Migrant Voices – Mohsen Mohammed

Ethnic Council of SheppartonMohsen Mohammed's entire family was made to pay for the sins of two of his brothers; after experiencing prison and exile from his home, Mohsen Mohammed migrated to Shepparton with his family, where he works as a Community Development Officer.


Mohsen Mohammed was born in south Basrah on the shatt al-arab river in Iraq, an area well known for its Shi'ite community, date palms plantations, petrol production, and fertilizer factories, his family was also fairly wealthy owning twenty shops and five houses. The family business started with a grocery store, but later turned to refrigeration.

Mohsen's troubles began when two of his brothers went against the Ba'ath party and joined the opposition, afterwards he and his entire family where often made to "pay" for such a thing, Mohsen and his family were later arrested, separated and thrown into prison simply because of what his brothers had done, they where then forced to spend an entire year in a cell 2 metres by 3 metres square, with anywhere from thirty to forty people in the same cell.

During this time they received no news from the outside world and were not allowed to have any visitors. When someone finally came to see them they were asked what they had done to end up in prison, to which they had to reply that they simply didn't know. They where then asked if they had a lawyer, to which they again had to say no because no-one had bothered to ask if they needed one. The judicial system then appointed them a lawyer, who, when it came time to defend them proceeded to tell the court that Mohsen and his family were criminals and should be punished.

Afterwards Mohsen and two of his brothers where sentenced to seven years imprisonment, while another of his brothers was condemned to twenty five year's in prison. Unfortunately they later discovered that he had gone missing and they had no choice but to presume he was dead. During his time behind bars Mohsen was tortured and one of his brothers was hanged. Mohsen later found out that his father had also been killed. In 1991 during Mohsen's confinement the Kurdish people staged an uprising against the Ba'ath party and Saddam Hussein, because of this and the war with the coalition forces in the first Gulf War Mohsen and the surviving members of his family where able to flee into Iran.

Unfortunately during the war Mohsen lost another brother who was a member of the military. In 1996 Mohsen applied for immigration and was lucky enough to be accepted. However, he didn't have much of a say as to where he was going to eventually immigrate to, and it was by sheer luck that he was one of the lucky 50 - 60 people who where selected out of thousands of applicants to be sent to Australia.

Mohsen remembers the flight to Australia with his wife as being a happy time in their lives and they arrived in Australia in April of 1996. Mohsen was met by one of his brothers who had earlier come to Australia and was well established here. They stayed with his brother in Melbourne for a month until they later got an apartment. Some of his first thoughts of Australia where how beautiful it was and how helpful the people were, he was also impressed by Australia's multicultural society. Mohsen already had a knowledge of English, and decided that he would improve upon what he already knew so he could communicate better.

While in Melbourne (and much to Mohsen's surprise) he found that he had developed asthma. When he consulted his doctor about it he was told to move out of the city and go to the country, which he promptly did. Soon after arriving in Shepparton, Mohsen tried his hand at casual farm work, which was a far cry from his former job as a fully qualified petroleum engineer. He didn't mind as it was bringing in a regular income and was merely somewhere for him to start.

As he became more familiar with Shepparton Mohsen started to see that there where other people of Arabic descent coming into the area who didn't even know where to begin to start a knew life, so he contacted the Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE here in Shepparton who hired him to act as a liaison officer and translator for Shepparton's Arabic community. Part of his job was to encourage refugees to learn to speak English and to undertake some form of study so they could integrate into the Australian way of life more easily.

Although Mohsen found his work with the Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE extremely rewarding he still felt as though he could do more, so he contacted Shepparton's Ethnic Council and applied to work with them. As part of his job with the ethnic council Mohsen is partly responsible for the resettlement of new immigrants to the area and now works as Community Development Officer.

Reflecting back on his homeland, Mohsen is glad to be safely away from the old Iraqi government, and is happy with his life here in Australia. One of the things that troubles him is the state of Iraq at the moment, it is his belief that since the fall of the old government the people of Iraq are now living as they did thirty years ago. Although he is concerned about his children fitting in here in Australia, Mohsen is also glad that they will never have to go through everything that he and his family had to endure.

Source: Suitcase Full of Dreams (Reproduced with permission)

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