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Iraqi family's heartache as 10-year fight for asylum is blocked at Australia's border

Iraqi petroleum engineer Amer (inset) arrived in Australia in 2019. His family is still waiting. Source: Supplied/Getty

Australia's international border closed just five days before one family was set to arrive as refugees, after fleeing wars in Iraq and Syria.

In 2014, Amer* was working for the Iraqi ministry of petroleum, a job that saw him travel to a number of oil fields.

But tragedy would strike in that year when the oil field he was working on was attacked by IS militants, who launched a campaign of terror across the country the year before.

In his job as a petroleum engineer, Amer was permitted to work onsite for two weeks, and offsite for the following two weeks.

Luckily, he was offsite when IS attacked the Hamrin Oil Field, and he managed to survive "certain death". 

Oil Plant Iraq
Hamrin Oil Field where Amer was working as a petroleum engineer was overrun in 2014.

Fate decreed I was offsite when they attacked our oil field. My colleagues were killed during the attack.

"IS was able to acquire all the data available onsite, including the names and identities of the workers there.

"They threatened me, so I had to leave Iraq."

Shortly after, Amer made for Turkey, where his mother and two brothers had been since 2005.

In Turkey, he learned of a special program offered by the Australian government which accepted 500 refugees annually.

The applicants accepted as part of this intake were sponsored by an Australian humanitarian organisation, but a condition for sponsorship was for the refugee to be responsible for their expenses after arriving. 

Amer was accepted as part of the intake with the help of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, and he paid $45,000 to acquire the visa, which depleted the savings he had gathered over the previous nine years.

Amer arrived in Australia in 2019, but his family was left behind in Turkey.

Blocked by the pandemic

In 2005, Amer’s mother and two brothers fled Iraq for Syria, where they lived for five years.

When war broke out in Syria in 2011, they were on the move again, this time to Turkey, where they reunited with Amer and applied for asylum through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Australia was recommended as their new host country in 2015, but It wasn’t until 2019 that they were able to meet with a government official, Amer said. 

Ammar mother
The family "waiting for the unknown" in Turkey.

In February 2020, the family was granted asylum status in Australia, but they would face yet another hurdle due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their travel date of March 24, which was set by the International Organization for Migration, was five days after the country closed its international borders as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Their tickets were cancelled as a result and they have been stuck in Turkey ever since, waiting for Australia to reopen its borders.

Amer said his family sold everything ahead of their move and even booked a car to take them to the airport.

The situation has been made "more difficult”, he said, after the Turkish government stopped medical aid for refugees.

The catastrophe is that the Turkish government stopped medical aid to refugees since the beginning of 2020

“My mother suffers from chronic health problems and a visit to a specialist could cost up to $400.

"I paid every last dime for the visa and sponsorship."

'What's their fault?'

Despite the anguish of separation, Amer said he was "happy and optimistic" to begin his new life in the "land of opportunity" in 2019, but he knew he had to start from scratch.

He was able to certify that his degree from the University of Baghdad was equivalent to a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering in Australia.

Despite his certification, finding work in his field has proven to be an insurmountable challenge.

He joined several training programs and worked with a local council's maintenance department on a six-month contract, but it wasn't renewed. 

He said he's eager to study again and continue towards a master's degree in his field and perhaps then a PhD.

But his priorities have been set for him by the "challenges of living in Australia".

He said he must find work to secure himself and still be able to support his mother and brothers in Turkey.

"Living expenses in Australia are so high and I have to support my mother and brothers who await the unknown in Turkey. I tried to get an exemption to speed up their arrival three times. It's failed every time."

He's been working as an Uber driver to make ends meet.

"I work as an Uber driver at the moment and the flexible hours allow me to apply for other jobs and perhaps pursue some studying opportunities."

Amer is pleading with the Australian government to look into the humanitarian cases of stranded refugees desperate to come here.

"I hope Australia will see my family's case and other refugees like us who were already accepted to come to Australia before the coronavirus and ask, 'what's their fault?'"

In May, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told SBS News Australia's international borders are unlikely to reopen until 2022.

SBS Arabic24 has contacted the Department of Home Affairs for comment. 

*Not their real name

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