After years on the run from ruthless terrorists, Wagga’s Yazidi community finally has something to celebrate.
The refugees will come together at Mount Austin Primary School on Wednesday to observe their first traditional new year since arriving in Australia.
It will be a day of joy as the community of about 250 people gathers to think about their new start, but thoughts will surely be with those who didn’t make it.
Iraqi and Syrian Yazidis continue to be the target of Islamic State (ISIS) forces, which have committed to the genocide of the minority religious group, perpetrating crimes against humanity.
One family that now lives in Wagga was among those who walked 500 kilometres from Sinjar in northwestern Iraq to a Turkish refugee camp in 2014.
Prior to the rise of ISIS only two Yazidi families lived in Australia, but with the arrival of so many of her countrymen, Salwa Basheer said she was excited to visit them from her home near Sydney.
“This will be our first new year celebration in Australia,” she said. “I was very relieved to see families arrive here safely. It’s very nice when we see our people and we celebrate together.”
Wagga was the first city to take Yazidi refugees, with about 45 families arriving in the past six months. Despite the significant language barrier, the refugees are settling in to their new lives, according to multicultural council manager Belinda Crain.
“They’re determined, motivated and enthusiastic about the community,” Ms Crain said.
“They’re very kind people and they love to get involved with sports.”
South Wagga soccer club president Stephen Burns said his Yazidi players had been a real asset to the team.
“When I saw them play in a twilight competition last year I new we had to get them out on the field,” Mr Burns said.
“Sports helps them integrate into the community and they already had the skills – they live and breathe it – so it’s made their transition easier.”