February 09, 2017
Since October last year, Shepparton has been a safe haven to 13 new Syrian refugee families.
The Kebbeh family arrived just a few months ago and shared one amazing story, like 200 others will when they arrive in Shepparton by next year.
Maher owned a shoe factory with his brothers, employing more than 30 people, and Ghalia had just finished her Year 9 studies.
‘‘Ghalia loved me first and slowly, slowly I fell in love with her as well,’’ Maher Kebbeh, 40, said through a translator.
The couple from Aleppo, Syria, married inside a huge hall with more than 300 guests.
Within two years the couple had their first child, Fatema.
‘‘When we got married we wanted a baby straight away and if the war never came to Syria we might’ve had 12 or 15 children,’’ Mr Kebbeh laughed.
From there Ahmad, Esraa and Mahmoud were born.
While dangerous, the family attempted to live life as usual until the violence escalated.
Mr Kebbeh’s two brothers left Syria for a better life in Turkey in 2012.
‘‘Sleeping at night during the war was so scary. The kids were scared, and there was continuous gunfire at night,’’ Mr Kebbeh said.
‘‘We hid in a bunker underneath our house and the kids didn’t go to school for two years.’’
The tough decision was made to leave the city to escape the fighting.
‘‘We left all our belongings behind and just brought a small bag and the clothes on our back,’’ Mr Kebbeh said.
‘‘We owned two houses, the factory, two cars and left it all.’’
Taking what cash they had, the family moved from district to district, through dangerous areas and guarded checkpoints.
‘‘Everyone had guns and we weren’t sure if we’d survive or be killed,’’ Mr Kebbeh said.
‘‘We walked everywhere and hid behind building whilst the fighting went on and people threw bombs.’’
The Kebbehs were left with little choice but to leave the only country they’d ever known.
‘‘It was so sad to leave Syria,’’ Mr Kebbeh said. ‘‘All my life I’d lived there. It was my country.’’
Ghalia’s and Maher’s families were all in Bursa, Turkey, and they lived there for nearly four years before getting in touch with the UN Refugee Agency.
More than a year after registering, the family made the journey to Australia.
Luckily two of Ghalia’s five siblings were also granted approval and they arrived in Shepparton at the end of November last year.
Slowly and steadily they are becoming more and more comfortable with their new life. It was made easier thanks to a helpful neighbour they met on their second day. ‘‘My neighbour across the fence was speaking Arabic and it turned out he was from Syria as well,’’ Mr Kebbeh said.
‘‘We were so happy we were hugging each other.’’
With the help of Kildonan UnitingCare, the family will begin to learn English, with the kids having already started school locally.
‘‘We’re so thankful the kids are in school and thankful we are now safe,’’ Mr Kebbeh said.
‘‘Our plan from here is to learn English, then apply for a visa to bring our extended family across, before we open a business. Most likely a shoe business. Or maybe a supermarket.’’