Yazidi refugees have marked their cultural New Year in the regional city that, for many, has become their Australian home.
Hundreds of the religious minority who escaped Islamic State across Syria and Iraq have now been resettled in Wagga Wagga, in NSW.
Wagga Wagga is home to 250 Yazidis, comprising of 45 families. They were resettled under the government’s special intake program of 12,000 additional refugees, announced by then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2015.
Wagga Wagga has welcomed more Yazidi people than anywhere else in Australia. Many arrived only months ago, including family friends Ameen Osman and Sarmad Hasan.
The young men fled with their families to Turkey in 2014, and arrived in Wagga Wagga in December 2015. This is the first Yazidi New Year that they have been able to celebrate in years.
“No, we were unable to celebrate before,” 19-year-old Ameen Osman told SBS News in Arabic.
“We went trough a tough life, really – death, wear, disaster,” added 21-year-old Sarmad Hasan.
“We lived in turkey for a long time, years. And finally we came here and we are so joyous.”
For years, the Yazidis were unable to publicly usher in their New Year, as fleeing IS forced many to live in fear. But now they are able to rejoice.
“It’s very nice because I lived two years in turkey and I didn’t celebrate like (at) this party, big party,” explained 21-year-old Wafra Hamka.
“To see people (and) to meet them, it’s very nice and beautiful.”
'Like magic': A second chance
Ms Hamka also came via a special humanitarian visa to Australia. She landed in Wagga Wagga in August 2016 and dreams of finishing her high school education so she can one day become a nurse.
“(Being in Australia), it’s like magic, you can’t believe it,” she told SBS News.
"It’s very nice, it’s very beautiful.”
The Yazidi New Year is marked on the first Wednesday following April 14, known as ‘Red Wednesday’. It commemorates the creation of Earth by angels and prophets.
Families from Sydney and Melbourne flew into Wagga Wagga today for the festivities, including mother-of-four Salwa Bashar, who has lived in Australia for 12 years and has since become a citizen.
Ms Bashar told SBS News that she will soon be moving from Sydney to Wagga Wagga to aid the transition process facing newly arrived Yazidi families.
“As a Yazidi I have to help to them, and I have to do my best to help my people,” she said.
“I am very proud to do what I can.”
Immigration minister Peter Dutton visited refugee camps in the Middle East in 2015 to personally hand some families their visas.
Today in Wagga Wagga, and flanked by his wife Kiralee, the minister paid tribute to the Yazidis, particularly the children, as he talked up the Government’s intake initiative.
“As a community here in Wagga, but as a country, we should be very proud of the fact that we have been able to help these people. We will be able to help more from the Yazidi population,” Mr Dutton told reporters.
Different, but similar
Wagga Wagga has also resettled hundreds of refugees from across Africa and Asia in the past 12 months.
Belinda Crain, from the city’s Multicultural Council, says regional cities provide many similarities to refugees’ past lives.
“I think it offers a different opportunity,” Ms Crain said. “A lot of people have been born in rural and regional areas, so I think Wagga is an ideal place for them.”
Mr Dutton added that while he is seen as “tough” on immigration, he aims to ensure that visas are granted to those who deserve it most.
But Mr Hasan says all Yazidi’s deserve a place in Australia, and he is desperate for them to join him.
“Wherever they are we hope they live in joy and find peace and the help they need,” he said.
The Yazidi people: who are they and why are they on the run?