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Refugee who fled war-torn Sudan finds light in Australia

Sudanese refugee Noor Hassan

New home: “I didn’t realise that one day I would become a refugee in Australia because my life before the war was normal.”

AMERICA’S leading public health institute released a report last year detailing the most common times babies were born. 

According to the report, released by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s Centre for Health Statistics, a majority of United States babies born in 2013 arrived in the new world between 8am and lunchtime.

Were those babies born in Sudan’s western region, they would have shared the same name as refugee Noor Hassan, whose name means “light”.

“In my tribe there is a traditional thing,” Noor said.

“If you are lucky to be born in the daylight, you will get ‘Noor’.” 

The 27-year-old grew up in Millet, a small village in Sudan’s horror zone, Darfur, and home to Noor’s African tribal roots, the Zaghawa people.

A bright young student, he was one of 100 blessed to attend the University of Khartoum, graduating as an electrical engineer.

His light began to flicker when he lost contact with his family.

“I had to go back and I had to find them,” he said.

“I spent three months in a very dangerous zone, because there’s three groups that are fighting together, north Sudan, South Sudan, and the Darfurian Liberation Movement Army.”  

He eventually found his family living in a refugee camp with one million other displaced Darfurians.

They, like an estimated three million civilians in Darfur, were forced to flee their home or face death at the hands of rebel groups, militia and the government.

He spent six months in the camp, taking up a job as a maths teacher for young children.

And they were in the thousands.

The conflict in Sudan is not new, though it is underreported.

Sudanese people have dodged murderous atrocities since 2003, living through scenes so horrific the United Nations declared the country in a state of emergency.

In 2004, the Sudanese Catholic bishops also pleaded to the United Nations, alerting them to the first genocide in the 21st century.

Despite two peace arrangements in 2006 and 2011 which brought a period of calm to the country, the conflict in Darfur began escalating in 2013.

Civilians were under attack by an internal uprising, which Noor believes was racially motivated amongst Arabs and Africans living in Darfur.

That year, Noor was asked to step into the bloodshed and take up firearms in the national service.

Conscription was not an option.

“Once they forced me to be in the army, that means I have to kill someone or destroy the life of someone,” Noor said.  

“This is something (that) I believe in my heart, that I can’t allow myself to be part of that war because when you see innocent people who have done nothing wrong, like kids, thousands of kids in refugee camps, that’s terrible.

“That’s not their fault.”

Noor’s father, fearing the army would hunt his son down, urged him to flee the country without his mother and sister in search for a better life.

That was the last time he laid eyes on his family.

He walked to Egypt, and eventually found himself on a boat to Australia.

He had no idea where to locate Australia, let alone thought he would set foot in the great southland.

“I didn’t realise that one day I would become a refugee in Australia because my life before the war was normal,” he said.

“In early 2013, if someone said one day I would be in Australia, I’d say I couldn’t believe it.”

But Australia is now Noor’s home, and three years since his long journey to a new country, he is finally seeing the light again.

Last year, community organisation Multicultural Development Australia, which helps refugees settle in their new home, put Noor through an employment program with Catholic secondary school St Rita’s College, Clayfield.

The college welcomed Noor with open arms, offering him a nine-week placement as a teacher’s aide.

“St Rita’s was like a chance for me because this is the first time that I worked with the Australian people,” Noor said.  

Despite the language barrier, Noor found himself teaching a subject that required little skill in speaking English and more knowledge of x’s and y’s.

“I was lucky enough that I got to work as a teacher’s aide in maths classes and physics,” he said.

“Maths is maths, it doesn’t matter what language.  

“You use x, y, divide it, multiply.  

“So, for me, it reminded me of when I was a student in university.”

After that short teaching stint, Noor has found part-time work with Catholic ministry Mercy Community Services, an outreach of the Brisbane Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy.

Their work supports the poor, vulnerable and marginalised, including refugees like Noor.

But the St Rita’s College community will remain in Noor’s heart as the first light to brighten his bleak past.

And while he’s not a Catholic himself, the school’s Catholic ethos has inspired the Christian man to keep God at the centre of his life.

“One of the greatest things that I’ve seen here in St Rita’s is before they go to their classes in the morning, (they) start by praying and asking God to help us help these young people,” he said.

“That means they are reminding themselves and are asking that God will help them pass on knowledge to their students.  

“This means I have to (also pray) because I’m so happy the way Catholics relate to students, talking to them, being with them.”

Australians in general, Noor said, had treated him with respect and welcome.

He mentions that smiles from strangers are tinged with friendliness, but in Sudan were seen as a bewildering gesture.

“Every day when you walk down the street, if you meet a stranger in the street, they smile for you, so that means you are welcome,” he said. 

“In our culture, we don’t have that – when you pass someone and you smile, maybe thinking why … you think are they crazy?”

While this state has given Noor many blessings, there is still an uncertainty that haunts him.

Will his country ever find peace?

The day that does happen, Noor will be booking his flights back home.

“There’s nothing better than sitting at home with your family, your friends,” he said.

“Of course one day if the peace comes in Sudan, I will go back and I will tell my people, if someone asks me about Australian people, I will tell them how beautiful you are.”

By Emilie Ng

Written by: Emilie Ng
Catholic Church Insurance

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