In the cover of night, aged six, Sarah, her sister and mother, were whisked from their home and driven 12 hours in to Jordan. Once there, they went immediately to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to seek protection.
With their mother now the sole provider, Sarah took on the responsibilities of an adult, despite being just a child, to help her family get through the difficult time.
“I had a lot of responsibility when I was quite young,” Sarah said.
“I had to look after my sister from about the age of seven, and make sure she got home from school and that the home was ready. So it was difficult.”
After seven years in Jordan, Sarah’s family was granted a humanitarian visa to move to Australia in 2007. Although excited and relieved by the fresh start, Sarah found new challenges in Australia.
“My sister and I didn’t know at first why we were fleeing Iraq,” Ms Yahya said.
“For a long time we thought it was because of the war. We didn’t know that our religion was persecuted. Our parents protected us from that because they did not want other people to find out that we were Mandaean.”
“This was good in a way but it made problems in the future. When we came to Australia they explained our religion, it made us think we didn’t know who we were or what our identity was.”
While dealing with this revelation, Sarah also had to adjust to school in Australia.
“I was born hearing impaired but my parents didn’t find out until I was 11,” she said.
“It was complicated growing up. It was a surprise to come to Australia and at a general health check-up, I was told that I was a fair way behind an average Australian of the same age. So I had to catch up on English and on everything else at school.”
“Growing up was very complicated. I think people settling in Australia from another country may not realise the challenges – the mental health challenges. Looking back, I know that I had depression during that time but I did not know what it was until I was older.”
Sarah was one of the three youth speakers who shared her story at the “Speakers Series” at Ashfield. The event is called “The Strength of Youth: Young People and their Refugee Experiences” and was hosted by Settlement Services International.
Part 1 interview with Sarah Yahya: