By Rebecca Trigger
After escaping her war-torn hometown of Aleppo, Talar Anjer-Koushian threw herself into Australian life — going to university, securing a fulltime job, and now volunteering to help other refugees establish themselves in their adopted home.
Talar was one of 12,000 asylum seekers granted visas in Australia under a special humanitarian intake of Syrians and Iraqis, fleeing terrorism and civil war — all of whom have now arrived on our shores.
Ms Anjer-Koushian said the biggest challenge after arriving in Australia was going back to university — she’s studying a masters in International Development in her fourth language.
She also managed to land a fulltime job last week, but says for many other Syrians, securing employment remains their biggest concern.
“We want to work, we want to give back, we don’t like just taking and sitting and being lazy,” she said.
All of the extraordinary visas announced by the then-Abbott government in 2015 were granted by March this year, but the final families only arrived in the latter half of the year.
The special visas have been granted to people in UNHCR camps, but also to people forced to flee and shelter in urban communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
‘We decided to leave, to have a life’
For Ms Anjer-Koushian, her life now is a stark contrast to what she was forced to leave behind.
Syria’s horrific civil war has left hundreds of thousands of people dead, fueled the rise of the Islamic State group, and caused the biggest asylum seeker crisis since the last World War.
Once a vibrant and thriving commercial center, Aleppo has seen industrial-scale devastation, buildings damaged beyond repair, and basic services to its people cut off.
“We had days that we didn’t have water, electricity, it wasn’t safe to go outside,” she said.
“Electricity was a celebration, so whenever we had electricity we used to wake up even if it was in the middle of the night, just to watch TV, and just enjoy the lights.”
She said the worry was constant, and it was always dangerous to leave your home.
“You get used to it, you get the skills that help you to live with the conditions that you are put under,” she said.
“But when it was enough … we just couldn’t tolerate it, and we decided to leave, and to have a life.”
‘It needs time’: Syrian-Iraq refugees put down roots
Ms Anjer-Koushian said while many of her fellow refugees will be grateful for the chance at a new life, they will need help to adjust to a completely new environment.
“They might get afraid people won’t be welcoming of them, so they won’t approach others,” she said.
“They will be closed and always questioning themselves, ‘are we good enough, are we OK to approach and to talk to others, and form friendships and meet other people?
“Although Australians are really welcoming, from my experience everyone was really welcoming and helpful … so I think in time they will get over that.”
Despite learning about Australia from an uncle who lived in Perth for many years, Ms Anjer-Koushian still hit a few hurdles adjusting to the culture here.
“Sometimes being straightforward and being honest in my culture is not always that acceptable, you always turn around and you’re not straight to the point,” she said.
“Whereas here people don’t go around and around, they just tell you straight what their opinion is or what they think about a topic.
Volunteering to help others adjust
Now she is giving back — volunteering with the Australian Red Cross’s new Humanitarian Settlement Program to help new refugees acclimatize and understand how to thrive in their adopted country.
Of the new refugees arriving in Australia in 2016-2017, more than 6,500 were fleeing the Iraq-Syrian conflict, and many more are expected to come from the region in future years.
Red Cross migration support programs manager Vicki Mau said people who came to Australia through the humanitarian resettlement program had often been through extremely difficult experiences, but that also meant they were incredibly resilient.
“What we’re really trying to do is make it a smooth process for them,” she said.
Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).