Five years ago, Sonia Hadaya’s husband was nearly killed at the hands of terrorists in Iraq.

Fast forward to Melbourne in 2018, and life couldn’t be more different for the refugee family…

They are among patients being supported by Western Health after the arrival of their third child. Helping vulnerable patients like Sonia was one of the reasons the Greatest Need Project was launched.

Sitting on a brown sofa at his modest flat in St Albans, Iraqi refugee Nawras Abdal shifts uncomfortably.

He’s reliving the moment he was shot in Baghdad in 2013, a day he’d rather forget.

But the shooting pains in his back means the memories are ever-present.

The approaching sounds of gunfire. The muffled screams of victims. The horrible realisation that this time, it was different.


The father-of-two was stacking shelves with pharmaceutical products when gunmen stormed his factory, a volley of shots ringing out.

For a moment, he kept working, the sound all too familiar.

But it soon became apparent the gunmen were inside, and his colleagues were getting murdered.

“We heard gunshots and didn’t realise at first that the factory was being attacked,” recalls Nawras, 26, the trauma hooding his eyes.

“When we realised, we fled, and that’s when I got shot. I remember people dying, but not much else. The next thing, I woke up in the hospital.”

As he lay frozen in fear, clutching his stomach on the factory floor, one thought crossed his mind.

“I thought ‘That’s it – we have to leave now’,” he recalls.

But it wasn’t that simple. His wife Sonia Hadaya was pregnant, and he needed to recover from his injuries, so they began hatching an escape plan and waited anxiously for baby Maryam to be born.

They packed two bags of clothes – essentials that they could carry – and left their home in the nick of time, with ISIS invading their suburb just one month later.

The Christian family lost friends and neighbours as the extremists swept through, plundering and burning homes, and killing anyone who was left.

“They gave them a choice – become Muslim or they would kill them,” recalls Sonia.

“They would enter homes, steal everything then burn them down. People went back after ISIS left the area, but there was nothing left but ash.

“We were so scared, that’s why we had to leave the country. It was very hard for us. We had no money on us, and the road to the airport wasn’t safe. We were taking a big risk, there were a lot of terrorists on the road and mines with bombs.”

The couple fled to Jordan, and were “lucky” to take even meagre belongings. Others left with only the clothes on their backs.

With Nawras unable to work due to his injuries, support from churches and charities tided them over for two and a half years, until they were accepted as refugees by Australia.

But even upon touchdown at Brisbane airport, their troubles were not over.

Sonia, who was eight months pregnant with their second daughter Bianca, began bleeding on the plane, and was rushed to hospital for a premature birth.

Today, pain from the shooting still plagues Nawras, making it difficult for him to find a full-time job. They are only just making ends meet on Centrelink payments and say “everything in Australia is so expensive”.

But the couple are grateful for all the help they have received here, including toys, baby clothes and furniture. Social workers at Western Health are working to provide more baby clothes and items for their third child, a boy, who is due at the end of March.

And with the nightmare of life at the coalface of terrorism behind them, they are looking forward to a happier life in their adopted home.

“As long as we are safe, that’s what’s really important,” Nawras says.

“We are just hoping to forget about what happend in Iraq now, as time passes.”

The Greatest Need Project is a story-sharing website with two major goals – to help patients facing significant hardship and disadvantage, and to facilitate research, at Western Health.

As a patient, Sonia is sharing her family’s story, in bid to help those at Western Health who need it most.

By making a donation on the family’s behalf – and sharing their story on social media – you are making a difference too. Thank you.


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