Fadi Albehnonissan recently became an Australian citizen at one of the least expected places – the maternity ward at Liverpool Hospital. A refugee from Iraq, Mr Albehnonissan wanted to involve his young family in this important milestone, taking the pledge in a virtual Citizenship ceremony facilitated by Liverpool City Council, as his wife gave birth to their first daughter, Christie.
“The first thing I want to do is thank Australia and hardworking Australians,” Mr Albehnonissan said upon receiving his Citizenship. “Without them, I would not have been given a safe place to live.”
“Since arriving in Australia, I have felt very welcome and connected with this country. I have even been able to study for a couple of years and build myself a future. These are opportunities I wouldn’t have had back in my homeland. What Australia has given me, my family and other refugees is wonderful, and we are forever grateful.”
Mr Albehnonissan fled from Iraq to Turkey with his father, mother, two brothers and sister – without any of their belongings – to escape the onslaught of terrorist group ISIS as they attacked the northern city of Mosul.
After spending two years in Turkey, Mr Albehnonissan applied for a humanitarian visa to come to Australia. His wife, Maryana, fled similar circumstances to come to Australia and is in the process of getting a permanent visa.
He has been a resident of Australia for more than four years and is now employed with the Department of Education, a role he was helped to secure through a government refugee program.
“I don’t consider myself a refugee anymore but an Australian. I want to be able to give back to a community that has given me so much,” Mr Albehnonissan said.
Mr Albehnonissan joins record numbers of new citizens in the Liverpool Local Government Area indicating the pandemic is no barrier to becoming an Australian citizen. In fact, Council introduced virtual ceremonies in August this year to cater to increased demand.
Despite challenges posed by the first wave of COVID-19 lockdown last year, Council was able to welcome 1871 new citizens in 2020. That figure looks set to be broken this year with 1967 citizens welcomed in 2021 so far. Overall, the number of conferees at Council ceremonies have almost tripled since 2017.
Mayor of Liverpool Wendy Waller said Liverpool is the introduction to Australia for so many which is a privilege and responsibility Council takes seriously.
“Almost half the population of the area was born overseas and more than half our residents speak a language other than English. Liverpool is a hub of multiculturalism and home to people from more than 150 nationalities.
“Our city is a wonderfully fitting place for citizenship ceremonies. We are a city with a heart, a history and a future.
“Council supports a number of community groups who work closely with migrants and refugees, and we are a proud member of the Human Rights Commission’s campaign ’Racism. It Stops with Me.”
“We are also a member of ’Welcoming Cities,’ a national network of cities committed to creating places where everyone can belong and participate fully in social, cultural, economic and civic life. We are also proud to be a Refugee Welcome Zone,” Mayor Waller said.
Mayor Waller’s comments follow the 20th anniversary of Australian Citizenship Day held on 17 September 2021. Australian Citizenship Day is an opportunity for all Australians to reflect on the importance of being a citizen, whether through birth or by active choice, and the responsibilities and privileges it evokes.
Despite receiving Citizenship virtually, Mr Albehnonissan said the specialness of the occasion was not lost on him or the other new citizens.
“The moment you say the pledge, you feel every word in your heart,” Mr Albehnonissan said.
Mayor Waller congratulated Fadi and all of Liverpool’s new citizens.
“I am proud to welcome and congratulate those becoming Australian citizens and making Liverpool their home,” Mayor Waller said.