Syria would be an unthinkable travel destination for most holiday goers, but for Brisbane girl Renae Ahamd, it’s like any other family vacation.
For Ms Ahmad, an 18 year old Australian born Syrian, the ongoing Syrian crisis is a source of frustration and heartbreak.
“In high-school I used to tell people my background was Syrian but no one knew where that was prior to the Islamic State (IS) terror attacks,” she said.
“After the media coverage in Syria people were shocked that I went there for holidays to see my family.”
Despite ongoing turmoil, Ms Ahmad said many families like her own are still living in the warzone.
“My aunt had to flee her home in Damascus, one of Syria’s largest capital cities, to live with my grandparents outside the city,” she said.
“She was so distressed and upset about leaving she didn’t go until the very last moment when she had no choice.”
She said her grandparents who live outside a major Syrian city would be devastated if forced to leave.
“No one wants to lose their home,” she said.
“My grandparents could not imagine leaving everything they built, their whole life is in Syria, it’s everything to them”.
As a Syrian living in Australia, it’s a constant struggle for Ms Ahmad to maintain links to her culture and avoid judgement and embarrassment.
“I am tired of hearing that Syria is a bad place,” she said.
“It makes it hard for me to tell people that I visit because I’m seen as some kind of terrorist. At the airport when my family fly out to Syria we are checked and checked again.”
As hundreds of thousands flee, Ms Ahmad said it’s important to remember those still living in Syria.
“People need to remember a lot more people live in Syria than the number that are fleeing, and the ones that fled would not have done so willingly,” she said.
“Syrians love their country and a lot of them are under pressure to leave.”
Ms Ahmad who studies midwifery at the University of Queensland said while the Syrian community in Brisbane was small, local families here were being directly affected.
“Dinner time seems to get more and more political as my family discusses the refugee crisis,” she said.
“My friends ask me if the shocking things they see in the media is true and I have to agree,” she said.
“But like them I am always shocked at the horrific things that happen, and it never should be normal.”
Ms Ahmad said she believes IS are the cause of Syria’s ongoing turmoil.
“I believe in saving Syria and it’s not fair that innocent people should suffer at the hands of IS,” she said.
“It’s great to see that there is more awareness and more understanding of the country and its people but that’s only the first step.”