The Jakarta Post
At home: George Najarian fled the war in his home town Aleppo, Syria, for Beirut before finally settling in in Australia. (Courtesy of Facebook/Geroge Najarian )
The Jakarta Post/A group of Indonesian journalists, including those from The Jakarta Post, were recently invited by the Australian government for a visit from Feb. 24 to March 2 to take a closer look at how multiculturalism works in the neighboring country. The following is the report.
It had been exactly two years since Syrian-Armenian George Najarian stepped foot on Australian soil for the first time when The Jakarta Post and Indonesian journalists from other media met him at the Settlement Service International (SSI) head office in Ashfield, New South Wales, on Feb. 25.
His face was brimming with joy when he told us that the day before he had had a flashback of how glad he was to be finally in Australia after years of living as a refugee in Lebanon with his family.
As a Syrian refugee, George is among the luckiest, having been granted a refugee visa by the Australian government.
Life, he said, was unbearable in Syria, which has been ravaged by years of bloody civil wars prolonged by conflicting foreign interests. George and his family lived in Aleppo, a densely populated city in Syria and key battleground city
“I remember one day there were explosions everywhere. Just when everything stopped, I went out to see what happened. I just walked down the street – you could see all the destroyed buildings, the smoke, and you could see dead bodies everywhere,” he said.
They stayed in Aleppo for months without access to water or electricity before they decided to leave for Beirut. “It wasn't easy living as a refugee. You are not allowed to work. You're not allowed to study,” he said.
“Imagine living the life where you're not allowed to work and have to survive”.
George said that, unlike in Beirut, it was easy to start a new life in Australia. One of the reasons is that he received assistance from the Settlement Service International (SSI), a not-for-profit organization that aims to help newcomers
“They took me to register in an [English] language school. They also provided jobs. You can even work with them even though you don’t have experience because, unfortunately, in Australia, it’s very difficult to have a job if you don’t have experience,” he said.
George admitted, however, that while most of the Australians he met were welcoming, some were not. He said that during his two years living in Australia, he experienced one incident of racism.
“Racism, you can find it everywhere,” he said. “But this is also an opportunity for us as refugees to show to these people who discriminate us that, ‘Yeah, I’m a refugee. But I’m a human like you’. And this is something that that the people who are racist do not realize. I’m a human. There is no difference between you and me,” he said.
He added that racial incidents in Australia were isolated cases that could not be used to generalize the whole country.
SSI community engagement manager Trina Soulos concurred with George, saying it was unfortunate that prejudice and racism could be seen everywhere. She added that we could also see the opposite in the Australian community.
“If we look at the volunteer program, every month more than 300 people engage in volunteering with newcomers and I say that is a really heartening example of how members of the community are giving up their own time and resources to engage newcomers,” she said.
According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Australia accepted 24,162 refugees and humanitarian migrants in 2016 and 2017. It was the highest intake since the beginning of the humanitarian program.
The nation, however, is facing criticism over its offshore migrant detentions, with the United Nations accusing Canberra of human rights violations.
The Australian government has denied the accusation, saying that “regional processing and third-country resettlement arrangements are implemented in accordance with international law and with respect for human rights.”
“There are no persons in detention under regional processing arrangements. Individuals with a legal right to be in Nauru and Papua New Guinea are free to move in and out of their accommodation without restriction,” a spokesman from the Australian Embassy said.
The spokesman added: “Australia’s border protection policies aim to deter people from relying on people smugglers.
These policies have allowed Australia to increase our Humanitarian Program to its largest intake in 30 years [18,750 places in 2018-19]. We have also resettled over 22,000 refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq since 2015.”