Meet the Syrian Refugee Breaking Stigmas and Boundaries One Day at a Time

Nicole Singh
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“There is a general feeling that we are uneducated, underqualified, and unprofessional. I want people to know that we are smart, educated and we want so badly to work hard and earn a good life.” says Norta Barchin, a Syrian refugee who moved to Australia just over a year ago and has since forged a successful and whole life for herself—but not without the boundaries and very real stigmas that refugees face on a daily basis.

With all the happenings both locally and overseas at the moment, World Refugee Week is a perfect moment for us to shine a light on the individual stories of refugees and the gaps within the system that make it hard for them to thrive.

Aside from these obvious barriers that come with immigrating to a new country, thankfully there are organisations and companies partnering together to help bridge these obstacles. Upon arrival, Barchin was connected with Settlement Services Australia (SSI), and through that was places in the Allianz Ladder Program—an initiative dedicated to helping refugees gain careers by providing mentorship, training and advice. Barchin is now a case manager in the worker’s compensation team for Allianz. Read on to learn more about her inspiring story. 

What was life like in Syria before you immigrated to Australia?

Life was hard, in terms of gaining employment, study and going about normal activities. It was also dangerous, as there were random shells and rockets landing even on the campuses, streets, and houses. I remember on the morning of my graduation day, the shells were falling suddenly and public transport stopped for couple of hours, meaning we had to walk in the open.

Looking back, life was really unstable. You might be casually hanging out with friends and suddenly it would become dangerous with the bombings. We’d need to take cover and then after 10 minutes everything would go back to normal and everyone would just continue on with their day. There was a sense that we were trying to live as normal life as possible. There was often danger and horror in the morning and fun and joy in the evening.

What was the process of coming to Australia like?

It was a long process. We filled out forms about our personal details. After that, we had to wait to be given the interview date with the Australian Embassy, which was about one-and-a-half years. After the interview we waited for three months to get the visa. When we were finally accepted, we needed to book and pay for the tickets to Australia.

Before I came to Australia I was extremely anxious because I didn’t know how the process worked. What would happen when I first arrived? Where would we live? Where would I work? Starting from scratch was a really daunting experience for me. But thankfully, Settlement Services Australia really helped to ease my anxieties as they met us at the airport and provided temporary accommodation while we got our ID and bank accounts organised. My husband had a very different experience from me in terms of his feelings around moving here. He was not anxious at all and was extremely happy and excited to be offered the chance to live here.

What was your experience like when you first moved to Australia?

Before I arrived, I registered with the SSI who helped me find a job and a place to live. They eased my anxieties about starting again. SSI were key in putting me forward for the job at Allianz and for that I am really grateful! Working full time has allowed me to have a steady life that I craved in Syria.

Why are organisations like SSI so important? What are some services they provide to refugees?

I found it really difficult to gain employment independently when I first arrived. I feel there is a stigma attached to the word “refugee” with the perception being that we are unqualified and unprofessional, which is just not the case! SSI was key to me gaining employment with open-minded employers like Allianz which has just been the best thing for me. 

What are some of the biggest improvements to your life since you’ve been in Australia?

Since moving, my life became safer and more stable. I am able to travel to work and not worry about being kidnapped or bombed. We have a great life here and we are really happy!

Inspired? Head to Settlement Services International to see how you can help them support refugees. 

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