Fadak Alfayadh is a 26-year-old Iraqi-born refugee, lawyer and advocate who shares her story to humanise the refugee experience. Australia for UNHCR recently helped sponsor Fadak’s trip to UNHCR headquarters in Geneva to promote refugee representation at international policy forums. Here, she tells us about her experience.

I fled Iraq in 2003 with my mum and sisters after our country was invaded and suddenly became unliveable. We survived the invasion and war, but life became too dangerous for us in Baghdad.

We had experienced bombs, our house was damaged and because my dad was already studying and working here, we were able to reunite with him in Australia. It was hoped to only be a temporary solution, but Iraq is still unsafe and Australia has now become home for us, despite initial cultural and language differences.

I’m a lawyer, and after working directly with refugees for about five years, ranging from supporting refugee camps in the Middle East, to helping newcomers settle in Melbourne, I ended up in public advocacy.

I realised that humanising people seeking asylum is what Australia – and the rest of the world – needs right now.

I decided to use my personal story to introduce Australia to a refugee – me.

Fadak, aged 5, in Iraq before fleeing to Australia. © Supplied

My campaign of touring Australia to tell my story has led to countless television and radio appearances, a TEDx talk and many conferences and speeches on refugees, my story and women’s leadership. Importantly, it’s also led to international advocacy, particularly in Istanbul and Geneva.

I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to participate in UNHCR’s NGO Consultations in preparation for the Global Refugee Forum and raise issues of concern for refugees in Australia and Iraq. In Geneva, I spoke about my Meet Fadak project and particularly about my use of social media to create positive change for refugees through humanising our lives and journeys.

I've already been describing this day to my family and friends as one of the best days of my life. It’s a big reason why I went to law school. I want to stand up for those whose human rights are at risk and defend those whose rights have been compromised.

It’s important for organisations like the UN to see refugees as impact stakeholders and our voices need to be at the forefront of policy making. The conversations, meetings, planning and decisions made in these forums will affect us and our communities directly. If it is about us, it should prioritise us.

There are millions of ways to be a refugee. We all have our individual stories and experiences, as well as unique circumstances that have caused us to flee. My advocacy work aims to educate people on the importance of getting to know the humans behind the headlines.

I’ll continue to shine a light on the real stories of Australia’s refugees through speaking and touring the nation, and especially hope to inspire young people and women along the way.

Fadak makes a statement at UNHCR’s NGO consultations about private sector contributions to women who are displaced. © Supplied

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