Sam uses 'scars' to help empower others

Sam Borka won the Government/Legal NSW Humanitarian Award.

Sam Borka won the Government/Legal NSW Humanitarian Award.

Growing up in Iraq meant one thing for Sam Borka.

"It was one war after another," he told the Champion.

"Until I left the Middle East at the age of 28, my entire life was surrounded by war and atrocity - gun fighting, missiles and suicide bombers. It was just part and parcel of living in Iraq at the time.

"I lived during the Iraq-Iran War during where our house was attacked by the Iranian army. It was a terrible time. A difficult time. The last war was in 2003 when coalition forces overthrew Saddam Hussein.

"But the relief was short-lived. Militant Muslims and terrorists entered the country, and I was labelled a traitor for working for the Red Cross Coalitions. In the end, the only way to survive was to pay a smuggler to help me escape to Sydney, where I sought asylum."

That was in 2007. Since then the Bonnyrigg resident has worked tirelessly supporting and assisting refugees first as an adult settlement teacher at University of Western Sydney, then at Navitas, and now in his current role as Diversity Services Community Liaison Officer at the NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

He has supported thousands of newly-arrived Australians from countries such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Sudan since 2013. From south-west Sydney to the central west, he helps multicultural communities understand the justice system and access legal services available.

His work was rewarded with the Government/Legal NSW Humanitarian Award.

"To even be considered as a nominee is a privilege but to actually take home an award is unbelievable! My family are so proud," he said.

"This is a pinch-me moment. Who would have thought my journey as an asylum seeker would lead to a job where I am helping to change people's lives and ensuring refugees have access to justice when, or if, they need it.

"My refugee journey has shaped me into the person I am today. Australia has brought out the best in me, by providing great opportunities that I wouldn't even have imagined in the beginning of that dark long tunnel of seeking asylum. The scars in my memory are beautiful and I cherish them, they help me empower others who have taken a similar journey."

His job title is varied: it's whatever the community needs. This includes hosting information sessions on police, courts, Legal Aid, fines and domestic violence.

Sam, who is the co-founder of the South West Sydney Domestic Violence Committee, said he is most proud of making the justice system "accessible" to refugees and asylum seekers.

"One of our biggest challenges is breaking down barriers between multicultural communities and the justice system," he said.

"The majority of asylum seekers have come from countries rife with corruption. You can't trust the police, lawyers or judges in your homeland so we have to start from scratch and reassure them Australia is a safe space where the authorities are here to help."