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Forced to flee a lifetime of work: the story of a WWII veteran turned refugee

15 August 20162 comments

Danial Haron’s calloused and gnarled fingers tell the story of a life of hard, unremitting work.

The 93-year-old Syrian refugee has seen trouble and hardship in his long life; he fought with the British army in WWII and he carved a productive farm out of a barren piece of land.



But he says he has experienced nothing that compares with the bloodiness of the current conflict in Syria, nor the barbarous brutality of Islamic State.

After decades of work, Danial had a beautiful home, an abundant garden and a fertile wheat and sheep farm in the Christian village of Telbaoua, in north eastern Syria – just outside the city of Hasakah and 10 hours’ drive from Damascus.

In May last year ISIS came and destroyed his village.

“At 4am they came and burned the church and the fighting started. Some of us fled but others stayed and were captured,” Danial said this week, speaking through an interpreter.

“ISIS took them away and we don’t know what happened to them,” he said.

Danial’s village had been left alone by ISIS until then.

“We were living in peace and minding our own business but that all changed when ISIS came that night,” he said.

Danial and his son Beniamen, 54, fled their farm on their tractor with only the clothes they were wearing.

“We left everything behind; a nice house, a fertile and productive farm and a good life,” Danial said.

“We lost everything – the work of 80 years.

“We also lost some of our friends. Some we have never seen or heard from again. It was a very hard time.”

Danial fought with the British army in Libya, Iran, Iraq and Palestine during the six years of WWII, enlisting at age 20 and sometimes fighting alongside Australians.

“There were soldiers from many countries with us; Polish, African, Indian and Australians – but we all wore the same uniform,” Danial said.

He said the current conflict was much worse than the war.

“Even the Germans treated civilians with respect,” Danial said.

“ISIS is much worse – they have no respect for anyone – they are thieves and murderers. ISIS is not human.”

Danial and Beniamin fled to Lebanon where they rented a small flat. They lived in limbo there for 14 months struggling financially and registering with the UNHCR as refugees.

With family already in Australia, they were selected for resettlement here and arrived in Melbourne just a month ago.

“I want to thank Australia. God bless this country,” Danial said.

He said he was looking forward to a peaceful life in Australia close to his family.

“We feel very welcome here. Everyone has been friendly,” Danial said.

“Everything is well organised here. There is a good health system. Everything works. When things are supposed to happen they happen – people don’t let you down not like in my country.”

He and Beniamin said they could not envisage going back to Syria.

“Even if peace returns to my country, I have nothing to go back to. Everything I had and knew was destroyed,” Danial said.

“I could never trust that Syria will be peaceful again.”

Beniamin, who taught commerce in Syria, says he plans to care for his father and eventually open a small business.

“I want to build a future and work to help other people,” he said.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist