From Iraq to Sydney: A young man’s journey through war and education


Milad is a medical science student studying at Western Sydney University and has been in Australia for six years. His dream of being a doctor began when he was 8 years old in Iraq. But when war started, he thought his dream was demolished.

Milad’sfamily was at risk of losing their lives in war torn Iraq and their future was uncertain. Milad’s parents were desperate to keep their family safe so they left Iraq. Milad’s family fled to Syria and as a child, Milad could not understand why they had to move. He missed Iraq, his friends and school and often asked his mother, ‘Why do we have to do this?’

Syria was a new start for Milad’s family. In just a week, Milad felt welcome and he was excited to meet new friends and attend school with dreams of one day being a doctor. Two years later, war broke out in Syria.  Schools were closed and the same feelings of fear came back. Milad and his family did not know what to do and could not go back to Iraq. Their only choice was to stay where they were and every day, their lives were in constant danger.

For 6 years, Milad and his family lived not knowing what was ahead. For 3 of those years, Milad could not go to school and his dream of being a doctor was crushed again. A lifeline arrived informing the family they had been accepted to come to Australia. This was the news the family had been waiting for but getting out of Syria would be dangerous. The airport in Syria was closed so Milad and his family travelled by bus to Lebanon. This was a known risk as other buses were stopped, searched, turned back or worse by armed men but there was no other way. Luckily, Milad’s family and others got through and were able to travel to Australia.

Stepping off the plane in Australia, Milad told his family, ‘we should learn from the past and move forward’. Milad knew this moment was a turning point for his family - for new opportunities and to create a better life.

Milad and his family were supported by Settlement Services International (SSI) which helped their transition into the community and connected them to services and opportunities. Shortly after, Milad joined the Intensive English Centre (IEC) at Miller Technology High School to learn English. ‘It’s a place where people like me, coming here with no English, can get support’. Before starting at IEC, the only two words he knew were ‘like’ and ‘love’. Milad used his dreams of being a doctor to stay motivated and after two weeks, he started to speak and write in English. After three terms at Miller IEC, he moved into Year 11 at Bossley Park High School.

Milad credits his teachers at both schools for the support they provided. They often gave up their lunchtime and stayed back after school to help Milad - ‘without them, it would have been harder to achieve what I have achieved so far’. Milad’s efforts led him to the top of his school and state in academic success for his HSC. Throughout Milad’s journey, his parents gave him love and encouragement and he acknowledges his faith provided him with hope in tough times.

Milad experienced many things as a child in Iraq and Syria which made him grow up quickly. One of the biggest things Milad has learnt about himself is how resilient he can be, a quality that he shares with his father. Milad wants other men to know that there is always a positive to a situation, ‘some stuff I had no idea I could do, but I’ve done it – I’ve survived’.

If you need support, call Lifeline: 13 11 14 or the Mental Health Line - a 24-hour telephone service: 1800 011 511.

Milad’s story is a part of the Tackling the Challenge Project, a collection of local men’s stories, about resilience and recovery. If you have a story to share or would like to know more, contact Brendan Bennett on 8738 5983 or

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