Syrians and Iraqi refugees fleeing Islamic State militants resettling in Australia on humanitarian visas

  • Written by:

By social affairs correspondent Norman Hermant
Brim, Rawshi and their daughter Juliana fled when Islamic State fighters began closing in on their town in Iraq.
More than 1,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees are resettling in Australia after being granted special humanitarian visas, but this is just a fraction of the estimated number of those forced from their homes by the advance of Islamic State militants.

It is also only about a quarter of the 4,400 special humanitarian visas the government said it was setting aside in August.

An Immigration Department spokesperson told the ABC: “As at October 2014, more than 1,000 humanitarian visas have already been granted [since July 1] to Iraqis and Syrians. The program is well on track.”

This week, a report from a roundtable of former ministers and refugee advocates urged the government to dramatically boost Australia’s overall humanitarian intake to at least 25,000 – nearly double the current visa figure of 13,750 per year.

About two-thirds of those arriving from Iraq and Syria have been provided with settlement assistance on behalf of the government by Settlement Services International (SSI), in Sydney.

“Since the announcement in August, we’ve had about 1,020 arrivals under the humanitarian program,” SSI’s manager of settlement services, David Keegan, said.

“Out of that 1,020, about 75 per cent of them are what we call ethnic Iraqi. And about 25 per cent of them are ethnic Syrian.”

SSI helps visa recipients with everything from finding temporary and long term accommodation to arranging language instruction and selecting appropriate schools for children.

Settlement in Australia a ‘lifeline’ for those fleeing IS militants

Sameh Dakhllah is one of those for whom the settlement service is a lifeline.

He arrived on a humanitarian visa from Syria in August. He had nothing – no money, no family, no friends.

He had a good job working in a bank in Damascus. But then, the country’s ongoing civil war brought Islamic militants to his suburb. Christians in the area were forced to flee.

“The terrorist organisation killed people on their ID according to their religion,” Mr Dakhllah said.

“If you are a Christian for example and they saw your ID they would cut your neck,” he added, making a cutting gesture across his throat signifying that Christians were beheaded.

Mr Dakhllah has been in Western Sydney for nearly three months and he is slowly making his way.

“I haven’t anything except my education and except my hope,” he said.

“I feel I can build my future here. And I hope [it will] be a good one.”

Not all of those fleeing IS have come on special humanitarian visas.

In Western Sydney, a Yazidi family has been re-united in Australia after a mother a daughter escaped the IS advance.

In August, Brim – not his real name – told the ABC about his struggle to bring his wife and daughter here on a spousal visa.

Rawshi and her daughter Juliana fled when IS fighters began closing in on their town in northern Iraq.

“They took the girls and the men,” Rawshi said in Kurdish.

“They killed all of them. The youngest of them were dying, starving. I saw all of them under the tent suffering badly.”

Yazidi families still fear being targeted in Australia

The Yazidi religious minority has been heavily targeted by Islamic State.

Brim, who requested his surname to be withheld, has been in Australia more than two decades, but still fears for his family’s safety.

He knows his wife and daughter are lucky to be here. Girls like Juliana, aged 10, have reportedly been abducted and sold as brides.

“I was scared,” Juliana said. “They say they took women and children and killed them. I was scared, and everyone was scared.”

The early days in Sydney have not been easy, especially for Rawshi. Nine of her relatives have been killed in the fighting.

Everything – including her family, friends and her home – has been left behind.

“My house was full, we have everything in the house,” she said, sobbing. “At the moment, I have nothing.”

For now, the focus is on Juliana. After months on the run living as a refugee first in Iraqi Kurdistan and then in Turkey, she is not the carefree, smiley little girl she once was.

But Rawshi and Brim say they hope in Australia she can become happy again. The girl she was before IS.