Suffering still for those left behind

THE Gloucester High Multicultural Festival is an annual event and a significant part of the school year. 

The 2013 festival will take place from December 3 to December 6. 

The festival will culminate in a multicultural day with a range of food, music and events taking place at the school. There will also be a music and drama night. The festival will coincide with a visit from students at the Miller Intensive English Centre in south-western Sydney. 

The students represent a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. 

Three of the students from Miller have shared their stories with the Advocate:

Rafid Habeeb

Rafid Habeeb is a 19-year-old Iraqi man.

He recalls a harrowing ordeal for 1500 university students who travelled by bus every day from his village to the city of Mosl, about an hour’s drive away. 

Most of the students went in a convoy of buses, accompanied by two cars from the Iraqi army. 

Rafid’s sister was one of the students travelling to the university. On May 2, 2010, the convoy experienced a vicious ambush. It was the intention of the perpertrators to kill all 1500 Christian students.

“That day, everything was different,” Rafid said.

“At 6am, when the buses left, there should have been people going to work. But everything was closed. There was only one shop open, a repair shop run by a Christian. The streets were deserted.”

Improvised explosive devises were planted along a 1km stretch of the road to Mosl.

There was about 20m separating each device.

Three buses full of students were blown up, however, the remainder managed to turn around.

As the students ran from the bus they were shot at by terrorists and the Iraqi police. Amazingly, and miraculously, just two people were killed. 

One was a girl travelling on the first bus and the other was the Christian shop owner who had run onto the road in a heroic but ultimately futile effort to warn the buses.

“My sister was badly cut in the face from glass from a bus window,” Rafid said. 

“And 176 students, young men and girls, lost hands, legs, arms and eyes.”

Rafid left his mother, father and younger sisters in Iraq to move to Australia. He now lives in Sydney with his older sister and brother. 

Rafid has been desperately homesick for his family and works long hours every weekend to send money back to Iraq to help them. 

Recently the family relocated to Jordan and they are hoping to join Rafid in Australia soon.

Yasser Miri

Yasser Miri grew up in Aleppo in Syria. 

Aleppo is one of the centres that has experienced intense fighting during the Syrian civil war.

“One day at home, we heard the sounds of shooting and saw people shooting each other. My dad decided it was time to leave our home, so we went to another house,” the 13-year-old said.

“We weren’t there when the army, or maybe it was the rebels, broke into our flat. They were looking for weapons. 

“Later, we found out that they threw all our things everywhere and smashed things. They broke everything. Everything.”

All the possessions the family had managed to pack in their flight were a few items of clothing and some photos on a USB stick.

“All the old photos, all our family history, are gone,” Yasser said.

“Dad decided to leave Syria as the situation just got worse and worse. My father, my brother and I all have Australian citizenship but my mother doesn’t. I didn’t want to go to Australia. I didn’t want to leave my mum behind. 

“She said ‘darling, it’s too dangerous here now for you’. But what that meant of course, is that it was too dangerous for her, too.” 

Yasser, his father and brother have been living in Australia for the past year.

“I am so worried for my mum. We listen to the news from Syria and the news about Aleppo, my city, is terrible,” he said.

“We’ve set up a Facebook account and whenever we can we talk to her. But I miss her. I miss her smile. I miss her hugs. I miss her smell. I miss her so much.”          

Maryam Fakhre

Maryam Fakhre was born in Iraq.

Her family was one of those that travelled by boat to Australia.

This is her story:

“The first really bad thing that happened to my family was in 2006. We were in Iraq, and the Americans had invaded.

We were at home one day when the Americans burst in looking for weapons. We really thought we were going to die. They knocked out some of my uncle’s teeth. It was terrifying.

Many terrible things happened to us. A bomb blew up at my school and half my friends were killed. The others were injured. My dad and his brother were electrical engineers and had their own business where they manufactured small car parts. 

One day some men came to the shop. My uncle was killed and my dad was kidnapped.

He was missing for two weeks. Two long, long weeks in which they tortured my dad. Two long weeks in which my mum was crying all the time. 

They threw him out of a second storey window three times. Three times.”

Maryam’s father was so afraid of being killed that he caught a boat to Malaysia. 

Her mother could not bear life without him in Iraq, so she took her five children and followed him. Eventually, after many months, they arrived by boat at Christmas Island. 

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