On a normal day, it would’ve taken Karim Karakoche only 2-3 hours to reach Homs, the old Syrian city near Lebanon. But when he his family left their home city, Aleppo, in haste in May 2015, it took them 14 hours to get to a safe place.
Just a week before, he and his wife, Jina Shdiak, were managing two thriving businesses in Aleppo: a clothes shop and a hair salon of 16 seats. Life was comfortable until, one day, they found themselves on the road, running away from the bombing, with no sleep, and with nothing but the clothes on their back.
“It was a very hard decision, but I needed to make it,” Karim said.
“Family is more important [than] your home. Because why work? Why marry and [have] kids if you‘re going to leave them? You have to take responsibility, keep them safe,” Karim said.
Karim, Jina, their three children, and Karim’s elderly mother found refuge in Lebanon. But the couple’s inability to work there and their dwindling savings were becoming a major source of stress.
After almost a year of living in Lebanon, Karim’s phone rang one night. It was the Australian Embassy in Beirut calling about their refugee claim.
But Karim’s family was sleeping and missed the rare appointment opportunity.
Despite many calls from Karim, the Embassy didn’t return his call until 90 days later.
The call came with good news: their application to resettle in Australia.
In February 2017, fourteen months since they fled Syria, Karim’s family left Lebanon and arrived in Brisbane on a hot summer’s day. With the help of Multicultural Families, the family resettled in the Gold Coast.
There, they found how language barrier was a barrier in every way: from buying bread, to getting help for Karim’s elderly mother, finding employment, to simply getting home.
But Queenslanders had their extraordinary way of responding to Karim with their message of warm welcome. A week after they arrived, a local family gifted Karim something that would become his source of livelihood: a second-hand car.
“This was 14th of February, it was Valentine’s Days, and it was red,” he said of the kind gesture.
Karim continued to be a primary carer for his disabled mother and even found a deeper purpose in helping other refugee families navigate the NDIS as a volunteer cultural support worker for MFO.
He later landed a similar role job at Multicultural Australia (MA), a job that “made an enormous difference in helping refugees and people seeking asylum feel that they are welcome,” said Janet Mhindurwa, Cultural and Volunteering Services Manager at MA.
“It was enlightening to know that a person who had gone through the same journey was able to help and impact other people’s lives,” Janet said.
Karim’s journey continues to be an inspiration. Since moving to Queensland, his family has opened their own salon business, bought a house, and welcomed their fourth child.
In 2020, he was awarded the title Local Legend by Sam O’Connor MP, for going above and beyond his role at MFO in helping his communities and elderly people in the Gold Coast region access services at the height of the Queensland COVID lockdown.