Rest for refugees
More than 90 families who escaped conflict and persecution in Iraq and Syria gathered at Featherdale Wildlife Park to enjoy a day out patting and feeding the Australian furry friends they had previously only seen on television.
This excursion, sponsored by Anglicare, offered refugees a much-needed chance to relax and enjoy themselves amid the stress of settling into a new country.
But why the wildlife park?
The outing was the idea of George Bishai, who is studying a PhD at Moore College. Mr Bishai is a lecturer at Alexandria School of Theology in Egypt, and has been living in Australia for just over two years. He has been working with Bankstown Anglican for nine months, running a Thursday evening service in Arabic that is attended by many Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
“My first reason [for organising this] is because refugees are usually under stress due to the many things going on and the previous events [in their lives] – especially the newcomers,” Mr Bishai says. “They’re studying, doing English classes, looking for work. They need relaxation.
“Secondly, I am keen to have the volunteers see the refugees as families, not just as cases. See them in the fresh air and have a more organic relationship.
I feel refugees also see themselves as cases rather than people. I was happy to see them living a normal life and having a normal day.
Welcome to Australia
Zaid Hanoody was an accountant in Iraq before ISIS forced his family to run two years ago.
“I was a financial analyst manager for the minister of electricity,” he says. “I have two daughters, six and 10 years old, and a wife. When ISIS came, we had to come here. My mother is still in Jordan. We are still waiting, hopefully she will come here. She is 90 years old, blind and disabled because of her hip.”
The story is a familiar one. Many are desperately hoping that loved ones will also be brought to Australia to join them. While Mr Hanoody is worried about his mother, he is thankful to be able to be in Australia with his wife and daughters.
“People have been nice and lovely,” he says. “When we first arrived, my daughter is bored because she has no friends. Back in Iraq she has many toys and friends, but here we had nothing at first. Now she loves Australia.”
He and his family have attended Bankstown Anglican since they arrived.
“Every Sunday and Thursday we meet with other Syrian and Iraqi people and read the Bible,” he says. “The people at my church are good people.
“God saved us. We cannot survive from the terrorists without God. He saved my children. If you [have seen] the terrible things, there were many bombs and snipers and killings. God saved us.”