Article from the Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald
She was born before the outbreak of World War I and has spent much of her life in war zones or fleeing conflict. But Yasmi Houmi, who turned 102 this month, has finally found safety.
Escaping the civil war in Syria, she arrived in Sydney in January as part of Australia’s humanitarian settlement program. With the help of a new hearing aid she banters affectionately with her long-time companion, carer and fellow refugee Aokil Yonan, 72, in the living room of their western Sydney home.
‘‘All my life I feel like I was running away,’’ Mrs Houmi said, as a friend translated. ‘‘I’m not scared any more.’’
Mrs Houmi grew up in a small farming town on the border of Turkey and Iraq. Her family passed unscathed through World War I but in 1933 was forced to escape the Assyrian genocide in which other Christian Assyrians were massacred.
Separated from her husband and two children, she later moved to Iraq. She survived the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War and the conflict that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq, although an explosion outside her home robbed her of her hearing.
In 2008, after their elderly neighbours were murdered, Mrs Houmi and Ms Yonan left Iraq for Syria, where the bombs of the civil war fell close enough to shatter their windows.
The pair applied for humanitarian visas with the Australian embassy in Jordan. Both classed as ‘‘women at risk’’, she and Ms Yonan have been supported in Sydney by Settlement Services International.
"Now I’m very happy," Mrs Houmi said. ‘‘I haven’t seen good people like here."
One of the oldest people ever granted refugee status in Australia, a frail Mrs Houmi has been in good spirits since she was flown to Sydney with a United Nations escort. Of the overseas residents granted humanitarian visas in 2012-13, only 231 people – less than 2 per cent – were aged 70 or over.
Australia’s humanitarian program was set at 20,000 places in 2012-13, up 6250 places on the previous year. More visas were granted to residents of Syria, where 2.8 million refugees are fleeing conflict, than any other country.
The president of the Refugee Council of Australia, Phil Glendenning, has called on the Australian government to increase the country’s refugee intake.
According to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, in 2013 Australia hosted 0.2 per cent of the world's 16.7 million refugees, ranking 48th out of 187 host countries.
Mr Glendenning said the situation in Syria was tragic. “Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq – all of those countries are keeping their borders open because they believe these people need protection,
but there needs to be a sharing of the burden,’’ he said. Original article here