“I am always moving forward”

Khaled is a father, an engineer, a graduate from RMIT University who finished with first class honours and a scholarship to write his PhD, a soccer coach, a bit of a rev-head, an Australian, an Iraqi and a person who came by boat.  

Home in Iraq

Khaled grew up with his family in Basra - a city in Iraq’s south between Kuwait and Iran. Khaled was twelve when the Saddam Hussein regime invaded Kuwait, followed by a massive US-led military campaign, which obliterated hundreds of thousands of lives and forced more from their homes. Khaled’s dad rescued refugees where he could and was promptly imprisoned for it.

Months later he was released, blacklisted, into the community. Not allowed to work and living in a police state where “a brother could not trust his brother” they feared persecution. His dad decided to sell a block of land so Khaled could be smuggled out of the country.

Escape

In 1998, Khaled was smuggled to Jordan - on his own.  From there he was told to fly to Malaysia since Iraqis did not need a visa. Still, upon arrival, Malaysian authorities took an arbitrary $500 from him before they let him leave the airport. From there, he flew again to Indonesia, now with hope to be reunited with his uncle in Australia.

Khaled’s uncle too escaped Iraq after being imprisoned for his beliefs that opposed the regime. His uncle had built a life in Melbourne as a successful writer, and who’s son would also become a popular writer, actor and stand-up comedian. (You may know him as the co-creator of the comedy web series ‘Two Refugees & a Blonde’.)

Not only was his family in Australia, but also Indonesia and Malaysia would not grant refugee status, as they are not signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. From Jakarta, Khaled boarded a fishing boat with three hundred and fifty other people. After the first attempt, which almost sunk the makeshift vessel, bribes handed over to corrupt Indonesian officials set them on a route past Surabaya and towards Australia.

Days later, the boat came in sight of an Australian border force vessel. The smugglers used sand to cut the engine, compelling the Australian officials to tow the boat to the nearest port – Darwin.

Everyone was flown to Curtin, Western Australia and placed in detention. Indefinitely. With no communication to the outside world, Khaled did all that he could – he waited.

Anew

Six months later, in June 2000, Khaled was granted a temporary protection visa. He moved to be with his family in Melbourne and immediately enrolled in an English course. After four months he achieved a certificate IV and then saved up by working on a farm in Shepparton. Finally with some money under his belt, he bought a car and rented a place in Melbourne.

Since he was not a permanent resident, Khaled was unable to HECS any university student fees and therefore unable to attend university. So he enrolled in a diploma of computer systems at TAFE.

In 2003, the Saddam Hussein regime fell and marked the start of years of conflict between different groups battling for power. Subsequent, Khaled was interviewed by the Australian Department of Immigration and granted permanent residency.

He enrolled in RMIT University and graduated with a 3.9 (out of 4) GPA and first class honours in a Bachelor of Communication Engineering. Khaled’s son was now 3.

Despite graduating with so many accolades, he could not find work and initially worked as a taxi driver. Eventually he was employed part-time at a research and development engineering firm. He received a scholarship to study a PhD in fibreoptic systems but refused for responsibilities to his family. 

Khaled is now a senior IP/network engineer. He is incredibly passionate about furthering his education and is always looking for ways to learn. What's next? Anything.

“I am always moving forward.”

By Talia Smith