Immigration

Syrian refugees celebrate first Australian Christmas

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A Syrian refugee family in Victoria have celebrated their first Christmas in their new - and safe - home, but their thoughts are never far from what they left behind.

Christmas can stir a range of conflicting emotions - and few feel it more than recently arrived refugees.

For many it's a time to be thankful and appreciative - but reflecting on impoverished and sometimes war-torn homelands can be painful.

With nimble fingers and a broad smile little Elias Pito, 8, unwrapped Christmas presents, but the smiles worn by parents Hayam and Hani were even wider, because now they are all safe.

The Christian Syrian refugees arrived in Australia five months ago, escaping an unimaginable predicament in the city of Hassaka.

"You can't go outside your house because you don't know if you are going to go back," Hani Pito told SBS News.

"These feelings are very bad."

The couple said it was heart-wrenching escaping the village and home and community they loved, but the most pressing concern was always the family's safety and future.

"The most important thing I was thinking about is Elias," Hayam Khawam said.

They said since the war began in 2011 life in Hassaka descended from a free society to one of ever-present concern over Islamist militias, which made a range of demands including women's dress.

"For them I'm guilty if I'm doing something like this so I'm have to wear just like them and to think also just like them and if I did not they would throw stanes on me," Hayam said.

But the final straw was when Hani was shot in 2013 - the doctor declaring it a miracle he wasn't killed or severely injured.

It began a long journey to Australia through countless towns and via Lebanon, but on this first Christmas in Australia the family says they have finally found a safe and happy home.

"We would like from the beginning, I said to my brother, if there is somebody I have to go and thank him for this decision that they took us," Hani said.

But over a Christmas meal with other family and friends in Melbourne's Syrian community thoughts are never far from their homeland and those who forced their hand.

"I think they destroyed our past and destroyed our future," Hani said.

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