It is a word that brought with it uncertainty, fear, but most importantly, hope.
The hope of prosperity, safety, education, employment, freedom and of humanity — here people can live free from prosecution and persecution.
This narrative starts with the appointment of Saddam Hussain as Iraq’s Prime Minister, which resulted in the country’s plummet into dictatorship and ruin.
Hussain engrained fear in everyone’s hearts and his spiteful spies sought to eliminate anyone who appeared to be against his government.
People were jailed and sometimes they would be ‘forgotten’, made to live on patience and faith in the future, for dubious reasons.
They would face daily vicious torture inflicted by Hussain’s police and some people received the ultimate punishment of death.
My parents heard of and even saw people of the neighbourhood forcibly taken.
Struggling to hold onto the feeling of safety, they came to see Iraq materialise into a penal country.
With that, freedom became an illusion, and fighting for it only took them further away from it. Iraq was under siege as well as at war.
Not only were men, women and children confronted with the horrors of daily life, but even human necessities of water, food, clothing and shelter became scarce.
They continued to be confronted with a struggling nation that provided bad health services, roads and generally poor quality of life.
Schools and education became largely underfunded, to the extent where a teacher working full time would only be paid $3 a month.
Many students were forced to discontinue schooling.
Ignorance spread and its effect still consumes the entire society today.
This is how my parents’ homeland was taken away from them.
They became foreigners in the country they once so lovingly called home.
From Iraq, my parents fled to Syria, then to Malaysia, then to Indonesia, where they boarded a boat to Australia.
Although the boat was designed to carry about 25 people, my parents’ boat had 50 people and still they were lucky, other boats had more than 250 people.
It was a six-day journey where the boat broke twice; the first time due to engine problems, the second time a problem with leakage.
In both incidents, my parents, along with the other refugees, were left stranded amid vast seas. Eventually they reached a small island in Western Australia.
To their dismay, the island had dimensions of about 1km and was completely desolate except for seven graves.
Two days later, they were found and taken to South Australia to the Woomera detention centre, which, according to my parents, was inhumane.
The conditions were so horrendous incidents of self-harm became commonplace and some people lost enough hope to commit suicide.
After my parents were there for around five months, people started to riot and this sparked ongoing public protests of accusations of human rights abuse and capacity issues.
Change finally started to happen and my parents, with hundreds of other people, were moved out of the Woomera detention centre and came to Cobram.
This was when they started to truly rebuild their lives.
My parents were able to do what is most important to so many refugees — they gave me and my siblings a home with the security and safety they themselves never had.
Even though this narrative started about 40 years ago, it has not yet ended.
War, poverty and corruption remain entrenched in Iraq with many Iraqis still seeking refuge in other safer countries today for the same reasons as my parents.
Thus it is vital we understand helping refugees is not just about them, but it is also about us: what we, living in far greater comfort, represent and how we see our place in the world.
It is a test of our character, not just our policies.
And, in passing the test, we save ourselves and our moral principles as well as the refugees and their lives.
I am in Year 12, my final year of secondary education at Cobram Secondary College.
I am proudly representing the college as school captain.
I thoroughly enjoy science, and this field presents many opportunities and I plan to pursue the field of medicine.
I not only want to be part of the medical field and be involved in the continuous innovations of science to help people live a better life, I also want to be a humanitarian and seek to promote human welfare.
I aim to one day help people living in third-world countries live a safer and more secure life.
I also enjoy reading and admire the power of words, not just as a form of entertainment but as a form of education, and I hope to influence others through my own writings someday.