Students of university age rarely face threats on their life, but Shepparton Iraqi immigrant Balsam Al Jizani remembers the exact moment she begged for hers.
It was the middle of the semester, more than 10 years ago, and Mrs Al Jizani and her group of friends had hired a van to travel to university together when they found themselves in a dangerous part of Baghdad.
The group was there to pick up a friend when they saw a husband and wife cowering in front of a group of terrorists.
‘‘They had them sit on the ground with their hands behind their head, and we couldn’t understand what was going on,’’ Mrs Al Jizani said.
‘‘They put a gun to their head and tried to take his car, and the driver of our van said I will drive as fast as I can even if they will kill me. We feared that we were next, that they would take our lives, and that was the most unsettling moment for me.’’
Mrs Al Jizani met her husband Saad in the chaos of the three wars that ripped their country apart, starting in 1979, 1990 and 2003.
Since 2014, Iraq has been involved in an ongoing armed conflict, which has resulted in the forced resignation of the Prime Minister and air strikes led by a number of countries.
In Iraq, the fight against Daesh (Islamic State) has undermined the country’s ability to govern, caused enormous destruction, militarised youth, and traumatised and obliterated society.
Before the couple left Iraq in 2006, Mr Al Jizani made jewellery by hand in a shop in Baghdad and Mrs Al Jizani had been studying fine art at the university.
Between 2003 and 2006, Mr Al Jizani said they suffered tremendously, as they clung to the hope their home would one day return to the safe, beautiful country it had once been.
Mr and Mrs Al Jizani would constantly move neighbourhoods that had succumbed to danger, had little access to water and healthcare, and had daily threats made on their lives.
‘‘We survived a lot, but started to feel discrimination worsen in 2006, where you were targeted for your political party whether you were a Muslim or not,’’ Mr Al Jizani said.
‘‘People were killing each other and you would find bodies on the street, and it would be your friends, your relatives, your neighbours, and then I was targeted for working in the jewellery shop.
‘‘If we talk about Baghdad before the war and our life after the war, I can’t describe how hard and different it was.’’
When Mrs Al Jizani finished her university studies, the pair and her parents moved to Jordan where refugees from Iraq were further marginalised and unable to find work because of discrimination.
The family sold jewellery and had to rely on money sent from their relatives in order to survive.
It was only because of Mrs Al Jizani’s father’s deteriorating health that the family were finally granted visas to live in Australia four years ago.
Living with the married couple is Mrs Al Jizani’s mother Ibtisam who still can not fathom what has happened to the previously rich, safe country.
‘‘The King of Dubai visited Iraq in 1978 and said he hoped that Dubai could one day be like Iraq. But now all we see on the television are destroyed buildings, people being killed, and there is just a lot of hurt over what has happened’’ Mr Al Jizani said.
‘‘From west to west, it is very bad. It’s difficult not to feel angry about what happened to our country, because it was once a very rich country, but people and countries have profited off war and the resources there.’’
The family now lives in Shepparton with two-year-old daughter Bronaya, who they want the best future for.
With basic English, the family are now rebuilding their lives, but continue to face discrimination from some who are ignorant of what they have endured.
‘‘We are in a situation that is hard to describe to most people and that’s the tragedy,’’ Mr Al Jizani said.
‘‘I believe we will have a good future, a bright future here, because, in Australia, I think nothing is impossible.’’
Thanks to interpreter Fatima Al-Qarakchy and Kildonan Uniting Care for their help with this article.