Faced with the threat of imminent death or sanctuary in an unknown land, refugees are following the yellow brick road to their Emerald City.
By Jakob Andreasen
The sounds of bullets ricocheting off cars. The shattering of glass, as it meets the pavement. Agonising screams of young women, elderly men and frightened children. Watching a lifeless body fall to the ground. All scenes one would expect in a Hollywood blockbuster. But, this is real life.
Sarina Amrouz, a 20-year-old Syrian refugee, has experienced more than your average teenager and after fleeing her home country has found a sanctuary, here, in Australia.
Remembering her life before moving to Australia, Sarina recalled the brutalities she experienced.
“One day when my sister was in her first year of University, she got stuck at the University because protests were going on, people were firing guns, and she had to stay there for I don’t know how long.
“There was this one time, my sisters decided to take me out with their friends, just a normal breakfast. We were too busy talking, we couldn’t hear the tv, and a few minutes later we hear everyone screaming, running around, and the next second we hear guns firing. Dead people.
“I was in shock. I’m not sure what I was thinking at the time. I just knew that this is the end of my life, I’m dying today. It was really terrible. One second you’re really happy, and the other second you just hear people screaming, dead bodies, and explosions happening,” she said.
Sarina’s life was not always like this, but she always felt like an outsider.
“I had a really rough childhood, in Syria, because kindergarten till year three I was pretty abused and bullied at school,” she said.
Unfortunately, Sarina is still ridiculed at school.
“Everyone is younger than me. I’m the oldest, and everyone keeps asking me, ‘Why are you still in high school?’ They never understand why I want to be in high school.
“Everyone calls me an ‘Arab’ and that’s the biggest insult for an Armenian. I’ve had big arguments. I’ve searched up for them and I’m like here read it there’s a big difference, and they’re like no you’re an Arab,” she said.
Much like every other Year 12 student, Sarina is overwhelmed by exams – especially with her upcoming trials exams.
“I’m doing Entertainment, Legal Studies, Ancient History and English. I’m thinking that Ill study either to study Paramedicine or Physiotherapy,” she said.
In her spare time, Sarina writes her own poetry and finds comfort in that expression.
“That actually came about a year before I came here. I was just writing, writing and writing and I never told anyone anything about it. I wrote about Love and Loss and my home, mostly my home.
“Last year I was in suitcase stories, I did read two poems. It was a big relief because when I write I keep it inside me – deciding not to talk to anyone when I have problems – so, it felt like I’m just yelling out my problems when I read it out loud,” she said.
An excerpt of Sarina’s poetry:
Maybe you’re just lying,
Maybe that isn’t peace
But, you’re craving that so bad
That every little thing reminds you of home.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find a home where I was born
But somehow, I feel like that was my home
Because of the way my mum made me feel,
The early mornings,
And that old souk in the city.
Which is now destroyed.
Thinking about her future, Sarina is hopeful.
“I have thought about publishing a biography. The whole journey from Syria to Australia. The very first time when I thought about it, it came to my mind as ‘The Countries’, and I just imagine my bag, Aleppo citadel, Lebanon, Baalbek in Lebanon, the mountains in Armenia, the Harbour Bridge, and Opera House here in Australia.
“I still have travelling in my mind. First stop is Amsterdam.
“Whenever I get my citizenship I’ll go straight back to Syria, Home,” she said.
While Sarina views Syria as her home, many other refugees are fast calling Australia home. Parliament on King is an Australian business, run by Ravi Prasad and his wife, in their humble lounge room, in Newtown, which assists refugees with that transition.
“What we try to do is address the social, cultural, economic barriers, Asylum Seekers and Refugees face in Australian society,” he said.
Ravi and his wife aim to educate and inform the wider community on the experiences that Asylum Seekers and Refugees suffer through.
“I get really serious about stories that treat Asylum Seekers and Refugees because what I find is in my personal experience, you know I live in this bubble – middle-class, left-wing – whatever it is, everything just seems fine. I know in the broader community it’s not.
“We just tell people what we do, and who we are working with. If they support it then they do, and if they don’t then they don’t,” he said.
Although hesitant, Ravi was happy with how everything turned out.
“No one cares. No one minds. No one judges. I was really curious. I’ll tell a story for you – It was a pastor, a nun, a Palestinian who was a self-declared atheist, a Shia and Sunni Muslim, and a Christian from Malaysia. I just thought I don’t know how this is going to work. I don’t know what I’m going to say, how am I going to manage this. It worked out just fine, and these guys they make friends, and differences don’t mean much,” he said.
Ravi discussed this mix of different cultures, and his favourite part – the cuisine.
“At least once a week I eat something amazing. My favourites, they made this chickpea curry today. I look at it and I went “I’m going to love this.” It’s like your mum and dad’s best recipes, like your mum’s recipes are fantastic, this is just other people’s mum recipes and they’re just amazing. They cook it like they cook it at home.
“They can be proud of where they’re from. With them, they bring beautiful traditions, beautiful foods, and this gorgeous hospitality and that enlivens in us all. It’s good to see people stand tall, happy, and proud of who they are and what they bring.
“You end up being Australian, whatever that means,” he said.
But some never experience that feeling of ‘being Australian’, Sarina never thought that she would end up here, in Australia.
“I wouldn’t think of coming here as a refugee, because as a kid all I dreamed about was travelling and studying and knowing that I have a home to go back to.
“It was actually terrible to leave without knowing that I’m going to go back. It’s really sad to know because I left thinking I’m going to come back, but, I haven’t been home for like seven years now,” she said.