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Amel's unstoppable drive to succeed

When Amel left her home country, aged just 19 and fearing for her life, she had just $50 and no idea what the future held.

Monday July 24, 2017

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Getting into Uni was a remarkable point in my life as I proved to myself I can do anything I put my mind to.

She only knew there was no future for her in her war-torn home country.

Today, she's overcome unimaginable barriers to work as a lawyer in Melbourne. She continues to donate her time and expertise to help others including volunteering for Australian Red Cross to help others who struggle after arriving in their new country.

It's a far cry from 1994 when Amel made the heartbreaking decision to leave her beloved parents, a sister and two brothers in northern Iraq. She says it was a decision the family arrived at together, knowing the siblings had no future as members of a persecuted minority group in an area targeted by numerous governments and groups since the mid 1970s.

Amel, and a brother and sister fled to Jordan where they lived in dangerous and uncertain circumstances, while they awaited an outcome of their visa application to Australia. While they waited, they worked in numerous jobs including in clothing and biscuit factories, where employers exploited their expired permits by refusing to pay their wages on time, in full and sometimes not at all.

After 18 tense months came joyous news: they were free to travel to Australia, and arrived here on Christmas morning, 1995.

"The time of our arrival was an emotional one," Amel recalls. "It was a time of great excitement and joy that we finally had a chance to start a life and a future in a peaceful country that respects human rights.

"But at the same time we also had feelings of fear and sadness; fear of the unknown about our future home country Australia, and sadness that we had moved more far away from Iraq while leaving behind our loved ones."

They set about finding a place to live, work and eventually study. Amel was astonished at how difficult it was finding work. She planned to do simple jobs such as cleaning or factory work, only to receive numerous knock-backs on the pretext that she had no experience.

Undeterred, Amel searched for two years for a job, while studying a Certificate ll in Hospitality and studying English. Eventually she secured a part-time position as a room attendant in a hotel.

"I was very happy to get that job. I worked very hard and this opened up the first door to my dream!"

Amel's hard work continued. She enrolled in Year 12, doing extra hours of reading and writing to catch up on English, and gained a score high enough to enter Melbourne University.

"This was a remarkable point in my life as I proved to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to," she says.

Amel went on to complete degrees in Arts and Law, picking up a Dean's Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement. At the same time she volunteered in a number of community legal centres.

"My studies and the volunteering work were helpful in presenting my skills to prospective employers. I was able to find my first paid job in the legal services as a paralegal within four months of my graduation. I cannot deny that I sent a lot of applications to various employers, but my determination and not giving up on my dream paid off at the end."

She subsequently completed a post-graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at the College of Law, and was finally admitted into legal practice.

Amel currently works as a lawyer and is continuing her volunteer work, both in a community legal centre and with Red Cross.

"The best part about living in Australia is that it is a country where a person can live with dignity, enjoy his or her human rights, and have the freedom to make choices in life," she says.

"The hardest part is the pain of living in a safe country when I still have a family living in a very dangerous part of the world, and I can do nothing to change the situation. The fact that we have not been able to reunite with the rest of the family remains a source of ongoing pain."

Amel says she's happy to share her own story to inspire others who are seeking a better future, to "work on that and work very hard for it. Do not let anything distract you from your goal, and believe in yourself and your abilities."

Red Cross manager, Refugee Support Programs Jennie Bunney says Amel's story reflects the incredible resilience of newcomers to Australia and the great value they bring to our society.

"Although many refugees and asylum seekers face extreme hardship when they arrive and may not have access to basic needs as such housing and medical care, most people flourish and do well in society with some initial support. We work with people living in the community to ensure their needs are met, regardless of how they arrived in Australia, because everyone deserves the right to dignity and respect," she says.

Asylum seekers can face extreme hardship and uncertainty about the future. Red Cross works to provide support and opportunities for asylum seekers while they resolve their immigration status.

For more on our work with refugees and asylum seekers visit

Amel's overcome countless obstacles and now works as a lawyer and volunteers for Red Cross
Amel's overcome countless obstacles and now works as a lawyer and volunteers for Red Cross