West Sydney Centre Of Mid East Exodus

06/10/2015 5:15 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

Video by Tom Compagnoni

More than 20 pairs of eyes dart to the door when it opens and fixate on the slight balding man peeking his head out.

He looks around the brightly lit lobby – lined on all sides with people clutching folders full of documents.

Before he takes a step out of the doorway a woman, looking to be in her late 20s and with tears standing in her eyes, speaks to him in hushed, but rapid-fire, tones.

He soothes her with his hands and quiet words and, looking apologetic, quickly ushers someone else, their documents in hand, behind the door and into a warren of offices.

The woman crushes her documents to her chest, sighs and with shoulders slightly slumped resumes looking at the floor, ready -- like everyone else in the room -- for the door to open again.

Recently, moments like this became typical at the Assyrian Resource Centre, in the western Sydney suburb of Fairfield.

Over the past two weeks has seen more than 6000 people looking for help to arrange for their loved ones -- mostly refugees from Syria and Iraq -- to come to Australia

The weeks of rush at the ARC was sparked by the Federal Government’s announcement Australia would take 12,000 refugees in response to the crisis in Europe.

“It was exciting news when we heard that the 12,000 was announced by the former prime minister,” ARC manager, and the organisation’s only employee, Carmen Lazar told The Huffington Post Australia.

carmen lazar

Assyrian Resource Centre Manager Carmen Lazar... Picture: HuffPost Australia

“Thanks to the Australian government, who are lending a hand -- as they do always -- but locating 12,000 refugees is a massive thing for us. And we’re excited.”

After meeting with Tony Abbott, other community leaders and refugee specialists, Lazar took to community airwaves, Facebook and the mainstream media to reach out to the tight knit Assyrian Community.

“Since then we’ve been overwhelmed by responses coming through our office,” she said.

The ARC assists and helps newly arrived and vulnerable people by linking them with mainstream services -- to government bodies such as legal aid and trauma specialists.

The 35-year-old centre, which runs on a $100,000 grant and is staffed by Lazar and a team of dedicated volunteers, is also helping relatives of refugees ensure their documents are correct and in order so they can be located by the Australian government and, maybe, be brought to Australia.

Assyrian’s are Christians indigenous to the middle east. While most of her clients are from Syria and Iraq, Lazar and the ARC do not discriminate and are also helping the families of other persecuted minorities.

“Before the incidents that happened recently, back in Iraq and Syria, all our neighbours were in different religions and we were like one family,” she said.

“We would play with their kids, the parents would go out together. Fantastic people. We’re all human beings. We’re all children of God.”

Extensive church and family networks are so far keeping many Assyrian refugees out of the camps, said Assyrian Australian Association President Nabel Karrim.

As well as the humanitarian argument and the strong community bond, he sees it as smart economics to bring the fleeing refugees to Australia.

“One of the points was raised with the government was that most of our people are not living in refugee camps, simply because their relatives and immediate family here are supporting them,” he said.

“It means a lot of hard currency is going out of (Australia) for them so they can survive and live there, in this transition time while they wait and see what’s happening.”

He said the 12,000 refugees -- the first 500 of whom could arrive as early as Christmas -- will have ther same level of support when they come to Australia.

“That is one of the things that will continue when they come to Australia. They will try as possible to support them to settle in Australia, and get them to fit in the system and start as Australian citizens,” he said.

“They are so desperate to make sure that their relatives and cousins and people are safe by bringing them to a safe country that can establish and start their life.”

It’s a life Raneen Dawad wants for his three friends, who are stuck in Turkey after fleeing Iraq.

Standing next to the staff door to the ARC's inner offices, Dawad told HuffPost Australia the three women he is trying to help have already been approved as refugees and have spent a year waiting for an interview with the Australian government.

“I came here and they told me they would help me and find out what’s wrong, what’s going on and why all that waiting,” he said.

It’s his fifth visit to the ARC and he says he is thankful for the service.

“They are doing huge help for people, otherwise they don’t have any place to go,” he said.

“They are speaking on behalf of people.”


Raneen Dawad at the ARC in the hope he can get help for his three friends in Turkey Picture: HuffPost Australia

Lazar told The Huffington Post about some of her clients and the routine atrocities meted out to them.

One client recently came to the ARC in mourning, seeking help for her family trapped overseas.

“Her late sister-in-law was raped and was killed in front of her own husband,” she said, adding her murder also left her two young children without a mother.

”And the story goes on,” she said.

Helping people manage the trauma of their experience is part of the ARC’s work too, and they refer clients to STARTTS – The NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors.

For the past 25 years, STARTTS has been providing psychological treatments and support to help people heal the damage done by torture and refugee trauma while they rebuild thier lives in Australia.

STARTTS also runs activities for young children as well as school based programs to help children readjust from trauma.

"We usually call it the bio-psycho-social approach, where we look at the impact of trauma on the biology of people, on their psychology, but also in terms of their social connections," said CEO Jorge Aroche.

The organisation often deals with people who have come in from “a very raw situation” where they have been in survival mode for a long time, he said.

“When they come to Australia it may be the first time they can deal with the losses, come to face those losses and experience some of the anger and grief associated with it,” he said.

“So usually it’s a stage where we see a lot of turmoil, particularly with people who are brought directly from a conflict region. “

Of Australia's regular humanitarian intake of 13,750, about 4400 have come from Iraq and Syria, he said, and most of them have settled in NSW and live close to the eight STARTTS branches in the state.

"Many of our interventions are actually geared towards building partnerships with communities to try and support them in their efforts to support people joining that community," Aroche said.

"The support of a community is essential."


A group of people wait to speak to volunteers at the Assyrian Resource Centre in Fairfield on Wednesday, Sept 30 Picture: HuffPost Australia

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