brother’s home in Melbourne’s north-west.

After fleeing their home in Damascus they lived in Lebanon for more than a year.

Collette with her son Joseph

Collette with son Joseph

Collette said that before the fighting broke out life was good in her homeland.

“I worked as a primary school teacher and an English teacher. We had friends, a good community, a nice home – life was good,” Collette said.

“Before the war we had no fear at all,” she said.

But the conflict changed all that.

At first they were not directly affected by the fighting but as Christians they felt threatened and when the conflict came close to their suburb the family survived some close calls.

“My daughter was hurt in a bomb blast. Her head was injured but we were lucky it was not too serious,” Collette said.

“That was the time we knew we had to leave. It was not safe and as Christians we felt even more in danger.”

Collette said she and her friends were confused about what was happening when the conflict in Syria began.

“We couldn’t understand it. We had lived in peace for so many years and then the fighting started and people who had lived alongside each other for generations were killing each other,” she said.

“We are Christians so we were afraid that ISIS would come. But even some Muslim people – not from ISIS – who we had lived alongside all our lives started to threaten us.”
“War does strange things to people. People started stealing and killing and threatening each other.

“When my daughter was injured we decided to leave,” Collette said.

She said getting out of Syria was relatively simple; catching a taxi to the border and entering Lebanon. But what followed was not so simple.

“We didn’t have much money and I couldn’t work – so life was very difficult. But we had to stay there in Lebanon just surviving because it was not safe in our country,” she said.

“But being all together made it easier. We could support each other as a family.”

Now, the family is having to start life all over again in Melbourne.

Collette is hoping to study to have her teaching qualifications recognised and become a teacher or teacher’s aide.

“It is difficult to start life over here. My qualifications are not recognised and it is very expensive to study. But I will start again and I will build a new life for myself and my kids,” she said.

Her daughter Julie, 20, is studying English with settlement agency AMES Australia and hopes to go to university to study pharmacy.

Son Joseph, 16, is in Year 10 at a local school and is excelling in maths and science.

Joseph says he misses his friends and his old home but is enjoying school.

“Australia is very different to my country. But different is not necessarily bad, we are lucky to be here,” he said.

Collette says she knows she can never return home to Syria.

“The war started six years ago and there are no positive signs it will end soon. I won’t let my children be put at risk in my country,” she said.

“We have a new home and we have most of our family here now. My mum is 73 and still in Damascus but we hope we can bring her here.”

She said she and her kids felt very welcome in Australia.

“Everyone has been very friendly and people are always asking us if we are OK or if we need anything. It makes us feel welcome,” she said.

Having survived war, persecution and exile, Collette’s hopes and dreams are simple.

“I want to study to be a teacher again and to live my life with my kids in peace,” she said.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia