My name is Rnita, I’m 28 and I have been living in Sydney for just over three years.
I arrived in June 2015 when my family and I were forced to leave our home country Syria because of the war and the danger, uncertainty and suffering we faced every day. Reflecting on the past year and the ongoing situations in Nauru and Manus, I want to share my story and help people understand what it’s really like to be a refugee.
Life in Syria
There are many reasons I left Syria. My family was part of the revolution against the Bashar Assad regime meaning we lived in constant fear for three years. I was a teacher working at a government school and I left the house every day not knowing whether I’d come back. It was commonplace for people who were against the government to be harassed, arrested or just disappear.
One Spring day when I was in the city doing paperwork, a big bomb exploded just like that. I wasn’t hurt but it was shocking to see first-hand how a split second can change your life.
We didn’t have electricity for days and wouldn’t know when we were next going to see light. There was no phone coverage, no food to buy and no clean water so we’d drink from wells. I now look at the Syrian people as 18 million heroes to live like this day in, day out.
To make matters worse, my father was in prison where he was beaten and tortured because he was against the regime – he wouldn’t stand for unfairness and injustice. He now suffers from a bad back as a long-lasting reminder of his time there. My brother was an activist and was at risk of being imprisoned too so we needed to leave the country desperately.
First of all, we moved to Lebanon where we faced a lot of pressure. The Lebanese people treated didn’t accept us as refugees and treated us like garbage. I started having epilepsy seizures because of the stress and one time when it was an emergency, I was turned away by seven different ERs because I was Syrian.
We applied to move to many countries including America, Brazil, places in Europe and Australia where we had extended family. After months of waiting, we were accepted by Australia. The day we found out, I wept for joy. We felt so lucky.
I held on to my phone for 15 hours a day for two months in case they called back about the next stage of the process! It sounds extreme but these phone calls were life changing for my family and me.
Arriving in Australia
We arrived in Sydney on 18 June 2015 and coincidently the city was celebrating the International Refugee Day. I actually had a panic attack in the airport after hearing all of the English around me. I only knew three words of the language and was totally overwhelmed.
Once the panic had faded, I felt immense relief. I started learning English after being in Australia for 10 days and was blessed that people accepted us with open arms. I wanted to get a job and start paying taxes to repay the country and the Australian people for their hospitality as soon as possible.
Making a difference
I’m now working for the Refugee Council of Australia in a communications role and am also studying at the same time so I can progress in this type of job in the future. The Refugee Council of Australia is the national umbrella body for organisations which help refugees and asylum seekers, advocating for more humane policies based on consultations with real people about their needs.
It’s great because the voices of refugees are heard and we work to show decision makers that we’re not monsters – we’re just normal people. Personally I would like to see detention centres closed. People are treated as less than human in offshore processing.
Through my journey I have learnt to be strong and resilient and am forever grateful for the love the Australian people have shown me. I’m looking forward to continuing my work with the Refugee Council of Australia in 2019 and truly hope it’s a year for better policy and real change for refugees and asylum seekers just like me.
The Refugee Council of Australia advocates for humane, lawful and constructive policies with and for refugees and asylum seekers. It is a small, not-for-profit organisation which relies on donations from the public. To donate, please visit www.refugeecouncil.org.au/donations