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These Iraqi parents are struggling with the citizenship exam, while their son got naturalised automatically

The Chalabi family arrived in Australia from Iraq in 2016. Source: Supplied/AAP

Iraqi parents Omar and Sahar say they are struggling to pass Australia's citizenship test. Their son, however, obtained citizenship automatically from birth.

The Chalabi family arrived in Australia from Iraq on humanitarian visas in early 2016. 

After settling in Sydney, the refugee family of four grew by one when parents Omar and Sahar had their third child, Adam. 

As the parents received permanent residency upon settlement, Adam was eligible for Australian citizenship automatically.  

But unlike their son, the parents have been unable to secure citizenship due to their lack of English language proficiency. They attempted the test a few months ago and failed.

Australia's citizenship test is only conducted in English, and applicants are required to show a "basic knowledge of the English language". 

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As part of the citizenship requirements, people aged 60 years or older are exempt from sitting the test, but as the parents are aged in their 50s, Omar and his wife are years away from being exempted. 

Exemptions are also made for people who suffer from a substantial impairment or loss of hearing, speech, or sight, or those who can provide specialist medical evidence of a permanent or enduring physical or mental incapacity.

The family is calling for the exemption age to be lowered from 60 to 50. 

“There is not much difference if you are 50, or 55, or 60,” their daughter Aisha laments. 

"They know Englishbut are like 25 per cent [proficient].” 

Aisha says her parents have found it extremely difficult to learn English to the point where they can take the test on their own, despite being able to successfully study in Arabic.

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She believes the English used in the test is “not very basic”. 

“When they read the citizenship test, it is hard for them, because it discusses things like the country’s system,” she said. 

“But they know the answers, if I translated it into Arabic, they quickly answer, but in English, the words are difficult for them.” 

Their oldest son Ali, 15, has a congenital heart defect that requires a great deal of care and weekly check-ups at Westmead Hospital. 

“They know enough English to go with my brother every week to the hospital,” Aisha said. 

“Sometimes they could face challenges because of their English level, but it's enough to get by.”

Ali has undergone two open-heart surgeries.
Ali has undergone two open-heart surgeries.

Aisha said her parents’ concern increased when their newborn son became a citizen.

“They want to stay here for the rest of their lives, my brother has his treatment, we study, my other brother is in school, our youngest will soon go to Kindergarten,” Aisha said. 

“I really love Australia, I am studying nursing at Western Sydney University, and I am an ambassador student. 

“For my parents, having citizenship will mean complete comfort for them, that they have settled here in Australia, and they belong to the country, and they can finally rest.”

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