Sara and her husband Jo arrived in Melbourne six months ago with their three children, Mariam (13), Adib (9) and Elias (6). Their oldest child Joseph disappeared during a bombing in Syria.

Their long journey began in 1995, when the couple fled persecution in Mosul (Northern Iraq) and settled in Homs in Syria, where their four children were later born. The family, including the elder brother Joseph, lived safely in Syria until 2012 when conflict began, which caused further fear and loss.

Adib and Mariam were at school one day with their older brother Joseph. When there was a series of explosions, Adib was scared as he watched Joseph running away. His brother didn’t come home that day and Adib has been deeply troubled about Joseph’s absence ever since.

In the months that followed, the conflict intensified, with more bombs exploding at the school and local market. The family fled without their son Joseph to Lebanon, where they spent the next two years close to Sara’s sister. Adib and Mariam attended school for six weeks, but received threats and were subjected to discrimination. Sara and Jo decided to keep their children at home.

One day Sara witnessed a landlord attack and beat one of their Syrian neighbours because he hadn’t paid the rent. Along with what Adib and Mariam had experienced at school, this made the family extremely fearful for their safety.

Jo’s brother Warda, who had lived in Melbourne for three years, sponsored the family’s move to Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program. When they arrived, they lived with Warda for two weeks, but had to move out due to lack of space. The family have now lived in temporary accommodation for three months and have little contact with Warda and his family.

Since arriving in Australia, Sara has experienced panic attacks whenever she has left the house. She is heartbroken about what happened to her eldest son Joseph and thinks about him constantly. She also feels shame about leaving her sister behind in Lebanon.

Jo has experienced ongoing difficulty sleeping. He tries to keep in contact with his youngest brother who remains in Syria, but finds the long periods when he doesn’t hear from him very difficult. He also worries about paying bills in Australia while financially supporting relatives in Syria.

The couple have recently enrolled in English classes and have linked in with a local church, which they attend regularly. Their children have for the past three months attended an English language school (ELS) and are progressing with their spoken English.

Adib’s classroom teacher, however, reports that he is disruptive in class. He can’t sit still and isn’t learning at the same rate as his peers. He becomes agitated when the teacher talks to him and when the other adults enter the classroom. Adib often gets into playground fights, but children can’t stay inside at recess due to school rules.

Elias’s teachers say he’s quiet and doesn’t seem to have made many friends, though he’s beginning to play with the other children during recess and lunchtime. They also report that sometimes Elias appears to be ignoring his teacher, but he occasionally smiles back when his teacher smiles at him.

One day Elias was in a small group with the EAL teacher, who was showing the children a series of ‘smiley-face’ cards. One of the cards depicted a sad face and Elias said: ‘That is like my mum.’

Mariam is quiet and likes going to art class. Some students have been friendly towards her and encourage her to join in their games. However, her parents are concerned about her at home because she’s spending long periods on her iPad talking to friends overseas.