Refugee Week

Oliver Slewa

I arrived in Sydney, Australia in 1994, after 2 years of travelling as a refugee with my mother and siblings, through Jordan, Turkey and Greece before being granted a refugee visa to Australia.

I knew we had to leave our homes in Iraq behind because of the threats, wars and dangers we were experiencing. From the day I was born, there was war in Iraq.

I grew up in an Assyrian family in the capital, Baghdad, surrounded by our family and friends. My parents decided it was not safe for us when we attempted to flee the dangers of the start of the gulf war in 1990, our attempt was not successful due to the stringent checks in Iraq. My father was unable to leave his military duties either. My mum took my siblings and I and attempted to leave for the second time, in 1992. This time we were able to make our way to Jordan. I was too young to remember this part of my journey, I have vivid memories of particular incidents during our escape from Iraq, packing whatever little items we can, and our short meetings with other families who were also attempting to enter Jordan.

We spent nearly two years in Greece, our visa applications were being refused, until one agency considered our application for a woman at risk visa which was to Australia and we accepted the offer.

Australia welcomed us in June 1994, we arrived to Sydney airport in the evening, I remember it was a cold rainy night. It was an amazing feeling to know we are now safe and call Australia our new home. I had been excited to start school and make friends and meet new people.

We knew that Australia was going to be a country we can live happily in and safely.

From a young age, I had hopes to give back what I can to anyone experiencing what I went through as a refugee. Growing up in Australia, my aim was to become a lawyer and help the most vulnerable members of the community, help refugees applying for visas to come to Australia and help communities settling in Australia, just as I did those many years ago.

My dream became a reality when I became a lawyer and worked in the government sector, particularly in migration law. I was able to meet refugee clients and speak to the families of refugee visa applicants, help them with their applications and reunite families in Australia. Many clients I met with left Iraq and Syria during the 2003 crisis and the 2011 and 2014 turmoil in those respective countries.

Hearing their stories and learning about their journeys, was what instilled my passion to continue to help as many refugees and asylum seekers.

You can book Oliver for a speaking presentation via our Face-to-Face program here.

Please note that speakers are confirmed once a booking has been made and will be based on their availability.

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