Posted 03 May 2019

At an age when most newly-married couples are deciding on the exciting things they’d like to plan for their life together, Nadia* and her husband, Jonas*, were debating the excruciating choice to leave their home country of Iran.

At work, Jonas’ superiors had demanded he do a task he knew in his heart was wrong. To refuse not only meant losing his job, it would threaten his life, his wife and their families. They had to escape.

With no guarantee or certainty of success, Jonas and Nadia could either cross the mountains on foot into Turkey (a passage notoriously guarded by snipers with orders to shoot illegal travellers) or leave for Indonesia (also an Islamic country) on a tourist visa and hope to discover a way towards safety. They chose Indonesia.

Once there, the couple were greatly troubled about what to do. They were approached by a man willing to carry them on his boat to Australia. They were incredibly distressed about its dangers but faced imprisonment if they overstayed their tourist visa or the prospect of death if they returned to Iran, so they paid the smuggler his fee. After days at sea, Australian border authorities discovered the boat. All passengers on board, including Nadia and Jonas, were transported to an Australian off-shore detention centre.

The following months brought little relief to Nadia and Jonas’ fears. While in detention, Nadia discovered she was pregnant. The Detention Centre doctor identified a complication that threatened the baby’s life, but appropriate care was only available on the mainland. Nadia was immediately separated from her husband to be closely monitored in hospital until she gave birth.

Most first-time mothers cherish the strange but wonderful feelings that pregnancy brings. But for Nadia, the memories of her pregnancy are plagued by worry, isolation and loneliness. Although, in hindsight, Nadia is extremely grateful for the medical assistance she received, each day of the long months she endured without the comfort and care of her husband were among the darkest she’s known.

When mother and baby were well enough, Nadia and her beautiful boy, Elijah*, were returned to off-shore detention, where Jonas met his son for the first time. A move to on-shore detention followed soon after, during which our Sydney Refugee Team first learned of the family. Nadia’s cousin, Diana, approached the Team, desperate for a way to provide essential baby items his parents were struggling without, and they did all they could to help.

Six months later, the family were elated to be released into the community in Australia on a bridging visa. They moved to Sydney to be close to Diana, but her support alone wasn’t enough. Diana asked Sydney Refugee Team to again step in and assist.

Our workers; Karl, Caroline and Linda, and Sydney Refugee Team volunteers, assisted with baby supplies, household items and food parcels. The family accepted our offer of a trained Companion volunteer who visited regularly over the course of a year. These things helped greatly to reduce the family’s isolation and improve their English skills, equipping them further to engage in their local community. Over time, a relationship of trust developed.

First birthday celebrations.

Despite his tender age, Elijah’s wellbeing had been significantly impacted by all the family had been through. For the first few months, he was withdrawn, anxious and frequently upset by noise. As the family’s confidence grew in their new surroundings and community, Elijah’s high levels of stress decreased. His first birthday marked a significant milestone in the family’s young life. It was a privilege for our Team members to share with their dear new friends in a celebration of their freedom and the joys of watching their little boy grow, especially considering the difficulties he’d experienced in his first year. Today, he is a happy, well-adjusted and very social four-year-old.

We marvel at the heart of precious people like Nadia, Jonas and Elijah whom our Sydney Refugee Team have grown to care for very much. Desiring to be a part of something greater than ourselves is common to us all. Four years on, the family are still waiting for a Temporary Protection Visa, like many who arrived at that time, but they are doing all they can to embrace life in Australia.

Jonas is studying so he can care for his family and bring his enthusiastic contribution to his new country. Nadia embraced Sydney Refugee Team’s women’s group over several years. Through the simple act of sharing cups of tea, stories, activities and friendship, community has played an integral role in improving Nadia’s wellbeing. She still bears the scars of these traumatic years of her life, but her wounds are slowly healing. Sydney Refugee Team’s visits are less frequent now, but whenever they pop by, Nadia is usually hosting a visit from someone who values her friendship. She extends community to whomever she can.

A special outing with Sydney Refugee Team

*names have been changed

Click here to learn more about Companion volunteers …