Dalal Sleiman has been named one of the Refugee Council of Australia’s 2017 Refugee Week ambassadors. Last week, the Roxburgh Park resident spoke at Hume council’s Refugee Week expo, sharing her experience of arriving in Australia as a refugee 25 years ago.

When did you come to Australia?

I came to Australia from Iraq in 1992. I was 22 years old. I came with my parents and siblings.

Why did your family leave Iraq?

It was because of the war – the first Gulf War. We fled Iraq, afraid of the chemical weapons. It wasn’t easy.

We had to walk through the mountains for three days and two nights to get to the border with Turkey. There was no shelter. It was freezing cold, snowing, raining, hailing.

What was it like moving to a new country?

I came here with no English language literacy at all. I attended English classes because I was determined to do something for myself.

It wasn’t easy moving to a new country because I didn’t have the support of any services. I didn’t know how the system worked. I didn’t even know where the local shopping centre was.

When did you start working with refugees?

For more than 16 years I have been helping refugees to settle. I studied a community development diploma to help refugees and then I did a bachelor degree in community development and went on to study immigration law and practice. I provide immigration advice and assistance. I work with Refugee Legal, Whittlesea Community Connections, Refugee Council Australia and Australian Chaldean Family Welfare. I know what it is like coming to a country you are not from, and starting life from scratch is not easy. I want to make people’s lives easier.

What’s your connection to Melbourne’s north?

My brother-in-law and sister were here and they sponsored us to come to Australia. We initially lived in Meadow Heights and then I moved to Roxburgh Park, where I still live.

What do you like about the Hume community?

I like the services we have and the community harmony. You feel like you are home among your people. It is a friendly environment. There is also lots of shopping centres and schools.

What, if anything, would you like to change?

I would like to see the community all put their hands together to help people. We should leave behind what we have been through. I want people to love and cherish this country because I love living here.