ALMOST 20 years ago Kareem Patros’ faith could have cost him his life had he not escaped the brutal force of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Today, he and his wife Bushra could not be happier as they spend much of their time helping and encouraging others who’ve taken a similar path, fleeing the terror of ISIS.
Kareem said his nightmare started when he struck trouble with Saddam Hussein’s government in Baghdad.
“Somebody blamed me for something, because I’m a Christian,” he said.
“They were trying to kill me.”
He and Bushra had no choice – in 1998 they had to flee with their five children.
They headed first for North Iraq, then to Turkey and on to Greece.
“When I left Iraq, the Kurdish people they put me in jail,” Kareem said.
“My family were kept in jail for three days, but I was kept for about three weeks.
“It was very hard for me.”
The family was deported to Turkey and they made their way to Greece where they stayed for three years.
Bushra already had family in Australia, so they worked with the Australian embassy in Athens to try to join them.
They eventually arrived in 2001, coming straight to Brisbane and settling in Bracken Ridge.
The faith they clung to as they fled Baghdad is the faith that sustains them still.
“The Church (and faith) is very important for us,” Kareem said.
“The Church is like the food or the water – we need it all the time.
“The Church is like coming to peace.
“Actually, with my culture, we like to live with Jesus. We keep Jesus in our hearts.
That’s my culture.”
And that’s why he knows the importance of the work he is doing among the refugee families from Iraq and Syria who have gathered around the Bracken Ridge parish over the past eight months.
There are 75 to 80 refugee families in the area and, “by the end of the month, maybe 90 to 100”.
They are part of the Australian Government’s special humanitarian intake of 12,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria.
The newcomers in Bracken Ridge must be feeling welcomed because the ones who are already there don’t want to leave and others are hoping to move in.
“Most of them like to stay here,” Kareem said.
“I ask some of them, ‘Do you want to move from Bracken Ridge?’ and they say, ‘No, I’m happy in Bracken Ridge; Bracken Ridge is a really good place. It’s really good. Safe.’”
Bushra said more refugee families wanted to move to the area.
“We’ve got some people from (other parts of Brisbane), they’ve moved here, to Bracken Ridge,” Kareem said.
“If they can’t find somewhere in Bracken Ridge, they go to Brendale or Fitzgibbon – near to us.”
A good sign was the way the new families were helping each other.
“The other day I saw one, he was busy, he picked up kids from the school for (other parents),” Kareem said.
“He collected all the kids and brought each one to their house. That’s really good.
“I thank Jesus, that my people they help together, they work together, and when they need anything, they call and say, ‘Can you help?’ and one helps the other.”
Kareem and Bushra have had a pivotal role in helping the refugee families settle into their new home.
Kareem is often called upon to help with language translation, not just around the parish but in day-to-day situations like negotiating with housing, insurance, and buying a car.
“Even I’m going with them to hospital to help them, and many, many things,” he said.
“Sometimes they call me and I translate for them through the phone to help them with somebody who they can’t understand.
“Everything – you name it, I’ve done it.”
One of Kareem’s many satisfying tasks is to go with parish priest Fr Gerry Hefferan visiting families.
“I visited forty families with Fr Gerry – blessing houses,” he said. “We go twice a week.”
A weekly morning tea after Mass at St Joseph’s Church is an important gathering for the refugee families, and Kareem and Bushra help organise that.
Whatever they do and no matter how busy they are, though, it’s a labour of love.
“When we do these things – me and Bushra – we’re really happy. Yes, very happy,” Kareem said.
“When these people come we are really happy for (them) because they are safe now.
“Before they weren’t safe. You know, they lost houses, cars – everything.
“We are happy for them now, because they are here. That makes us happy.”
And what makes for a good day?
“This morning Carol (a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society) and I started early visiting families – seeing what they needed,” Kareem said.
“We did well, we visited six families.
“Now they’re all happy. Everybody’s happy.”
By Peter Bugden