From Baghdad to Murray Bridge, Faris Al-Hilli finds comfort in the familiar
An Iraqi microbiology professor has shared his story at the 2023 All Culture Fest, part of Refugee Week.
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Every time Faris Al-Hilli looks at the rail bridge across the River Murray, he feels at home.
Where is home?
Not so long ago it was a suburb of Baghdad, in Iraq.
You might have found him in the library his father spent 30 years collecting, in his flower garden, or in the lecture theatres where he taught university students about microbiology.
Now, though, he’s certain.
His home is here in Australia, he told the audience at Sunday’s All Culture Fest in Murray Bridge.
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“I thank God and I thank the AMRC (Australian Migrant Resource Centre) – I owe them a great deal – for helping me to resettle here in Murray Bridge and finding me a job,” he said.
“I’m very glad and thankful to the Australian community and the people for embracing me here in this lovely country, this lovely, multicultural country.”
Adapting to life in a new country hasn’t always been easy for Mr Al-Hilli, his wife and their two children, who arrived as skilled migrants last year.
Mr Al-Hilli first found work at Costa Adelaide Mushrooms, at Monarto, before getting a job with Country Health Connect at Murray Bridge’s heated pool.
But a few familiar little touchstones help.
“Murray Bridge … really resembles my old neighbourhood,” he said.
“There used to be a river near my home and exactly the same bridge as the Murray Bridge, that was built by the British back in the 20s.
“So I almost felt home when I came here – it’s not like a foreign country.”
He planned to apply for permanent residency when he became eligible next year, he said.
Then he wanted to become a citizen “and live the rest of my life in this beautiful and wonderful country, among these lovely people”.
Mr Al-Hilli’s story is typical of the migrants and refugees – or “new neighbours”, as the council prefers to call them – who were celebrated at Sunday’s All Culture Fest in Murray Bridge.
The event formed part of Refugee Week, which this year has the theme “finding freedom”.
Acting council CEO Heather Barclay said it was important for community members to reflect on the ways in which they could help make Murray Bridge a more welcoming place for people who had found their freedom here.
It was also important to recognise the courage refugees showed in making their journeys, and the contributions they made to Australian communities when they got here.
“Every day, millions of people across the world embark upon dangerous journeys for the sole purpose of finding safety and freedom,” she said.
“Settling into a new environment … can provide the opportunity to live, to love and to dream.
“Let us show compassion and celebrate the resilience that makes up parts of our community.”
Murray Bridge has officially been a refugee-friendly city since 2003.
As well as Mr Al-Hilli’s story, Sunday’s festival included performances of Nigerian, Chinese and Italian music; dances from China and Kiribati; and cameos from a Murray Bridge High School band and the Murray Bridge Community Choir – see our photos below.
Ten local residents became Australian citizens as part of the event, too.
More information: www.refugeeweek.org.au.
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