JENNINE KHALIK The Australian
The Warda family: Banipal, in front, holding Shayna, 2; and in the rear, from left, Lideya, Khaninia, Nineveh, 4, Arbella, 6, and Sharaat Zayya. Picture: Renee Nowytarger
In the early 1990s, Khaninia Warda fled Saddam Hussein’s iron-fisted regime with his young family to find safety in Australia.
Today the Assyrian from southwestern Sydney, along with his son Banipal, is in the process of sponsoring relatives displaced by the chaos of the Syrian civil war to join them.
Khaninia Warda says he is hopeful that Australia’s intake of 12,000 refugees affected by the crisis will include his sister and her family, currently in Lebanon, and his niece and her family in Jordan.
Australians with family members who have fled Syria’s four-year civil war, which has spilled into Iraq, can apply to bring them here as part of the federal government’s resettlement program.
Mr Warda is all too familiar with the refugee limbo, having journeyed through Jordan, Turkey and Greece before being granted entry to Australia with his family in 1994.
Life under Saddam was hard, he said, and Kurdish fighters were trying to gain land in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk in Iraq, south of Irbil, where he and his family lived. Still, more than 20 years later, “there is no life for the Assyrian”, said Mr Warda.
“There is no life for the Christian there — it is very hard.”
Banipal Warda, a metal fabricator, said the family was applying to bring relatives, displaced for almost two years, to Australia.
“It was too dangerous for them to get out before,” he said. “We don’t know when it’s going to explode. Jordan and Lebanon are a little bit safe (now) but we don’t know what’s going to happen there tomorrow.”
Banipal, nine when he arrived in Australia, said there was corruption “everywhere” in Iraq — the government, rebels, Islamic State fighters, Kurdish fighters and “even neighbours” could not be trusted.
“We don’t know who they are. You don’t know who’s doing it. Neighbours can sell you,” he said, adding that his aunt in Lebanon was extorted by rebels in Baghdad to free his kidnapped uncle.
“They’re raping one girl and making 10 families run away,” he said. “We don’t know who they are. They put a gun to your head there and ask if you are Sunni or Shia. You can’t say you are Christian or you are gone, and you don’t know which to say, Sunni or Shia.”
Banipal described his life in Australia in one word: “Freedom.”
More than anything, they want their families to experience the same quality of life as they do.
“They have all studied and they are educated,” said Banipal, “but they can’t use it in Iraq. I’m hoping they will be accepted, we’ll know that they’re safe and they can continue their studies.”
He said he was happy Australia was opening its doors to refugees. “(We) could even bring more,” he said. “Australia is still growing.”