Ghida Youkhana has found hope

Ghida Youkhana and her mother Ashmony Shamoon fled war-torn Iraq in 2007 when years of living with the threat of violence became too much.
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The pair initially travelled to Syria, where they lived for two years while they applied for humanitarian visas to Australia.

“We had two options, America or Australia,” Ghida says. “We chose Australia because it is a better country; we felt that it was safer than the United States.”

Ghida, now 50, and 82-year-old Ashmony arrived in Australia in 2009 and settled in Lalor.

September 17 was Australian Citizenship Day and mother and daughter became Australian citizens at a ceremony in South Morang.

The ceremony was the nation’s largest on Australian Citizenship Day, with 500 people taking the pledge.

For Ghida, living in Lalor is a different world from her native Nineveh in northern Iraq.

The Nineveh region is still unstable, with 21 people killed in a suicide bomb attack just last week.

“It is not a place where you can fulfil your dreams,” Ghida says.

She had finished a commerce degree and then a hairdresser traineeship in Iraq, and worked as a hairdresser for five years before she left the country.

Safety is not the only issue that plagues Iraqis, she says.

Another key issue is fewer opportunities for employment. Now Ghida is undertaking a teaching course at the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE.

“Here I have many friends of different nationalities – they speak Spanish, Italian and Arabic,’’ she says.

Ghida says she also enjoys living in Lalor, “a beautiful suburb” where “people are very nice”.

Although Ashmony can’t speak English well, Ghida says it is comforting that her mother can spend time with Iraqi friends from the community and attend their church.

But Ghida and Ashmony still face challenges living as Iraqi immigrants in Australia.

Ghida’s younger sister has been trying to get a visa to come to Australia, but she has found the migration process difficult and lengthy.

“The laws are very strict and she has been trying for a long time,” Ghida says.

There is also a brother in Germany who has been unable to obtain a tourist visa to visit his mother and sister in Australia.

That has meant Ghida and Ashmony have to visit him, which Ghida says is taking its toll on her ageing mother.

“She has difficulty walking and it is hard for her to travel,” she says.

But Ghida says they are very happy to be living in Australia.

They finally have opportunities they have never had before.

But most importantly, she says, they feel safe here.

We’re home: Ashmony Shamoon and Ghida Youkhana at the citizenship ceremony. Picture: Cathy Jackson

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