Sisters of Charity Foundation Australia

Berala house welcomes Syrian family seeking asylum

After a treacherous journey, Manar and her family found peace in a home once belonging to the Sisters of Charity of Australia Congregation.

“Someone offered us, ‘You can go to Australia, and live and get your kids in peace’, so we said yes,” explains Manar*, a mother of five who is seeking asylum for her family. They were shown pictures of big boats the size of the Titanic to convince them, then forced to hand over a lot of money to secure their passage from Syria.

“We are shocked it’s a small boat, maybe 10 metres,” recalls Manar. “When you spend four days in water you see up sky, down the ocean and small boat. No safety, nothing, we are each one sitting on each other, four days we don’t know if we are living, we will be alive.

“Always I pray, ‘please God make my kids be alive’, because no food, no water, nothing. Kids keep vomiting, vomiting, yellow stuff coming from their tummy.”

Syrian family seeking asylum

Manar was terrified for her children during the journey to Australia.

Starting again in Sydney

The family arrived to Christmas Island where they spent the next months. Manar says she “cannot explain how bad it was inside”.

Finally they came to live in Sydney, receiving help from organisations like the Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown.

“Everything from zero, we don’t have clothes, we don’t have furniture, everything from zero we start to build,” describes Manar. “We are happy, we are not allowed to work but kids are studying.”

A home with history

The Foundation is so grateful to the Sisters for their gift of an ex-Congregational house in Berala, which is now being used to house families seeking asylum.

Syrian family seeking asylum

The house at Berala was home to up to six Sisters of Charity at any one time.

The Sisters of Charity lived at the Berala house from 1999 until 2017, ministering in nearby St Joseph’s Hospital and local schools around Auburn. 

“For several years it was a gathering place for up to 20 Sisters who came together every two months or so to pray and reflect and share their faith,” explains Sisters of Charity of Australia Congregational Leader Laureen Dixon rsc.

“We are so pleased that this suburban house, which was for us a physical and spiritual home, is now able to offer stability and assurance to those seeking refuge.”

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to undertake various upgrades and maintenance to ready the house for occupation once more.

Syrian family seeking asylum

The loungeroom with the Sisters' classic furniture.

Sanctuary in the suburbs

Manar’s family of seven moved into the house last July. The two-story home has lots of space for a big family, with a welcoming front garden and backyard to play in.

“You say, ‘please God help me’ and you receive something. He answers your question and sends this house,” she says. “We move in and we are enjoying life inside. It’s a big house, more privacy.

“With this step we are able to save money to help my family. Even now I’m able to get a few things for my kids I’m not able to before because my cash was limited.”

Manar is particularly concerned about saving money so her eldest daughter can go to university. The intelligent and hardworking 17 year old has already received pre-entry into uni, wanting to study medicine. However, as an asylum seeker, she is ineligible for a HECS-HELP loan, and would have to pay upfront. If Manar can’t find a solution they’ll look at TAFE courses as an alternative.

Stability to plan for the future

Life has settled into a rhythm since the family moved in. The older kids are enrolled at local schools, and the family is enjoying going to the park and playing football.

Syrian family seeking asylum

Manar's kids have settled in and are enjoying the local parks.

“As a mum when I see my kids happy – I don’t want anything else in my life, just to make kids happy, and that is what happened when I moved to here,” she says.

Living at Berala allows Manar and her husband to focus on improving their outlook with the help of ASC caseworkers, who will support them as they navigate visa issues, adult education options and employment.

Manar has plans to study and find a job to help her family as soon as she is able. Until then her greatest wish is clear: “I need time for my kids to grow up, in peace.”

About the Asylum Seekers Housing Program

More than 70% of asylum seekers receive no government support, leaving them at risk of homelessness. In 2014 the Foundation joined with the Asylum Seekers Centre to provide safe accommodation and welfare services to dozens of displaced people every year.

Learn more about our Asylum Seekers Housing Program.

*Name has been changed for safety reasons.

 

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