LAWYER Fadak Alfayadh has noticed a significant change in attitudes towards migrant communities, refugees and Muslim communities in the 16 years since she arrived in Australia.
The self-described introvert tackles misunderstandings and misinformation surrounding migration by putting herself out there.
In June, she launched a campaign encouraging people to 'Meet Fadak'.
The 26-year-old gender equity and human rights advocate was in Bendigo on Friday to present the keynote speech at a Community Human Rights Forum staged as part of the Zinda Festival.
"I share examples of the welcome that I felt and I want to inspire people to know that we are, but we especially were, a much more welcoming community and we need to bring that back," Ms Alfayadh said.
"I want people in the room to reflect on their own journeys of migration to Australia. Because unless you're Indigenous, you came here somehow."
Ms Alfayadh's family came to Australia circa 2003, when she was about 10 years old.
She and her family had been displaced - Iraq might have been home, but it was no longer safe.
"I remember as a young child just seeing my parents do different things in the community that were positive and instilled values of upholding justice and fighting for human rights," Ms Alfayadh said.
"My dad's side of the family were revolutionaries who, on multiple occasions, tried to topple Saddam Hussein's regime.
"I grew up surrounded by that and by that urge to fight injustice and people in my family putting their bodies and their lives on the front line to do and achieve that. But also growing up around my mother, who was a dentist and a community leader.
"Just seeing people come to her for help and for advice and for support and seeing her change lives every day was really powerful and something I witnessed and wanted to achieve myself."
She had no English when she started school and was bullied for looking different and for being unable to communicate with her peers.
"It was quite difficult for me," Ms Alfayadh said.
But she considered herself fortunate to have been able to make it to Australia as a person who was displaced and who was a refugee.
"I could very well have been still displaced and still be in a transition country or in a refugee camp. That's what the statistics tell us most refugees end up in," Ms Alfayadh said.
"I am lucky and I am privileged enough to have the safety that I do, the home that I do, to be in a beautiful country like Australia where I can fight for human rights, where I can do it in a way my family couldn't.
"I have family members who were imprisoned or exiled and tortured or killed as a result of their activities. I definitely view myself as lucky enough to do the work I do and do it in safety and not to worry about my life, most of the time."
Not everyone would be able to relate to her experience of life as a refugee. But there is common ground in her migration story, which she seeks to highlight during her public speaking engagements.
"What I've been doing is just to talk about who I am - to talk about what I like to do, or what I do every day, or how my family is and tell funny stories and talk about my struggles in a way people can hear and relate to me," Ms Alfayadh said.
"That's really powerful, because once people start relating to me and to my story then they realise I am just like them - we have the same values, we have maybe similar interests, whether to them or their kids or someone they know.
"That's when I think the walls are broken down, from my experience."
The power to shift the conversation about newly arrived community members stemmed from encouraging people to start hearing and sharing their stories, she believed.
"I think that creates a realisation in people that they are migrants as well," Ms Alfayadh said.
"They might not feel like it or look like it, but they are.
"Some of us feel like they have more of an authority or sense of belonging to Australia than others do, which is absolutely incorrect and we need to dismantle that."
Part of the answer was advocating for communities and their portrayal to be reflective of the values and attributes of those who called it home.
By speaking at yesterday's forum, which was themed 'Young People, Leadership and Human Rights', Ms Alfayadh was hopeful of inspiring young people to strive for positive change.
"Young people have a lot of energy and motivation. I remember when I was young and I wanted to change the world and I believed that I could," she said.
"Imagine that we harness that energy and we help young people channel it in the right direction.
"I think there is a lot there that, as a society, we could benefit from. And we are clearly seeing that happening at the moment with the worldwide rallies on climate change."
Ms Alfayadh said the conversation occurring in our political and public spheres resulted in attitude change, and attitude change resulted in policy.
"I almost see it as a cycle," she said.
When it came to discussing issues of migration and seeking asylum or refuge, Ms Alfayadh said there seemed to be two conversations happening simultaneously.
"We've got the conversation that is really negative, which is the minority speaking. It's not the majority. The majority actually react positively to migration and to refugees. We have the loud minority who don't," she said.
"At the same time, the loud minority is also in positions of power to create policy.
"I think that needs to change, not just because of the migration issue but because a lot of issues that affect Australians including climate change and tackling violence against women."
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