Refugee Week
Face-to-Face Speaker and Refugee Week Ambassador Samah Shda


I arrived in Sydney Australia in 2019, after years of displacement and uncertainty. The aftermath of the 2003 war, sectarian violence and extremist radical groups pushed our family and many other families from religious minority to flee Iraq and seek safety elsewhere.

I grew up in an Assyrian family in Baghdad. In 2003, the collapse of Saddam’s dictatorship and the US military intervention changed the way we lived and functioned. Our schools, hospitals, shops and any form of normalcy became a target for violent extremist militias. We were introduced to new vocabulary like “military checkpoints”, “curfews” and “electricity generators”. Our lives revolved around essentials, but even then, we were not safe from being caught in the crossfire. 

In 2010, I was awarded the Iraqi Student Project Scholarship to continue my higher education safely in the United States. Upon gaining my bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Grinnell College, I returned to northern Iraq and participated in the refugee aid efforts during the 2014 refugee crisis caused by the Islamic State invasion. I worked with international non-governmental organisations and led fundraising initiatives to assist refugees and internally displaced families in camps around my region.

When the threat of the extremist groups reached our ancestral village in the north, my family and I had to no choice but to seek asylum in Turkey. For the first time in my life, I saw myself as a refugee and knew that this would always be part of my identity. 

I continued to search for opportunities to continue my work with Syrian and Iraqi refugees. I worked with local and international organizations that largely focused on refugee reintegration and access to Education. I coordinated the Iraqi and Syrian Student Project, a program that aimed at helping Syrian students to acquire their higher education in the United States and Canada. 

In 2019, after three years of waiting in Turkey, we were finally given a refugee humanitarian visa to resettle in Australia. We were beyond happy, and more than ready to plan our futures in a place where we feel safe and dignified.

We really didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Sydney airport, but we were welcomed by so many community members who made us feel truly blessed. A few months in, we were ready to work, study and contribute to this beautiful country that we now call home. 

My lived experienced as a refugee and my perspective on the refugee crisis through my international work were my guiding stones into volunteer work and advocacy in refugee policy. 

Since my arrival to Australia, I have been actively involved with refugee resettlement organizations and refugee-led national advocacy networks representing the Iraqi community. I am a public speaker for the Refugee Council of Australia community engagement program and an Amnesty international activist organizing refugee rights campaign events in NSW. I am currently leading a research project focused on refugee access to higher education in Australia in collaboration with multiple refugee advocacy and resettlement organizations. I believe in using my own experience and story to raise awareness on the global refugee crisis.

You can book Samah 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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