Author: Ramsen Youkhanis
Storyteller: Moren Youkhanis
Community Language School: Assyrian Australian Association Language School
Main School: to be added
The story of how my parents fled Iraq.
From Iraq to Australia
My name is Ramsen Youkhanis and I was born on the 6th of January 1989. My parents tell me stories of persecution, discrimination, repression and denial of human rights, of the Christian by the Iraqi regime.
In 1989 a war erupted between Iraq and Iran which lasted for 8 years. During those 8 years our city was frequently shelled by the Iranians. A large number of civilians were killed and disabled. In January 1991 the Gulf war erupted following the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussain. I was a small kid at that time. The American and British war planes used to shell our city frequently.
During that time there was no food to eat and no water to drink. My father dug a small well in the backyard to get some water for drinking. However that water was not clean. My father being a specialist surgeon, he managed to get clean water from his hospital for our milk. While the normal people drank dirty water.
My parents tell me how we were very scared, and how we hid ourselves underneath the stairs during the American raids on our city.
The decision to flee
Because of the sufferings my parents had in Iraq, they decided to take us and flee Iraq. However, because my father was a Specialist Surgeon he was not allowed to travel around, he even did not have a passport. He managed to get a passport after paying large amount of money but he was told to leave Iraq within 3 days therefore he left everything; our house, furniture, our toys, his Surgery and he took us and escaped to Jordan by car. When we arrived in the custom's office at the border between Iraq and Jordan, My dad was very scared of being arrested there. If he was arrested there then they were going to take him to Baghdad and execute him.
We stayed in Jordan for 2 months.My parents paid a smuggler A$19,000 to take us to Austria so that we apply there as refugees to the United States. The smuggler took us to Istanbul in Turkey and left us there. We ran out of money and my mum had to sell her jewellery to pay our expenses. Our relatives in the United States helped us with money so that we could go to Greece. Another smuggler took us in a bus to Izmir which is located in the Aegean Sea. We arrived there at midnight. It was very scary with the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. The smuggler rushed us together with other people to a small boat. We were 26 persons. We sat in the boat and was very crowded. We were very scared and crying.
We arrived at Samos Island (a Greek island) about three in the morning. When we left the boat my parents told me that we went in the water and were about to drown. There after the Greek police arrested us and took us to the police station. Our clothes were all wet, we had no clothes because the driver of the boat threw all of our belongings in the sea. We stayed there until early morning and then they took us to a detention centre. We were detained there for 5 days. There after they put us in a big ship and took us to Athens. The journey lasted for 13 hours. In Athens they did our papers and released us. But where to go? We had no relatives or friends there.
We find a family member
When we were in Iraq one of my mother's girlfriends told us that she had a brother in Athens and she gave us his name and his phone number. When we were released from the security office in Athens, we didn't know where to go. Shortly after that we found 2 persons speaking our language (Assyrian). My dad went to them, and asked them about the brother of my mum's girlfriend. One of the guys said, "That's me". My father was very surprised and we were very happy. He told us, "I will take you to my place". While we were following him in a street going to his place we heard somebody shouting "Maria Maria Maria", Maria is my grandmother who was with us this entire trip with my grandfather and my uncle.
We realised that the lady shouting "Maria" was my grandmother's cousin. They took us to their home. We stayed there for 3 days then we rented a house and my dad started working again. We applied to the Australian embassy to be accepted as refuges at Australia. We stayed in Athens for 2 ½ years.
Arrival in Australia
We arrived in Australia in March 1995. We love Australia and it is a great country. It is the best country in the world and we thank Australia from the depth of our heart for accepting us to live in this beautiful country: God bless Australia.
Ramsen Youkhanis DOB 6/01/89 Assyrian Australian Association Assyrian School – Fairfield 2002