Brave Adam Bujairami Wouldn’t Take “No” For An Answer!
The vast majority of you reading this story are Muslims, either born in Australia or in the middle east and later migrating here with your parents.
My own parents migrated from Lebanon in 1975 and 10 years later I was born in Canterbury Hospital, being raised in the family home at Regents Park with my brothers and sisters and where mum and dad still reside.
I thank Allah swt every day for the wonderful life my parents have given me and that Australia has provided to me.
It certainly is a land of opportunity!
However, the celebration of Australia Day (January 26) seems to be causing more and more debate and controversy every year.
Many argue that Australia Day should be moved to another date – a very valid point and one that we can look at in another article.
The releasing of the Australia Day Honours list also causes controversy in many instances and even the naming of some Australians of the Year has caused consternation in the past and no doubt will continue to do so unless the voting criteria is changed.
The lack of recognition of prominent Australian Muslims by those who decide these awards is very disappointing – although the naming of Sydney orthopaedic surgeon Munjed Al Muderis as 2019 NSW Australian of the Year was an example of one occasion when officials did get it right’.
Professor Al Muderis was a refugee – originally being detained on Christmas Island after arriving in Australia from Iraq in 1999 – and he is just one of thousands of examples of refugees who have not only made Australia their home but have made amazing contributions to society.
The subject of this story may lack the national profile of Professor Al Muderis but Sydney father-of-four Adam Bujairami also has a fascinating past and one that is well worth relating.
‘Alaa’ (Adam) Bujairami is a former Palestinian refugee born 35 years ago at Yarmouk Camp in Damascus, Syria.
His grandmother escaped the Palestinian and Israeli conflict in 1948, fleeing to Lebanon and then on to Syria.
Adam was the second generation of his family to be born in the refugee camp, living there for more than 20 years.
Whenever they visited Damascus, it was clear to Adam and his family that they did not belong in Syria – they yearned for a better life and to make it back to Palestine one day.
Growing up in Yarmouk Camp was tough, with little money. Adam and his family were forced to rely on the support of relatives in other countries as well as UNRWA (an agency providing relief to Palestinian refugees), who assisted with food supplies as well as educational and health needs.
With no solution of resettlement or return to Palestine in sight, tensions increased within the camp and Adam and his family felt like they had no purpose.
When he turned 18, Adam was made to serve the compulsory two years in the Syrian Army that didn’t consider him a national.
Adam decided it was time to get out and search for a better life elsewhere.
Applying for a passport, he was issued with a Palestinian Travel document. Not understanding the difference, he then applied for a visa so he could stay with his aunt in Dubai.
Arriving at Sharjah airport where he expected a warm welcome, Adam was instead interrogated for five hours by officials.
Life wasn’t easy for Adam in Dubai, often working seven days a week and being very poorly paid due to his nationality. But he kept at it, in order to send money back to his family in Syria.
After two years, Adam paid his family a visit in Syria and marvelled at the differences between life in the UAE and Yarmouk Camp, where people seemed to live a sad life, without any future prospects or ambition.
Returning to Dubai, Adam met a wonderful Australian woman named Karen Unicomb, who judged him – and loved him – for the person he was, not because of his nationality.
After marrying Karen in Dubai, doors began to open for Adam, successfully applying for a job within a hospital and later as operational manager of a medical centre.
First daughter Rima was born in Dubai in 2011 but Adam suffered a big setback later the same year with the closure of the medical centre he was running, due to unforeseen circumstances.
Under UAE law, Adam had no option but to leave the country if he couldn’t find a job within a month, and this obviously was a very stressful time for him, given that he had a wife and newborn daughter to support.
But their fortunes changed for the better when Karen submitted Adam’s partner visa application for Australia in November, 2011 and it was approved in less than three weeks.
The young family arrived in Australia on February 6, 2012, and Adam immediately started looking for work, to support his family members on opposite sides of the globe.
By this time, the conflict had escalated in Syria and the situation at Yarmouk Camp had become very dangerous.
Adam had many sleepless nights, trying to work out how to get his parents and siblings out of there.
“I called my mother and father every day and hearing the shooting in the background of the phone calls would make my heart jump…. it was terrifying,” Adam recalled.
One particularly scary night, Adam was talking to his mum Kadija on the phone and he could hear the bombing…and then the phone just disconnected.
“I couldn’t get through to my family for three days and these were the worst three days of my life….I was so relieved to learn that they were okay but it was then that I decided that I had to get them out of Syria.
“They tried to enter Lebanon and were refused and sent back, so they tried entering Jordan but were again refused.
“Bear in mind this was my mother, father, 19 year old brother, two sisters (aged 22 and 13) and my two year old niece being refused outright at the border… the bombs and fighting were visible, yet they were still refused entry and were sent back into the war zone.
“I applied for Special Humanitarian Visas for them and in the meantime I was working three different jobs here to support them.
“They were living in a school due to their homes and my father Ahmad’s shop being destroyed.
“My brother Mohammad suffered a permanent injury to his leg when he was running from a bomb blast and my mother suffered shrapnel wounds to her arm during one of the blasts.
“Initially, their Visa applications were refused because they were still in Syria and because they were not registered with UNHCR but under UNRWA mandate.
“I was devastated but there was no way I was going to give up!
“I went to the Palestinian Delegation of Australia in Canberra, I went to the UNHCR offices asking for help and I approached my local MP for assistance.
“I reapplied for their Special Humanitarian Visas and managed to gather support from various organisations as well as UNRWA.”
A THOUSAND EMAILS LATER….
“This seemed to take forever and I must have sent what felt like more than 1,000 emails, and probably was!
“During the processing of these Visa applications my father was taken by the regime and used as a human shield out the front of a police station.
“Basically, he and others would be shot first before the people in the building.
“My father was actually shot in the stomach during this incident and hospitalised.
“After six months my family was finally approved on New Year’s Eve, 2013….and I can tell you that it was one of the greatest moments of my life, getting that phone call.
“They have now all been in Australia for almost eight years and are loving life…..alhamdulillah for everything.”
They have now all been in Australia for almost eight years and are loving life…..alhamdulillah for everything.
Adam loves his job at Settlement Services International (SSI) where he is a team leader of the reception team, helping newly arrived refugees settle into Australia
“Given my own situation and that of my family, it just seems the right fit for me to do this job,” he says.
“It brings me joy and happiness to be able to help refugees settle into Australia, which gives my life greater purpose.”
Adam’s passion for – and devotion to – his job saw him awarded Case Worker of the Year in 2017, defeating over 2,000 nominees from government departments and initiatives from all over Australia.
He received this award at a huge function in Canberra from the then Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, while Prime Minister Tony Abbott was also among those present.
Also in 2017, Adamwas the keynote speaker at UNHCR’s World Refugee Day, and through his advocating work, he has also been a panellist on DFAT, speaking about humanitarian planning.
Another huge feather in Adam’s cap is that he has twice attended the Geneva Consultations with SSI and presented his arguments with UNHCR and UNRWA heads with regard to Palestinian refugees in Syria.
Indeed, there would be few greater advocates for Palestinian refugees than Adam on this planet.
A real Red Letter Day for Adam Bujairami came on May 8, 2015.
“This is when I became a citizen of Australia, the greatest country on earth and it’s the first time in my life I have had a country to call my own,” Adam said proudly.
“Living in this country for almost 10 years now has made me understand the Australian ethos of helping others, which is something I give in return.
“Australia has provided me with many wonderful opportunities which I intend to continue working hard to make the most of – both in business and eventually in politics, hopefully, as I would like to think I can make a difference.
“I am so grateful to this country for helping me and my family and giving us a permanent place to live – and recognising who we are.”
I am so grateful to this country for helping me and my family and giving us a permanent place to live – and recognising who we are.”
And we are grateful to you, too, Adam!
You are a great Muslim, a great Palestinian, a great Australian, a great humanitarian and a great gentleman….and a great inspiration to us all.